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.

Presidents Day vs. President's Day vs. Presidents' Day: Which One Is It?

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iStock

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" implies that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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Can You Tell an Author’s Identity By Looking at Punctuation Alone? A Study Just Found Out.

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iStock.com/RyersonClark

In 2016, neuroscientist Adam J Calhoun wondered what his favorite books would look like if he removed the words and left nothing but the punctuation. The result was a stunning—and surprisingly beautiful—visual stream of commas, question marks, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods.

Recently, Calhoun’s inquiry piqued the interest of researchers in the United Kingdom, who wondered if it was possible to identify an author from his or her punctuation alone.

For decades, linguists have been able to use the quirks of written texts to pinpoint the author. The process, called stylometric analysis or stylometry, has dozens of legal and academic applications, helping researchers authenticate anonymous works of literature and even nab criminals like the Unabomber. But it usually focuses on an author's word choices and grammar or the length of his or her sentences. Until now, punctuation has been largely ignored.

But according to a recent paper led by Alexandra N. M. Darmon of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an author’s use of punctuation can be extremely revealing. Darmon’s team assembled nearly 15,000 documents from 651 different authors and “de-worded” each text. “Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on their punctuation sequences?” the researchers asked. “Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time?”

Apparently, yes. The researchers crafted mathematical formulas that could identify individual authors with 72 percent accuracy. Their ability to detect a specific genre—from horror to philosophy to detective fiction—was accurate more than half the time, clocking in at a 65 percent success rate.

The results, published on the preprint server SocArXiv, also revealed how punctuation style has evolved. The researchers found that “the use of quotation marks and periods has increased over time (at least in our [sample]) but that the use of commas has decreased over time. Less noticeably, the use of semicolons has also decreased over time.”

You probably don’t need to develop a powerful algorithm to figure that last bit out—you just have to crack open something by Dickens.

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