With apologies to those who are stricter grammarians than I am: Today, we’re going to get rid of some stubborn-like-a-donkey old “rules” once and for all.
1. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.
This one’s been around for a long time, and it needs to be given the boot. It appears to come from early grammarians’ attempts to force English to follow the rules of Latin, which it doesn’t. This “rule” is unsupported by most modern grammarians because blindly following it can lead to some very awkward sentences. The examples below show good grammar doesn’t always translate into good communication!
For what is it good? or What’s it good for?
To whom did you give it? (Really proper)
Whom did you give it to? (Proper but not so natural)
Who did you give it to? (More natural but not quite so proper)
Since the point of most business-related writing is clarity, sometimes abandoning a rule that never really was a rule is the best idea.
2. Remember to never split an infinitive.
The infinitive is verb form preceded by to – to eat, to read, to learn. Splitting the infinitive means putting a word in between to and the verb – to hungrily eat, to quickly read, to thoroughly learn.
This issue also comes from Latin where splitting the infinitive is impossible because infinitives in Latin are just one word. That type of infinitive is still found in other Romance languages whose root is Latin such as French and Spanish.
But English is different. Our infinitives are two words, so “splitting” them is possible. And sometimes the emphasis changes when we split an infinitive; if that’s true in one of your sentences, relax. If it sounds better, do it.
Do you recognize this one? To boldly go where no one has gone before. Sure you do. But how much energy would be lost by following the split infinitive “rule”?
To go boldly where no one has gone before.
Boldly to go where no one has gone before.
Nope. They just don’t work! The rhythm changes, and it’s not as strong a statement.
3. And don’t begin sentences with a conjunction.
Conjunctions are joining words, usually connecting words, phrases, and clauses. However, they can connect separate sentences. While strict grammarians might not agree, sometimes a long sentence that uses a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) to connect the independent clauses sounds better when separated into two shorter sentences. Shorter sentences are usually easier to read and understand.
Beginning sentences with conjunctions is acceptable to most modern writers.
Isn’t American grammar fun? And if you’d like to learn four more old grammar rules that you can stop worrying about, click here.
What other old rules do you remember from your early days? What old rules do you still follow? What have you stopped worrying about?
Great job here thank You for sharing Susan???
LOL… Thank you for this, Susan! Ending a sentence with a preposition is one that is hard to break. In conversation, no. But in writing, I typically struggle with rewording the whole sentence in order to avoid the awkward “correct” sentence. I just LOVE your grammar smarts!! Thank you for this one. Keep the rule-breakers coming!
I take issue with the idea that the “rules” in question were derived from Latin.
As someone who had four full years of Latin, I can attest that no one, in Latin composition, ever taught us not to end a sentence with a preposition, or that it would have been grammatically incorrect to do so. One simply didn’t do it because it looked and felt wrong: it wasn’t a Latin rule!
Similarly, this business of the infinitive rule being derived from Latin is hogwash. Why on earth would anyone have derived a rule for one language (English) about a process that was impossible to do in another (Latin)? I know it’s the standard explanation, but it makes no sense to me. (I might as easily make a “rule” about not using my sneakers as an aeronautic device.)
Both of these are rules of _style_, rather than of grammar — but they’re good rules, and, personally, I find most of my sentences are better when I _can_ follow them. (And, BTW, I really think “boldly to go…” is, in fact, much stronger than the version we’ve been hearing for fifty-plus years.)
You’re such a rebel, Susan. Breaking the rule in your proclamation.
I used to ask people, “what should you never end a sentence with” so I saw that one coming.