The Top 10 Grammar Myths

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Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and is known for her Grammar Girl websitepodcast, and games.

Before you argue with me, read the whole explanation about why each of these is a myth.

1. A run-on sentence is a really long sentence. 

Wrong! They can actually be quite short. In a run-on sentence, independent clauses are squished together without the help of punctuation or a conjunction. If you write “I am short he is tall,” as one sentence without a semicoloncolon, or dash between the two independent clauses, it's a run-on sentence even though it only has six words.

2. You shouldn't start a sentence with the word “however.” 

Wrong! It's fine to start a sentence with “however” so long as you use a comma after it when it means "nevertheless."

3. “Irregardless” is not a word. 

Wrong! “Irregardless” is a bad word and a word you shouldn't use, but it is a word. “Floogetyflop” isn't a word—I just made it up and you have no idea what it means.  “Irregardless,” on the other hand, is in almost every dictionary labeled as nonstandard. You shouldn't use it if you want to be taken seriously, but it has gained wide enough use to qualify as a word.

4. There is only one way to write the possessive form of a word that ends in “s.” 

Wrong! It's a style choice. For example, in the phrase “Kansas's statute,” you can put just an apostrophe at the end of “Kansas” or you can put an apostrophe “s” at the end of “Kansas.” Both ways are acceptable.

5. Passive voice is always wrong. 

Wrong! Passive voice is when you don't name the person who's responsible for the action. An example is the sentence "Mistakes were made," because it doesn't say who made the mistakes. If you don't know who is responsible for an action, passive voice can be the best choice. 

6. “I.e.” and “e.g.” mean the same thing. 

Wrong! “E.g.” means "for example," and “i.e.” means roughly "in other words." You use “e.g.” to provide a list of incomplete examples, and you use “i.e.” to provide a complete clarifying list or statement.

7. You use “a” before words that start with consonants and “an” before words that start with vowels. 

Wrong! You use “a” before words that start with consonant sounds and “an” before words that start with vowel sounds. So, you'd write that someone has an MBA instead of a MBA, because even though “MBA” starts with “m,” which is a consonant, it starts with the sound of the vowel “e”--MBA. 

8. It's incorrect to answer the question "How are you?" with the statement "I'm good." 

Wrong! “Am” is a linking verb and linking verbs should be modified by adjectives such as “good.” Because “well” can also act as an adjective, it's also fine to answer "I'm well," but some grammarians believe "I'm well" should be used to talk about your health and not your general disposition. 

9. You shouldn't split infinitives. 

Wrong! Nearly all grammarians want to boldly tell you it's OK to split infinitives. An infinitive is a two-word form of a verb. An example is "to tell." In a split infinitive, another word separates the two parts of the verb. "To boldly tell" is a split infinitive because “boldly” separates “to” from “tell.”

10. You shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition. 

Wrong! You shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing if you left off the preposition. That means "Where are you at?" is wrong because "Where are you?" means the same thing. But there are many sentences where the final preposition is part of a phrasal verb or is necessary to keep from making stuffy, stilted sentences: “I'm going to throw up,” “Let's kiss and make up,” and “What are you waiting for” are just a few examples.  

You can find more information about each of these myths in the Grammar Girl archives.

This article was originally published by Mignon Fogarty on quickanddirtytips.com and shared here because we love her. She is also the author of the New York Times best-seller Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

8 Persnickety Rules From the Associated Press Stylebook

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iStock.com/AndreyPopov

Serving as an authority for working journalists on grammar, capitalizations, abbreviations, spelling and so much more, the AP Stylebook can be found in almost every newsroom in the country. Although some publications (such as The New York Times) stray from the guide, it's become almost like a bible since its beginnings in 1953. Updates are officially made every year as each new edition is published, and to stay culturally relevant, new rules are added. The committee of editors who set style aren't messing around: They've determined what makes a boat a boat and a ship a ship, the spelling of "Daylight Saving Time," and that numbers above 10 must use numerals. Here are nine rules from the AP Stylebook that you might never know unless you looked them up.

1. OK

None of this okay business. It's OK, OK'd, OK'ing, and OKs. (Yeah, it's going to look like you're shouting. It's OK.) This spelling may draw from the origins of the phrase.

2. Health Care

Although many in the industry spell it healthcare (one word), the AP persists in spelling it as two words—health care, although it's a hotly debated item that could change soon.

3. Toward

Add an s to the end of this word, and prepare for the wrath of every American copy editor's red pen. (Ditto on forward.)

4. Co-working vs. coworking

The people you see every day in the office (or the people on your team, even if they're halfway around the world) are your co-workers. But if you rent a shared work space, those are your coworkers, without a hyphen. And yes, that means it's called a coworking space.

5. Champagne

Grab the bottle and check the label. If it's from the Champagne region of France, always capitalize. If made elsewhere, call it "sparkling wine."

6. Percentages

For a long time, the AP Stylebook said to never use the little symbol for percent and always spell it out. For example, "About 80 percent of AP Stylebook users actually know this rule." (We just made that statistic up.) As of 2019, however, the AP Stylebook says the percentage sign is acceptable when paired with a numeral in most cases.

7. No Hyphenation on Dual Heritage Terms

In a new change for 2019, the Stylebook says not to hyphenate terms like African American, Asian American, and Filipino American.

8. No Italics

The Associated Press doesn't use italics. Instead, writers who follow the AP Stylebook put quotation marks around the titles of books, movies, plays, and the like.

9. Trademarks

It's OK to use brand names if you're actually talking about the brand name. But if you're unsure of whether it's the good stuff or generic, use common terms like "facial tissue" for Kleenex and "flying disc" for Frisbee.

A version of this list first ran in 2013.

4 Fake Grammar Rules You Don't Need to Worry About

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iStock.com/nzphotonz

There are many grammar rules that students of English must learn about in order to understand how the language works. There are some rules, however, that don’t reflect how the language works at all and are simply passed down from generation to generation just because. It’s good to be familiar with them for the same reason it’s good to know arbitrary dress code customs, which is to say, because someone might judge you for not following them. But they have little to do with logic, clarity, the facts of English, or even being a good writer.

In honor of National Grammar Day, here are four grammar rules that aren’t really rules at all.

1. Don't split infinitives.

The rule against splitting infinitives says that nothing must come between a to and its verb. It is incorrect to boldly go. One must instead arrange to go boldly, or boldly to go. But this rule has no real justification. In fact, this rule was never mentioned in any treatises on English until an 1834 anonymous article proposed it, claiming that keeping the to and the verb next to each other is what good authors did. But plenty of good authors had in fact been splitting infinitives for hundreds of years, from John Wycliffe in the 14th century to Samuel Johnson in the 18th century.

Though many writers thought this imaginary rule was unnecessary and even sometimes harmful to clarity (George Bernard Shaw said, “Every good literary craftsman splits his infinitives when the sense demands it”), it somehow made its way into a number of usage guides and stayed there. Read Tom Freeman's history of the rule here

2. Don't end a sentence with a preposition.

We are told not to end a sentence with a preposition. What is this rule for? I mean, for what is this rule? Wait, would anyone really use the second construction to ask this question? Ending a sentence with a preposition is completely natural in English and not at all wrong. The rule came about during the 17th century when scholars were deeply immersed in the study of Latin and took to emulating Latin as a model of linguistic purity. Because a preposition can’t be stranded in Latin, some thought that the same should hold for English. But English differs from Latin in countless ways, and to cling to a prohibition that forces you to swap It’s nothing to worry about for It’s nothing about which to worry does not encourage good style or clarity of expression. Don’t believe me? Ask Oxford Dictionaries.

But what about sentences like Where’s he at? or Do you want to come with? Should those be considered correct, then? No. Those are examples of non-standard grammar because they're used in non-standard dialects, not because they end with prepositions. At where is he? does not sound any better, and if the problem with come with is the ending preposition, why doesn’t come along sound just as bad? 

3. Don't use they as a singular pronoun.

The rule says that because they is a plural pronoun, it must have a plural antecedent. This means that the sentence If anyone has a problem with that, they should tell me is wrong because anyone is singular and they is plural. They should be switched to a singular pronoun, but which one? “Generic he” was the prescription in the 19th century (If anyone has a problem with that, he should tell me), but as it became clear that he was neither generic nor neutral, the suggestion was to either use the cumbersome “he or she” (If anyone has a problem with that, he or she should tell me) or to rewrite the sentence entirely (Got a problem with that? Let me know).

Sticklers have been wringing their hands about how to reconcile this rule with guidelines for nonsexist language for decades now, but the solution has been right there all along. Just use singular they. The pronouns they/them/their have been used with singular antecedents for centuries. It’s perfectly good English. It sounds completely natural. Great writers like Shakespeare and Jane Austen used it. Does anyone really think Everyone clapped his hands sounds better than Everyone clapped their hands?

Editors like John McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun have been letting the singular they through for a while now and most of the time no one notices. What we have in singular they, according to linguist Geoff Pullum, is “a logically impeccable construction that expert users of the language regularly employ and experienced listeners unhesitatingly accept. I wonder what more one would need to take something to be grammatical.” 

4. Don't start a sentence with hopefully.

The ban on hopefully as a sentence adverb meant that you were only to use it to mean “in a hopeful manner.” So I waited hopefully was good, but Hopefully, the bus will get here soon was bad. Buses don’t do things in a hopeful manner! What you were supposed to say in that situation was It is hoped that the bus will get here soon.

Hopefully was being picked on rather unfairly. No one had a problem with fortunately/clearly/unbelievably/sadly/mercifully the bus will get here soon. There are plenty of other adverbs that can modify a whole sentence without causing a stir. Hopefully was singled out because it was new in the '60s, people noticed it, complained about it, and made up a reason to justify their complaints. It is still one of those gotcha words that attract the red pen, but even the AP Stylebook has given up trying to enforce the ban. 

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