Essay Writing Blog

The Top 10 Grammar Myths

Grammar myths can be hard to spot, and easy to fall victim to. Among the grammar myths that will get you into trouble, these 10 rank at the top.

Microsoft Word will correct my grammar.

Well, yes and no. It is probably the biggest of grammar myths. What would we do without Microsoft Word? But remember that it is only as good as you are. If your essay has the word “there” where you really need the word “their” or “they’re,” Microsoft Word will correct precisely what you have written on the page. But is it correct? This is why you rely on an editor.

Never start a sentence with a conjunction.

You were most likely taught that starting a sentence with a conjunction is incorrect. The good news is, this myth is starting to lose its strength. You can indeed start a sentence with a conjunction. Often it adds emphasis to your statement, so don’t shy away from beginning sentences with words like “but,” “and,” or “yet.”

And do not fail to notice that there are other equally silly rules among these other eight grammar myths.

Never start a sentence with a preposition.

Winston Churchill best addressed this rule of grammar, which was one “up with which he would not put.”

Much like the “never start a sentence with a conjunction” rule, you can throw this out the window.

Never split an infinitive.

One way to really understand the silliness of some grammar myths is to carefully consider all the things that the myth will keep you from saying. You cannot say “to really understand”; you cannot say “to carefully consider”; this is a good rule to forget.

Use “an” before a vowel and “a” before a consonant.

Again, yes and no.

One of the biggest challenges in English is knowing when to choose between “a” and “an” in the use of the indefinite article. Your choice depends on the pronunciation of what follows the article.

This is especially confusing when the article precedes an abbreviation, because you have to pronounce the first letter of the abbreviation out loud to know which article to use. For example, the article you want to precede the phrase “RN” (for “registered nurse”) is “an,” even though the article precedes a consonant and even though the phrasing with “registered nurse” would be “a registered nurse.” In this case, the letter is the letter “R” in “RN,” and since the letter is pronounced “are” (which begins with a vowel), you need “an.”

The semicolon is a strong comma.

Some grammar myths seem never to die, and this is one of them. Grammatically, the semicolon functions as a period. It represents a full stop but separates two independent clauses that are very closely related thematically. Remember that whenever you use a semicolon in formal English, you should have an independent clause (a clause that contains both a subject and a verb) on either side of the semicolon.

A very long sentence that is grammatically correct is sure to impress my reader.

This is the most dangerous of all grammar myths because it leads to unwieldy sentences. Remember Bertrand Russell’s advice for good writing:

If you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences.

Contractions are fine in formal English.

True. But they have to be correct, especially when it comes to the word “it.”

The possessive form of the pronoun “it” does not take the apostrophe; the apostrophe is mandatory following the word “it” in English in the contraction of the two words “it is” (“it’s”):

With regard to that situation, it’s difficult to understand its causes.

To form the possessive, just add the apostrophe and an “s.”

Again, yes and no.

The confusion comes with the plural form:

It was due to my parent’s guidance.

It was due to my parents’ guidance.

In the first sentence, you are talking about one parent. In the second sentence, you are talking about both parents, and in this case you need the plural possessive form, which omits the “s.”

The other problem is that some substantives (nouns) are very awkward in English in the plural form (e.g. “trainings”). Again, rely on your editor.

Always use “whom” where indicated.

Some grammar myths are gradually dying, thank goodness.

Mr. Smith is a good friend who I met last January.

Mr. Smith is a good friend whom I met last January.

The second sentence is grammatically correct. But the first sentence is much more natural in English. The problem with the use of “whom” is that it can make your English sound unnecessarily stilted and formal, and in mainstream usage it is seldom indicated.

The thing to realize is that most grammar myths are just that: myths.

 

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