Grammar and Usage Rules that Aren’t

An abstract image of crumpled fabric.
Monotype, 2004.

As a lawyer, writer, and general nerd, I consider myself a bit of a grammar and usage stickler.  Language is always changing, though, and there are many rules to keep straight, so when I’m not sure about something, I look it up.  That’s what I did recently when I came across a post on social media declaring that people shouldn’t use the word “entitled” when they really mean “titled” (when referring to the name of a book, for example).  This person vehemently insisted that a book could not be “entitled” anything, but could only be “titled.”  It turns out he was wrong, though I’m not sure he could be convinced.

I react similarly strongly to the word “irregardless,” which has always bothered me.  It’s a double negative in one word — surely it can’t be right.  But at least some authoritative sources have blessed the use of the word “irregardless,” so I suppose it’s time for me to put aside my own misgivings.  (I’m still never going to use it.)

Some refer to these kinds of misguided edicts as zombie rules: “rules” that just won’t die.  Here are a few zombie rules that I break all the time:

  1. The one-sentence paragraph.  The whole thesis sentence, body, conclusion sentence structure may have been necessary when you were first learning to write an essay, but sometimes, one sentence says everything you need to say.  A single-sentence paragraph can also be attention-grabbing.
  2. Beginning a sentence with “and,” “or,” “but,” or “yet.”  Despite what your middle school English teacher may have told you, this is perfectly acceptable when done right.  Just don’t overuse it.
  3. Splitting infinitives.  Yes, you can write “to boldly go” instead of “to go boldly.”  Sometimes splitting the infinitive just sounds better.

What grammar zombie rules do you love to break?  Which outdated rules do you find hard to let go?

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