Grammar Shmammer: Exceptions to the Rules (Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!)
I am known by my friends as “The Grammar Nazi” (or some variation of that). I have a nearly compulsive need to correct grammar snafus when I hear or see them, and some just piss me off. The obvious examples are the use of there vs. their vs. they’re (and your vs you’re, two vs. to vs too). I’ve given up on Facebook entirely, because A: I’d be doing nothing but correcting grammar mistakes all day, and B: I just piss people off when I do it. When I’m editing someone’s work though, I’m pretty picky. I point out things like who’s vs. whose, or who vs. whom, run on sentences, all the usual culprits. People make mistakes, and I understand that. Not everyone gives a damn about it as much as I do. But there are definitely things that I completely let slide. Honestly, there are a lot of grammar rules that have kind of gone by the wayside.
First of all, let’s talk about dangling prepositions (I’m not even going to delve into dangling participles in this post. Maybe next time if there’s any interest). What is a dangling preposition you ask? Well a preposition is “a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause.” Huh? We’re talking about words like around, under, over, in, on, after. One rule I’ve heard used is “anywhere a mouse can go”. Essentially, the rule concerning dangling prepositions is that you shouldn’t end your sentence in one. A favorite joke of mine is the one about the girl from Alabama sitting next to a couple of California girls on a plane. She asks them “Where y’all from?” and one of the California girls says “Um, like, you’re not supposed to end a sentence with ‘from’.” The Alabama girl says, “Fine, where y’all from BITCH?” Think of sentences like “Who’s the letter addressed to?” or “Tell me who to ask for.” Sometimes you can move the preposition and it sounds fine. But a lot of the time the correct version feels kind of unwieldy. “To whom is the letter addressed?” “Tell me for whom to ask.” Winston Churchill commented on the rule by saying “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.” This is why I don’t consider this a hard and fast rule, especially concerning dialogue. Nobody actually talks that way.
Next up are split infinitives. What is an infinitive? Phrases like “to think” or “to run”. A great example of a split infinitive would be from Star Trek: “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” The sentence splits up your infinitive “to go”. The correct way would be “To go boldly”. Pretty much you’re really going to see this with putting an adverb in the middle – or as I could have written that, you’re going to really see this. I split up to and see. It’s nitpicky and it doesn’t really matter. Split up your infinitives. It often sounds better anyway.
When we were in middle school, and high school too, we had it pounded into our heads not to start a sentence with a conjunction. What’s a conjunction? Remember Schoolhouse Rock? “Conjunction junction, what’s your function, hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” Words like ‘and’, but’, and ‘or’. I’m not sure why teachers thought it was so important to adhere to this rule. I break it ALL the time. And so can you. I won’t judge you for it. I think it’s perfectly acceptable – often it’s a good stylistic choice. So have fun with your conjunctions (but be careful about sentence fragments!).
The last rule I tend to let slide is plural pronouns with singular nouns. For example “Each student drank their chocolate milk.” Technically it should be “Each student drank his or her chocolate milk.” Another would be “Everyone has their own way of doing things.” Everyone is actually a singular noun. Seriously! The ‘correct’ form would be “Everyone has his own way of doing things.” I still abide by this rule, but I definitely don’t judge people who don’t. It can be a pain in the ass to remember, and saying “everyone buckle his or her seat belt” is just silly anyway.
I’m sure there are other rules I let slide too, but these are the nitpicky ones I say phooey to. Any of my fellow grammar nazis out there have other grammarian compulsions they choose to ignore?