Stupid Grammar Rules

I was pondering English grammar today. Actually, I quite regularly ponder English grammar. I’m strange that way I guess. But what came to my mind today was not a rant on how nobody gets it right or how complex it is. I ended up pondering why some of the rules many of us have been taught exist.

Possibly the most common rule that all of us have been chastized for breaking is that silly one about ending a sentence with a preposition. Why is it wrong to end a sentence with a preposition? I remember reading somewhere that this was a rule that was arbitrarily invented because someone felt that English should follow Latin rules. Oh yes, here is the document I was reading. Basically, English is not Latin or any other language and so conventions from another language need not apply to English. Either way, the preceeding link is a very good discussion of prepositions at the end of sentences.

My personal favourite “rule” of grammar is that we should never split infinitives. Why? An infinitive in English is two words. It’s perfectly natural to insert something between those words! In fact, in many cases, going out of the way to avoid splitting an infinitive simply makes the statement so convoluted that it requires a post-doctoral education to unravel it. That is hardly an effective way to communicate. In reality, there is no particular hard rule about splitting the infinitive; indeed, it seems that the rule about never splitting an infinitive may be rooted in the same fetish that yielded the above rule about prepositions: that English should behave like Latin. Again, I point out that English is not Latin nor is it any other language but English. It does truly seem to be a matter of preference whether one avoids splitting infinitives where possible or simply makes no effort to avoid doing so. Personally, I see nothing wrong with splitting infinitives and will certainly never insist that someone reword something to avoid it. See this page for a good discussion of split infinitives.

Doubtless there are other stupid rules of grammar but the two noted above are the ones that get under my skin the most. Neither one is rooted in actual English tradition but in some fetish to make English behave like Latin (as far as I can tell anyway). Why can’t we simply let English be English?

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