​8 Bogus Grammar Rules

shakespere bookImage by JJ Jordan from Pixabay

Unlike most other languages, English has no single organization to manage the principles. Into this gaping hole stepped the busybodies to make things up.

Britain, which spawned the English language, has regulatory bodies for all the other languages spoken across those green and pleasant islands: Gaelic, Scots, Welsh. And, erm, Cornish?

Cornish is a Celtic language from the south-west of England that became extinct over two hundred years ago. Its regulatory institute is the snappily named, Institut za hrvatski jezik i jezikoslovlje. No wonder it died out.

We, therefore have authorities to look after dead languages but no one to look after the most widely-spoken language in the world.

This means we’ve ended up with a number of fake rules invented by interfering busybodies and maintained by their virtual descendants.

​The no prepositions at the end of a sentence bogus rule

Can you guess who this bogus rule was invented by?

We travel back to the 17th century to find the probable chief culprit: English writer John Dryden. He didn’t like ‘stranded’ prepositions in English because they didn’t match Latin grammar rules. Well they wouldn’t, English is a Germanic language and Latin isn’t.

Various grammarians then formalized this newly made-up rule by putting it into print.

Dryden had no problem with sentences ending on a verb though. Quite how this works with phrasal verbs when the second part is a preposition, he never explained. I suppose we should be thankful he didn’t get round to banning phrasal verbs too, they don’t have them in Latin either. Or in Cornish, although that’s not really relevant as it’s an extinct language. Oh, like Latin then.

It’s true that stranded prepositions can sound clumsy at times, especially in formal writing, but you can end your sentence on a preposition if you want to. See it works fine.

Ol’ Johnny Dryden and his cranky followers misunderstood the difference between formal and informal/creative language. I don’t recall the name Dryden being up there with the likes of Hemingway, Twain and Shelley. I think we can guess why.

Either way, it’s a style thing, not grammar.

​The fewer vs less bogus rule

You know this one. Fewer should be used with countable nouns and less with singular or uncountable nouns such as sugar, rice, water etc. Units of time, money, and distance are treated as uncountable nouns for this rule.

Fewer nouns (countable) and less money(uncountable).

This time we pick up linguist Robert Baker’s book, Reflections on the English Language (1770). I can’t pin this one on Mr Baker as he never made it a rule, he thought it sounded better and it worked in certain circumstances, which is true enough.

Unfortunately, his musings were picked up by certain stuffy busybodies who turned it into a bogus rule.

This ‘rule’ contradicts both historical and everyday English. Written evidence, going back to the 9th century, shows the rule was never used formally until Baker’s thoughts were picked up by the busybodies.

Should you follow the fewer/less bogus rule? It’s probably the better option in your formal writing from a clarity and style perspective and if you don’t want your inbox full of complaints from the descendants of 18th-century busybodies.

Otherwise chill, the less rules the better. I bet that sentence annoyed a few of you but I couldn’t help myself.

​The road to hell is paved with flat adverbs bogus rule

Do you write slow? Do you think different? Did you just want to write in an -ly ending to the flat adverbs slow and different?

A flat adverb looks exactly like an adjective. Oh dear, that’s not how Latin works. Cue over-eager Victorian grammarians with a dead language fixation to put that one wrong, after hundreds of years of being absolutely right.

According to these venerable Victorians, it’s back to school for Mr Shakespeare, Ms Austen and Mr Twain. Stop sniggering at the back Charles Dickens, they’re looking at you too.

The busybodies didn’t understand English linguistics. Historically, flat adverbs used to be marked with inflections, usually with an ‘e’ on the end. Over time this ‘e’ was dropped and the flat adverbs then looked like adjectives. That doesn’t mean they are adjectives.

Although some usage guides still define flat adverbs as grammar errors, they are not, they’re a style choice.

I personally think flat and -ly adverbs such as in, write quick / write quickly or go slow / go slowly, give a slightly different nuance to writing. Why stifle that option by following a bogus rule?

​The not to ever split the infinitive bogus rule

It is a truth to universally be acknowledged that splitting the infinitive is a bogus rule and it is the age to actively seek wisdom and to completely forget this rule.

See what Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and I did there? We put a cheeky little adverb between the to and the bare verb.

Apparently, you shouldn’t do this. Why? Busybodies and Latin, that’s why. Bogus grammar rule alert.

The split infinitive rule was developed in the 19th century by Victorians who thought it might be useful to knock the square peg of English into the round hole of Latin. With a sledgehammer.

The only reason Latin infinitive verbs aren’t split isn’t grammatical, it’s because they only have one word.

With an inexplicable enthusiasm for a dead language and far too much time on his hands, Henry Alford wrote up the split infinitive bogus rule in his book, A Plea for the Queen’s English (1864). Alford was a theologian. Now I’m no theologian, but I’m fairly sure there was no 11th commandment that stated, Thou Shalt Not Split the Infinitive.

Unfortunately for writers ever since, the rule took hold because of Alford’s book.

The rule against splitting infinitives isn’t followed as strictly today as it used to be, but some people continue to propagate it. I suggest everyone else continues to completely ignore it and use whatever sounds best.

The not ever to split the infinitive rule? The not to split ever the infinitive rule? The not to split the infinitive ever rule? The not to ever split the infinitive rule?

Four options are better than one any day in creative writing. I prefer the last one though.

​The further and farther bogus rule

I never knew this bogus rule existed until I read a grammar post on Medium telling me I had to follow it. If I didn’t, I was an incompetent no-nothing fool and a useless writer. Maybe the writer didn’t use quite those words, but the implication was there.

Not wanting to be a fool or useless (in my mind anyway) and intrigued to have found a language rule I hadn’t known before, after many years immersed in English teaching and study, I did a bit of digging. Internet searches quickly showed me that some US grammar guides state that farther should be used to refer to physical distance and further to non-physical distance.

That was news to me. And probably another 1.3bn English-speaking people around the world. Most of us don’t make this distinction, further and farther are completely interchangeable for us. We Brits don’t even bother using farther at all. Why would we? It’s the same as further.

This bogus rule seems to have derived from a 19th-century edition of the Oxford Dictionary that sought to provide some rationale for there being two similar words for exactly the same thing. This definition was picked up in the US. The rest of us ignored it and carried on as before.

The US-based English language authority, Merriam-Webster, states that some usage guides say farther is used for physical distance and further for figurative distance but goes on to add that ‘historically’ they were interchangeable¹. It advises the reader to ‘let your ear guide you.’ I think that’s a clever way to sit on the fence and avoid angry emails from thousands of grammar pedants on either side of the debate.

The further I travel, the farther I am from understanding these bogus rules. Or should that be the other way round? Does it even matter? Not really.

The don’t use ‘like’ when you should use ‘as’ bogus rule. Like I always do

Yet another bogus rule that confuses grammar with formal and informal styles.

The bogus rule states that you shouldn’t use like for comparisons because it’s a preposition. You should use the conjunction, as. For example, the rule would not allow you to say, I enjoy novels by horror writers like Stephen King or, I love reading like you’d expect. The bogus rule says it should be such as Stephen King and as you’d expect.

Like is a conjunction too and if it’s good enough for not only Stephen Ki

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