Friday, June 26, 2015

Grammar Rules to Unlearn


Today’s item is, "things you may have been taught are wrong that are in fact grammatical," the first of which is split infinitives. Not only are split infinitives permissible, they always have been.

Would America’s most famous split infinitive, “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” lose anything as “To go where no man has gone before,” or worse yet, "To go boldly where no man has gone before?" Quite obviously it would, so, case closed.

That said, in my opinion, split infinitives often diminish a piece of writing and if you find yourself tempted to use one, you may wish consider revising the sentence. By their nature, split infinitives invite an adverb, so not only do you interrupt a two-word phrase, you do so with what is in many cases a superfluous word. If you are one of those rarefied souls who can split an infinitive like William Shatner, be my guest and split away. But know that you are in very heady company.

Another good one to unlearn as an absolute is the rule against beginning a sentence with a conjunction, such as and or but. The final sentence in the previous paragraph began with a conjunction  and I think it worked. I mean, it’s not Jonathan Franzen, but it was pretty good rhythmically, and altogether a perfectly fine sentence to end the paragraph with.

Which leads me to the next former rule you’re off the hook for. Dangling prepositions. The utterance, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put," which has been misattributed to Winston Churchill, stands as the test case for the crumbling rule’s flaws. Please notice that the last sentence of the last paragraph and the first sentence of this paragraph both end with prepositions and neither of them are horrific. Again, not Franzen, but not horrific.

It’s Friday, and that ought to do for now. Have a pleasant weekend, and just as Don Miguel Ruiz would have you always be impeccable with your word, so too may you be with your words.