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The House of Grammar: Faux Phobias Regarding Endings and Beginnings —Part 2

haunted-house

Scary stories typically have an opening hook that scares a person right off the bat; shocking them, making their heart beat faster and ensuring that their attention is captured.  Likewise, many scary stories also have a terrifying ending, the mystery either gets solved with incredible bravado or a cliffhanger is presented.  The House of Grammar is no different, and from the time you enter into its twisting and turning hallways, you’re liable to witness carnage piling up.  Don’t be surprised if you find some long-dead grammar corpse rotting somewhere.  Simply follow your nose and there is no doubt you are likely to run into the following tombstones somewhere on the House of Grammar’s property.

Grammar Tombstone: Terrifying Beginnings

R.I.P. Rule: Don’t start a sentence with and or but.

No doubt many English students have questioned their teachers demanding…pleading…why, why, why is this not allowed?  And no doubt (eek!  Just did it!) their English teachers have insisted that an and or a but should only be employed when connecting elements within a sentence.  But really, (The horror! Did it again!) this is just a modern grammar phobia teachers have instilled in the hearts and minds of impressionable youth for no other reason than the fact that they could say it is a rule.  Rather, it has been a point of common practice with both of these words for centuries and the use of and or but as the first word of a sentence was first noted in 10th century texts.  However, just don’t overdo it as it can make your writing monotonous and boring to read.

Grammar Tombstone: Heart-Stopping Endings

R.I.P. Rule: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.

Throughout history, many rules regarding right and wrong have been handed down by the clergy and, ultimately, here’s a rule that was delivered by the pulpit too. (I’m not kidding!) When the English clergy wasn’t busy in the 18th century delivering their recommendations on what sick person to bleed and accusing women of being witches, they were also delivering their edicts on proper grammar.  Robert Lowth, a Bishop of the Church of England and an Oxford Professor of Poetry, is credited with writing the first grammar book where it is noted that using a preposition (at, by, for, into, off, on, out, over, to, under, up, with) at the end of a sentence is a language offense.  Of course, great literature created by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton breaks this rule often, but then again, those three authors came before Lowth’s time and maybe he created this rule because Geoff, Will and John were so talented at offending the church.  However, Lowth might have just been referencing Latin grammar rules since “preposition” means “position before.”  Lowth might have simply interpreted this to mean that those words should not come last.  No matter his motivation, this is a rule that can be cast away and buried.

So as you can see, from beginning to end, there is nothing to fear in this wing of the House of Grammar.  I can report that these grammar ghosts have been successfully exorcised and banished to the ether.

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The House of Grammar: A Haunted Place with Many Rooms – Part 1

Grammar Chic Grammar Rules Blog

The House of Grammar is a large, foreboding and confusing place. It has myriad rooms and more uncharted secret passageways than a game of Clue. Indeed, the House of Grammar is haunted—filled with myths, half-truths and downright fabrications that have the ability to leave you curled in the fetal position on the floor. As a writer, you have to be very prepared for what you may find when you enter the House of Grammar. And you must also have a bit of courage, a healthy amount of nerve and be in control of your gag reflex if you decide to venture in too deep.

Think I am being dramatic?

Maybe.

Still, on my last trip into the House of Grammar, I made some interesting findings. What’s more is I discovered that some myths are nothing but that, and other “rules” deserve to be cast to the sands of time.

Grammar Tombstones

R.I.P. Rule: Don’t split an infinitive

If it’s been a while since you learned the tenets of grammar in a classroom, an infinitive is a verb in its simplest form. Usually, you can recognize an infinitive by the word that is used in front of it. For instance, The man helped his brother to escape from prison. The “to,” in this instance, isn’t necessary, as you could say, The man helped his brother escape. The “to” is a preposition and it allows readers to realize that an infinitive is next up in a sentence.

So ultimately, the phrase “split infinitive” is very misleading, as the word “to” isn’t actually part of the infinitive; therefore, there is nothing to split. But a sentence can sound better when there does happen to be a “to” close to an infinitive, and there is no harm done if you choose to place a separator in between them via a descriptive word or two. For instance: Mary decided to strongly oppose management’s decision.

It also needs to be said that this isn’t a new trend and indeed, splitting infinitives is an old ghost in the House of Grammar. In all actuality, it has been a thing since the 1300s and only became some sort of grammar “crime” (not an exaggeration) when a Latin scholar by the name of Henry Alford labeled it a serious no-no in the book, “A Plea for the Queen’s English.” However, there is also history here, and old Henry might have just been following what he knew to be proper Latin grammar. You see, the Victorians, as a group of very proper people, were incredibly fond of the Latin language, mostly because they saw themselves as the intellectual heirs to the Roman Empire, which yes, primarily spoke Latin. My point here is that in Latin, it is impossible to divide an infinitive, or so I have researched.

I’ll be the first to point out that you should never have me edit your Latin language documents—that would be a huge mistake.

So getting back to taking infinitives to splitsville, grammarians have ruled that it is fine to do this, but as with all things, it should be done in moderation. For instance, as an editor, I would shorten this sentence with absolute glee: Mary decided to strongly and without further delay stand up and voice her ire and oppose management’s decision.

I’ll be writing more on Grammar Tombstones in the future. In the meantime, I invite you to visit the new Grammar Chic, Inc. website and follow our team on Twitter @GrammarChicInc.

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