Where’s the grammar in these “common grammar mistakes”?

Grammar is not an easy word to pin down: it has several meanings covering many referents and phenomena. You could think of it mainly as the system or structure of a language, particularly its syntax and morphology, and sometimes also its phonology and semantics; and it is the areas of linguistics that study these. The definitions at Collins and Merriam-Webster are reasonably detailed and admirably clear.

We learn grammar through early exposure to (usually) our families’ use of language, then by using language with them. The “grammar rules” we associate with school, and which we encounter in articles such as those mentioned below, are more often traditional conventions of spelling, style and usage, along with pet peeves and pedantic fancies.

The internet is sadly sodden with pages that purport to list common grammar mistakes but are in large part a dispiriting and repetitive mishmash of misinformation, superstitions, anachronisms, and trivial, one-dimensional advice about spelling and style.

John E. McIntyre recently demolished one such list, calling it a “deeply depressing document”. Mr McIntyre, well aware that what people consider a language’s rules are a complex bag of constraints from “different categories, with varying weights”, has composed a helpful and practical taxonomy which I trust he won’t mind my abridging here, with his examples in brackets:

unnoticed rules (the order of adjectives); explicit rules (subject–verb agreement); conventions (variable comma placement); superstitions (enforcing singular none); shibboleths (the old meaning of hopefully); house style, as dictated by a publisher; and individual aesthetic preferences, which are legion.

Grammar occupies, among other domains, the first two of these categories. They are what grammar books analyse — how words form, inflect, and function, and how they relate to one another.

It would be useful to keep the other categories separate, but lists of “common grammar mistakes” rarely stray beyond gripes in just these areas. They recast grammar as style, usage and even spelling. They collapse and confuse the principles governing language use, leading insecure readers to feel bound by linguistic rules that often don’t apply to them or to anyone.

Last year, in a rant about the misnamed and misguided Academy of Contemporary English, I wrote:

Languages have many rules, most of which are understood implicitly by native speakers. Even if you’ve never studied the rules of syntax and morphology, you use them instinctively every day. The sham rules that get all the attention, like “Don’t split infinitives”, are not grammar rules but fossilized stylistic preferences. The popular appeal of grammar suffers because of bad-tempered insistence on these points, which were in many cases created by pedants decades or centuries ago and elevated through repetition to the status of pseudo-authority.

With this in mind, let’s look at a recent example of so-called grammar advice.

LitReactor lists “20 Common Grammar Mistakes” that “some of the best authors in history” have made (this ought to have been a clue to their validity). It says since refers to time, not causation. Oh, Shakespeare, you fool! The truth is that since can refer to time or causation. Subtle, I know. We’re told less is “reserved for hypothetical quantities”. This is mystification. What if I want less sugar, and the sugar actually exists?

It goes on. Impactful “isn’t a word”. Yes, it is: it’s right there, made of letters, and we all know what it means. It’s non-standard and much scorned, but “not a word” is not an argument. The article also wades hopelessly into the that/which morass, claiming that which in “The house, which is burning, is mine” sets off a restrictive clause. It doesn’t: the commas make it non-restrictive.

And this from an editor? It’s no wonder confusion is so widespread.

Of Copyblogger’s “Five Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb”, four relate to basic spelling (its vs. it’s, there vs. their, etc.). Here’s the thing: spelling isn’t grammar. It’s for its (or vice versa) is a typo or a misspelling, not a grammatical mistake. This is a frequent misconception — Jan Freeman has shown that even professional grammarians get it wrong. I tweeted about it last month:

In another article, Copyblogger says “using the word ‘than’ after different is a grammatical blunder”. No: different than is grammatically fine. It would have taken two minutes to look this up in a few reliable modern references. The same erroneous belief appears in ZDNet’s hostile and erroneously titled “10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid”, alongside a bunch of spelling rules and zero grammar.

A popular list of “errors” that rated high in Google’s ranking says that “I’m not speaking to nobody in this class” is one of the “most annoying grammar mistakes in English”. This kind of double negative isn’t part of current standard English, but it’s fully grammatical in other dialects. So it isn’t a grammar mistake, and the annoyance may say more about the writer than the idiom in question.

If you search online for “common grammar errors” or similar, you’ll see such lists in abundance. Many people are anxious about errors they might be making, so they’re eager to learn The Rules. But these lists offer little more than unreconstructed dogma, banal advice on spelling and style, and the same tired old shibboleths that grammaticasters have been obsessing over for decades regardless of the evidence of usage.

It’s easy to launch a linguistic peevefest predicated on spelling blunders, stylistic faux pas and hot air, and going by what’s out there it’s likely to be as fallacious as it is constructive. What sense these articles make tends to be thoroughly mixed with misinformation and myth dressed up as truth. Read them, if you must, with extreme caution, a policy of fact-checking, an awareness of what grammar isn’t, and a healthy disrespect for the authority they assume.


John E. McIntyre has followed up on this post at You Don’t Say:

The teaching of grammar, when attempts to teach it are made, leaves students with the understanding that it is, as Henry Hitchings says, “a network of traps for the unwary.”

Rachael Cayley at Explorations of Style has written an insightful criticism of LitReactor’s article and similar “shoddy advice” online:

very little on this list is grammar (and the bits that are grammar are either wrong or dismally explained). This observation is more than just a quibble. . . . Improving your writing isn’t just fiddling with technicalities and arcane rules; it is a matter of thinking deeply about your ideas and your communicative intent.

Arnold Zwicky has compiled a very instructive series of posts on what he calls “It’s All Grammar“, i.e., the folk categorisation of grammar as any aspect of language use that might be regulated (which Zwicky has suggested calling garmmra):

why do people think of such a diverse collection of phenomena […] as constituting a natural category? The short answer: they all involve aspects of language or language use that (some) people object to and so would (literally) regulate; they are domains of linguistic peeve-triggers. But otherwise there’s no common thread, and it’s a serious confusion to treat them as deeply similar.

Zwicky has also analysed the LitReactor article in detail, and finds that it’s “about garmmra, not actually about grammar”:

I don’t know why people who set themselves up as authorities, including some editors, don’t bother to look at actual reference works on usage, but instead just pour out their personal tastes, largely based on dimly remembered bits of lore they picked up in school.

Emphasis, a business-writing training company in the UK, also has something to say about “Putting grammar in its place“:

[T]hanks to the promulgation of so-called rules such as ‘don’t start a sentence with a conjunction’ or ‘don’t split infinitives’, grammar can seem like a narrow set of procedures that you have to master in order to write well. Peevish articles that get passed around online only add to the misapprehensions…

Jonathon Owen at Arrant Pedantry has a great post on the mistakes typically made by people who write about grammar mistakes.

This post also appears on the Visual Thesaurus.
[image source]

49 Responses to Where’s the grammar in these “common grammar mistakes”?

  1. Well said. I’ve linked in several places. The source of all these misconceptions must lie in our schools, and beyond them in the training of teachers, who, with no doubt honourable exceptions, seem to understand little about the way langauge works.

  2. EDIT: *language*. (I usually get ‘Cambirdge’ for Cambridge’ first time round as well.)

  3. Chiew says:

    Great rant, Stan!

  4. Karla says:

    I enjoyed your “peevefest” also. ;-0 Perhaps since English is a living language, the word grammar is evolving to include spelling, word choice, etc.?

  5. SlideSF says:

    Sometimes “spelling errors” are neither spelling errors nor typos, but an actual choice. Though it might strike horror in some, when I am texting I will almost always omit apostrophes, since their inclusion involves switching my (old-fashion, non-alpha) phone to another mode, which is cumbersome. Similarly I will spell “night” as “nite”, since I, G, and H are all operated using the 4 button and it takes much longer to spell it “correctly”.

    I realize that texting is a special use of language, but this example points to the fact that language use has more to do with appropriateness than with “correctness”.

  6. Stan says:

    Barrie: Schools are one source of these misconceptions, but responsibility rests ultimately with anyone who presumes to advise on language. They owe it to themselves and their listeners or readers to do a bit of proper research. Thanks for sharing the post.

    Chiew: Thank you, and for the tweet.

    Karla: That’s a very generous interpretation!

    SlideSF: I agree. Conventions of language, not least those of spelling, vary a lot with context. As I wrote in a previous post, what’s correct depends on the “correctness conditions”, and in texting these would be greatly relaxed.

  7. Jonathon says:

    I think I’ll disagree slightly with you, Stan. “Different than” and negative concord are legitimate issues of grammar, though I’d agree that “different than” is standard, contrary to what some so-called grammarians say. Double negatives (or, technically, negative concord) is ungrammatical in standard English, though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or heard someone use it in standard English. So ranting about it is really just ranting about the people who use nonstandard varieties of English, which is a whole separate issue. As you said, the annoyance almost certainly says more about the ranter.

  8. Stan says:

    Fair points, Jonathon. I should perhaps have chosen other examples in order to restrict my argument to what’s grammatical or non-grammatical (as opposed to ungrammatical). But I don’t like to see peeving about different than or negative concord, so when I saw them I added them to the metapeeve.

  9. Jonathon says:

    It’s probably fair to say that when complaints about grammar really are about grammar, they usually manage to miss the mark in some other way.

    Also, did I really write “double negatives . . . is ungrammatical”? Ugh. I can see why I did it, but still. I must not be sufficiently caffeinated.

  10. korystamper says:

    Well put, Stan. I just finished reading through another “English is dying/bring back the old ways” article and came over here for a little sanity. The urge to smash things with a hammer has passed.

    Jonathon, the emphatic double negative has definitely fallen out of use since the late 1700s and early 1800s (we can blame Richard Lowth for that, I think), but the understating double negative is still in use: “I was not unamused at the idea,” or, “He was not without charm.” Critics pick at this construction as being flabby, though few of them know enough about grammar to mark these constructions as double negatives. If they did, I’m sure we’d hear more shrieking about it. :-)

  11. TERRY DAWSON says:

    I would adjust your statement a bit to say that these misconceptions that are taught can lie with family as well as some teachers. Some English teachers have a poor knowledge of English grammar, such as when they say you can’t split an infinitive or don’t know how many tenses are to be found in English. However, some teachers, as myself, tend to try and challenge these crazy “rules” and get kids to find an alternative to sentences such as “The house price was going to more than double”. The question would be, “How can you rephrase it to sound natural and have the infintive unsplit”? Of course, the kids can’t do it, and this gets them to challenge the rules their English teachers have taught them.
    The question is, in education, how do you have English teachers who can teach amazing things about literature knowing so little about grammar?

  12. The guru status of Strunk & White – and other popular style books – is perhaps to blame for grammar pedantry too. Although the book is called The Elements of Style, not of Grammar, and certainly does stray into non-grammar, that point is missed by many editors and would-be flawless writers. We lap up every word and call it truth, not style.

  13. Keri says:

    Love this! I’ve always hated those lists. From now on I’ll have this post to direct them to :)

    Also, this made me LOL: “Impactful ‘isn’t a word’. Yes, it is: it’s right there, made of letters, and we all know what it means.”

  14. I suspect that a lot of English teachers learn English “rules” the way a lot of other professionals learn their trades: more from the folklore handed down from adviser to student (or, in the case of English teachers, dear Ms. Haupt from the sixth grade) than from keeping up with the latest research and knowledge. (Teachers are not much pressed to keep up with new ideas, especially when they are overloaded with students and paperwork and paid barely minimum wages.) I have family members who have taught English exactly that way, and I did until I finally realized that the world had turned since the sixth grade and it was time to move on. I still have some pet peeves, but I try to let my students know that’s what they are, and I try to warn them when usages may raise eyebrows outside my class.

  15. If you don’t already know it, Fran, I recommend Geoffrey Pullum’s article on Strunk and White, ’50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice’, at http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497. I always welcome an opportunity to quote the last two sentences:

    ‘English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don’t-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can’t even tell when they’ve broken their own misbegotten rules.’

  16. Stan says:

    Jonathon: When these peevefests touch upon anything genuinely grammar-related, I tend to assume it occurred by chance.

    Kory: Thank you. I hope you’ve put the hammer out of arm’s way, and harm’s way, for the weekend.

    Terry: It’s very easy for someone to grow up knowing little or nothing formally about grammar unless they study it. Since we learn it intuitively, we reasonably assume that we know how it works. And behind that assumption, all sorts of misguided beliefs can make themselves at home.

    Fran: Yes, definitely. You might have noticed the recommendation of Elements of Style (“guide to proper grammar”; “tried-and-true classic”) at the foot of LitReactor’s miserable article. It has attained the status of holy writ for countless writers who prefer their advice to be simple and dogmatic. Though it has its merits, especially for beginners, I’ll cheerfully second Barrie‘s recommendation of Pullum’s savage review.

    DJ: Joseph M. Williams used the term “classroom folklore” to describe these grammar and usage myths, alluding to the way they are handed down pedagogically from one generation to the next. I suspect that even the most laidback of descriptivists entertain a few pet peeves; certainly I have some of my own, but like you I try to keep them in perspective.

  17. Joe McVeigh says:

    Great article, Stan. I’d just like to add that the ungrammaticality of the grammar guides you link to is right in their titles. They should read, “10 grammar errors that make us look stupid.”

    Man, the view from this ivory tower is impressive! (Hey-o!)

  18. Stan says:

    Keri: Thanks! Visitors are very welcome. As for impactful: I don’t like it much, but to deny that it’s a word is to confuse wish with reality. (Sorry I missed your comment earlier: it was caught by the spam filter.)

    Joe: Thank you, sir. Warning people about looking “dumb” or “stupid” is not a style of education I’ll ever warm to. [Comment edited slightly to adjust tone.]

  19. Marc Leavitt says:

    I will not stammer
    If my grammar
    Doesn’t fit your rules

    I learnt to yammer
    From my mammer,
    Not from bloody fools!

  20. […] I had written this, I found a great roundup on this topic from Stan Carey. He discusses a range of these sorts of lists and provides his usual insightful response. He […]

  21. Garrett Wollman says:

    Surely the existence of all of the pages you found suggests that the meaning of the word “grammar”, as used today, is not nearly as restricted as you and most linguists (and indeed most computer scientists) suggest. I would suggest that this aspect of your counterpeeve is an example of nerdview.

  22. Stan says:

    Marc: Poetry! That’s what this discussion lacked. Thank you.
    Too many myths
    Are sold as creed;
    To non-rules
    We need pay no heed.

    Garrett: You have a point, but I don’t think the meaning of grammar is especially restricted (see par. 1). Nor do the dictionaries I cited or the others (both popular and technical) that I looked up. Some have long examinations of grammar‘s many meanings, none of which includes spelling. Traditional grammar in the old-fashioned sense could be said to include sets of usage rules (of wildly varying validity). But to describe the aforelinked advice as “grammar” seems to me simple confusion that the word can be used of any assertion about language use. This idea is probably increasing given the reach of those websites, but I still think it’s mistaken and retrogressive.

  23. Barbara says:

    One item in the LitReactor list does resonate with me. I think it’s useful to maintain a distinction between ‘whether’ and ‘if’, although I realise that many dictionaries suggest that ‘whether’ can be replaced by ‘if’, and this has become accepted usage for a lot of people.
    When ‘if’ is used to mean ‘whether’, ambiguities can occur. For example, I may say, ‘Let me know if you’re coming to my party.’ My intended meaning would be: ‘If you’re coming, please let me know; if you’re not coming, there’s no need to tell me anything.’ If I wanted a reply regardless of its content, I would say, ‘Let me know whether you’re coming to my party.’ (Not a particularly critical distinction here, but perhaps there are other examples where the ambiguity would have more significant consequences.)

  24. Stan says:

    Barbara: The distinction between whether and if is useful, I agree. Bryan Garner uses a similar example in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage: Let me know if you’ll be coming vs. Let me know whether you’ll be coming. But even here the LitReactor article is misleading. It says the words aren’t interchangeable, when in fact they sometimes are (e.g., I wasn’t sure if [whether] I should go), so by applying the One Right Way principle the writer oversimplifies.

  25. Awesome article. I fear that social media and mobile phones are only fueling the “mistake ridden” message fire. Unfortunately the youth is getting more familiar with acronyms and silly shortened words than the actual language. Thanks for the enlightening post!

  26. Stan says:

    You’re welcome, Vaughn, and thanks for your comment. Acronyms and abbreviations (whether silly or not) are part of the language too, and they’re not doing it any damage as far as I can tell.

  27. StuartD says:

    It did cross my mind as others have noted that from a sound descriptivist view it could be argued that the everyday meaning of “grammar” has broadened. Still, it is odd that the people who are altering its meaning so much on these sites are in the main pedantic prescriptivists. Why aren’t these sites being described as about usage?

  28. Stan says:

    Stuart: Maybe because these hobbyist prescriptivists are not familiar, or familiar enough, with the word usage. Also, they don’t go in for nuance much, and calling something a ‘rule of grammar’ gives it more weight and emphasis than a ‘convention of spelling/style/usage’.

  29. […] more punctuation doesn’t improve your writing, and peeved about grammar peeves, while Stan Carey wondered where the grammar was in so-called “common grammar […]

  30. Hi Stan – Thank you for tackling this thorny issue head-on. I appreciate the stance you’ve taken toward grammar as a multi-faceted study, and I agree with you that it’s something many people haven’t properly been taught and that is tossed about a little too loosely.

    That having been said, understandably, there are areas of your own definition where I disagree; for example, spelling. Since the inevntion of the printing press and the creation of dictionaries, our lexicon has become standardized and part of the realm of grammar, if we consider grammar as a prescriptive rather than a descriptive realm; in other words, if we think about grammar as the standard that we all use to make our communication clear and accessible to one another as adults, rather than the neural pathways whereby we learn to communicate as infants.

    I, along with several colleagues from LinkedIn, have attempted to parse these differences in a Venn diagram outlining the areas of separation and overlap between grammar on the one side (matters of rule, that cannot be broken without the danger of serious miscommunication), style on the one other (matters of strictly personal preference), and usage in between (matters decided by a publishing house or an editorial hand and in a constant, debatable state of flux.)

    Readers can find our efforts at http://corporatewritingpro.com/venndiagram.html

  31. Dr.Naquib says:

    Extremely educative!

  32. Stan says:

    Dr.Naquib: Thank you; I’m glad it was helpful.

    Michelle: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m not clear on whose lexicon you mean by “our lexicon”. English orthography has been largely standardi{s/z}ed, yes, but there is still a lot of regional and other variation, some questionable and some perfectly valid. In any case, standardising an aspect of language use, such as spelling, doesn’t turn it into a grammatical matter as I understand it.

    I don’t think of grammar as a set of regulations to be imposed so much as a structure to be discerned by studying how language is naturally used by native speakers. In this respect, grammar can be considered part of usage. (This is not a new idea.) So I wouldn’t describe grammar as a prescriptive realm; indeed, I think this is one way popular lists of “grammar errors” inadvertently mislead readers about the extent and type of regulation it entails.

    As an editor I apply certain conventions and prescriptive rules to align a text with an expected standard, but this standard is context-specific. Making our communication “clear and accessible to one another” does not hinge necessarily on the use of standard English (more accurately, on a variety of it): in certain contexts this prestige dialect might be inappropriate or might convey the wrong message, pragmatically speaking. Different dialects have their own grammatical norms, none more or less objectively correct than another.

    Thanks also for sharing the work you and your colleagues did on this knotty area – though I would call it a table or a chart rather than a Venn diagram. I would disagree with much of it, but that’s to be expected. Language use is complex and its categories change and overlap and are variously defined, so people will inevitably arrive at very different and incompatible conceptions of what grammar, style and usage are and how they relate to one another. But it’s always helpful to have one’s ideas and assumptions constructively challenged.

    • Stan,

      Thank you for a thoughtful response to my comment. There are relatively few differences in spelling between English, British, Canadian, Australian, and the various African and Asian dialects today. The primary differences are whether to use o or ou, as in neighbor or neighbour, whether to put the e after g, as in judgment or judgement, and whether to use z or s, as in realized or realised. That’s a standard lexicon, and it’s “ours” because it’s English, the language of this website.

      You state that standardizing an aspect of language doesn’t turn it into a grammatical matter, as you understand it. That’s because you’re defining grammar descriptively. I’m using the prescriptive definition. I indicated as such in my original post.

      You don’t think of grammar as rules to be imposed but rules to be discerned. That’s one valid definition of grammar – a descriptive definition.

      I’m referring to prescriptive grammar, another valid definition of grammar. This is the type of grammar that is encoded in grammar handbooks. In the instances you cite in this blog post, people claim that these grammar mistakes make others look dumb, implying that there is an educated standard against which they are being judged. That’s a prescriptive standard, not a descriptive one.

      As an editor, you and I both apply grammatical rules to copyedit a text. We ensure that subjects agree with their verbs and pronouns with their antecedents. We don’t vary in these rules, unless we’re editing a fictional text in which characters or the narrator are speaking in dialect. We do vary in matters of style and usage, like how long can the sentences be, and whether or not to split an infinitive. And those decisions are based upon context, part of which is the audience, part of which is the author, and part of which is the publishing house, which may have its own rulebook.

      And no, different dialects do not have their own “grammatical” norms. They have some different words and perhaps a few pronoun-antecedent differences, but the syntax is essentially the same. That’s what distinguishes a dialect from a language.

      Envision a scale, at one end of which is a dialect, and at the other end is a language. A linguist, operating descriptively, starts with things like accent and word choice, then examines things like word order, verb tense and mood, and subject-verb agreement, declension, and alphabet / phonemes to make a final determination as to where to draw the line between a dialect and a language. Creole and pidgin are excellent examples of hotly debated linguistic grey areas.

  33. Dr.Naquib says:

    Dear Stan:

    Thanks for your elaborate illustration. This will alleviate much of the grammarphobia common people suffer from. Please carry on.

  34. […] Of course, it’s about garmmra, not actually about grammar — as Stan Carey asked rhetorico-challengingly on his blog, “Where’s the grammar in these “common grammar mistakes”? […]

  35. Barrie says:

    What distinguishes a language from a dialect, Michelle, is, as Max Weinrich said, an army and a navy. As for dialects other than Standard English, you are right to suggest that ‘the syntax is essentially the same’. In all varieties of the language, for example, determiners precede nouns. Nevertheless, differences there are. Peter Trudgill identifies some of them towards the end of his paper here http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/dick/SEtrudgill2011.pdf under the heading ‘Grammatical idiosyncrasies of Standard English’.

  36. Stan says:

    Thanks again, Michelle, for sharing your thoughts. I don’t think either of us is likely to persuade the other of much here! My take on grammar is closer to a linguist’s; yours is the more popular interpretation, what Arnold Zwicky has suggested calling garmmra.

    I agree that as editors we apply grammatical rules, such as verb-pronoun agreement: this falls under the ‘explicit rules’ of John McIntyre’s taxonomy. It can be described as either prescriptive or descriptive; the two are not mutually exclusive. Regarding spelling, there are few differences relative to the vast total vocabulary, but it’s still rather a lot.

    If you’ve read the link Barrie provided, you’ll have seen its list of grammatical idiosyncrasies in standard English. Although dialects largely share a common grammar, they do have their own grammatical character. Below, for what it’s worth, are some syntactic features of southern Irish English, from Raymond Hickey (2007; PDF). Some are in my idiolect, some aren’t.

  37. Stan – regardless of our agreement or disagreement, I’m grateful for the discussion and the opportunity you provided to have it. It’s helpful to all of us to remember where our language came from, what is its current state, and where it’s going. It’s also useful for non-specialists to see where specialists disagree, and thereby to understand some of the sources of their own confusion and frustration.

    Barrie – thank you for the resource. I’ve bookmarked not only the pdf but also the book from whence it came – Standard English: The Widening Debate.

  38. Bryony says:

    The beauty of the English language is in the profound variety of ways we have to communicate ideas and share our emotions. Variations exisit for a number of reasons; regional dialects, community dialects, social groups, personal choice etc.

    How depressing that a select number of pedants try to restrict our usage? I agree that a level of standardisation exists to enable us to understand each other, but whether this should amount to ‘rules’ or not is questionable.

    As you’ve pointed out, Shakepeare was undoubtedly one of the biggest rule breakers of his time, yet he’s regarded as one of literature’s greatest playwrights. What would modern day literature be like today without this maverick?

    I also can’t help but think of James Kelman, a great Scottish novelist. He breaks all the ‘rules,’ yet he is a Booker prize winner.

    Of course, there is the arguemnt that as professionals we need to adehere to grammatical rules for the sake of our audiences. I believe, however, that this is a matter of ‘style’ not grammar.

    I write for an accounting and advisory firm, our house style is professional and informative yet friendly. Therefore, we adhere to what many would consider ‘grammatical rules’ in our corporate communications. That said, there are times where we need to break the rules in order to best communicate some rather complex points.

    It is is often preferrable to break the rules (even in corporate communications) than say something ludricrous for the sake of ‘rules’.

  39. Dr.Naquib says:

    The dialogue should continue as it will clarify the intricacies of grammar.

  40. Stan says:

    Michelle: Well said.

    Bryony: Thanks for your comment. The psychology of peevology is a curious thing indeed; I think in many cases nitpicking about language serves as a scapegoat for other concerns and urges. On an unrelated note, I once used Kelman’s How late it was, How late in a bookmash (fifth one down). But I haven’t read it yet.

    Dr.Naquib: The dialogue will continue or it won’t; in the meantime, you’ll find lots more on the subject here, if you wish.

  41. […] Ten Grammar Myths. And if you’re interested in grammar myths, you’ll want to check out Stan Carey’s post at Sentence First on this topic as […]

  42. […] – *: For expert deconstruction of this article, see Arnold Zwicky and Stan Carey. […]

  43. […] taught later and that may be worth heeding in certain settings. But to many people, bad grammar and grammar errors simply mean any set of conventions in English that differ from the formal standard (or from their […]

  44. […] the misapprehensions (many have cited this one, to which writer and editor Stan Carey has written this comprehensive reply). Such articles tend to further […]

  45. hepindo says:

    i dont know about the grammar…but i love this page…

  46. […] Grammar at cross purposes highlights a common source of unnecessary strife over language use: the meaning of grammar, by which linguists usually mean syntax, morphology, and so on – the rules we pick up informally […]

  47. […] I had written this, I found a great roundup on this topic from Stan Carey. He discusses a range of these sorts of lists and provides his usual insightful response. He […]

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