Some Grammar Myths

Following is some common myths about grammar that are quite mistaken.

A run-on sentence is very long

In a run-on sentence, independent clauses are mistakenly connected without a conjunction or any punctuation (e.g., I am strong he is weak.). Without a semicolon, a colon, or a dash between the two independent clauses, the short sample sentence (6 words) is a run-on.

You should not start a sentence with “However”

It’s actually acceptable to start a sentence with “However” and similar adverbs, as long as a comma is inserted after the word.

“Irregardless” is not a word

“Irregardless” is a word. In fact, it’s in many dictionaries. However, it’s usually labeled as nonstandard, and it shouldn’t be used in proper writing.

There is only one way to write the possessive form of a word ending in ‘s’

While there may be preferred guidelines, the way it’s written may come down to a style guide choice. For example, in the term “the Jones’s house”, one preferred style would suggest putting an apostrophe ess (‘s) at the end of “Jones” (as written). Another would suggest putting an apostrophe at the end of “Jones” (thus, the Jones’ house). Both are acceptable. The key is to know the editor’s or publisher’s standard and to be consistent.

Never use passive voice

Active voice describes a sentence in which the subject of the sentence performs the action stated by the verb. In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is not the actor (person or thing) performing the action. In fact, the actor is often missing from the sentence (e.g., Books were stolen from the library.). But notice that the sentence doesn’t state who stole the books. Most authorities suggest that writing can often be made stronger when passive sentences are made active. However, if the actor responsible for an action isn’t known, passive voice may be the best, or only, choice.

“e.g.” and “i.e.” mean the same thing

The term “e.g.” means “for example” and is used to provide a list of examples of the item that precedes it. The term “i.e.” means “that is” or, roughly, “in other words”, and it’s used to provide a clarifying list or statement.

“a” should be used before words that start with consonants and “an” before words that start with vowels

Actually, it’s not whether the word following the indefinite article starts with a consonant or a vowel; rather, it’s whether the following word starts with a consonant sound or vowel sound (e.g., He has a unique point of view on the subject and talked about it for an hour.) The word “unique” (yoo-NEEK) starts with ‘y’ or consonant sound, so “a” is the appropriate article. On the other hand, in the word “hour” (OW-uhr), the ‘h’ is silent, so it sounds like it starts with a vowel sound; therefore, “an” is the appropriate article.

Never split an infinitive

An infinitive is a basic verb form that’s usually consists of the word “to” followed by the infinitive verb form (e.g., to be, to go, to walk). In a split infinitive, a word separates the two parts of the verb (e.g., “To boldly go where no man has gone before”). This is a split infinitive because “boldly” separates “to” from “go”. This one-line mission statement from “Stark Trek” would definitely sound “wrong” without the split infinitive. In fact, many grammarians would say that splitting an infinitive is acceptable—if done knowledgeably.

Never end a sentence with a preposition

This may be the granddaddy of grammar prohibitions. A sentence should not end with a preposition when the preposition is redundant (e.g., Where’s he at? is wrong, because “where” means “at what place”, so the “at” is wrong). However, in some cases, ending with a preposition is totally appropriate (e.g., What are you waiting for?). And maybe the most apocryphal statement, attributed to Sir Winston Churchill (with a number of variations, is “This is the sort of arrant nonsense up with which I will not put.”

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