Steven Pinker: 10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes) (2023)

Among the many challenges of writing is dealing with rules of correct usage: whether to worry about split infinitives, fused participles, and the meanings of words such as "fortuitous", "decimate" and "comprise". Supposedly awriter has to choose between two radically different approaches to these rules. Prescriptivists prescribe how language ought to be used. They uphold standards of excellence and a respect for the best ofour civilisation, and are a bulwark against relativism, vulgar populism and the dumbing down of literate culture. Descriptivists describe how language actually is used. They believe that the rules of correct usage are nothing more than the secret handshake of the ruling class, designed to keep the masses in their place. Language is an organic product of human creativity, say the Descriptivists, and people should be allowed to write however they please.

It's a catchy dichotomy, but a false one. Anyone who has read an inept student paper, a bad Google translation, or an interview with George W Bush can appreciate that standards of usage are desirable in many arenas of communication. They can lubricate comprehension, reduce misunderstanding, provide a stable platform for the development of style and grace, and signal that a writer has exercised care in crafting a passage.

But this does not mean that every pet peeve, bit of grammatical folklore, or dimly remembered lesson from Miss Thistlebottom's classroom is worth keeping. Many prescriptive rules originated for screwball reasons, impede clear and graceful prose, and have been flouted by the best writers for centuries.

How can you distinguish the legitimate concerns of a careful writer from the folklore and superstitions? These are the questions to ask. Does the rule merely extend the logic of an intuitive grammatical phenomenon tomore complicated cases, such as avoiding the agreement error in "The impact of the cuts have not been felt"? Do careful writers who inadvertently flout the rule agree, when the breach is pointed out, that something has gone wrong? Has the rule been respected by the best writers in the past? Is it respected by careful writers in the present? Is there a consensus among discerning writers that it conveys an interesting semantic distinction? And are violations of the rule obvious products of mishearing, careless reading, or a chintzy attempt to soundhighfalutin?

A rule should be rejected, in contrast, if the answer to any of the following questions is "Yes." Is the rule based onsome crackpot theory, such as that English should emulate Latin, or that the original meaning of a word is the only correct one? Is it instantly refuted by the facts of English, such as the decree that nouns may not be converted into verbs? Did it originate with the pet peeve of a self-anointed maven? Has it been routinely flouted by great writers? Is it based on a misdiagnosis of a legitimate problem, such as declaring that a construction that is sometimes ambiguous is always ungrammatical? Do attempts to fix a sentence so that it obeys the rule only make it clumsier and less clear?

Finally, does the putative rule confuse grammar with formality? Every writer commands a range of styles that are appropriate to different times and places. A formal style that isappropriate for the inscription on agenocide memorial will differ from acasual style that is appropriate for anemail to a close friend. Using an informal style when a formal style is called for results in prose that seems breezy, chatty, casual, flippant. Using aformal style when an informal style is called for results in prose that seems stuffy, pompous, affected, haughty. Both kinds of mismatch are errors. Many prescriptive guides are oblivious to this distinction, and mistake informal style for incorrect grammar.

The easiest way to distinguish a legitimate rule of usage from a grandmother's tale is unbelievably simple: look it up. Consult a modern usage guide or a dictionary with usage notes. Many people, particularly sticklers, are under the impression that every usage myth ever loosed on the world by a self-proclaimed purist will be backed up by the major dictionaries and manuals. In fact, these reference works, with their careful attention to history, literature and actual usage, are the most adamant debunkers of grammatical nonsense. (This is less true of style sheets drawn up by newspapers and professional societies, and of manuals written by amateurs such as critics and journalists, which tend to mindlessly reproduce the folklore of previous guides.)

What follow are 10 common issues of grammar selected from those thatrepeatedly turn up in style guides, pet-peeve lists, newspaper language columns and irate letters to the editor.

and, because, but, or, so, also

Many children are taught that it is ungrammatical to begin a sentence with a conjunction. That's because teachers need a simple way to teach them how to break sentences, so they tell them that sentences beginning with "and" and other conjunctions areungrammatical. Whatever the pedagogical merits may be of feeding children misinformation, it is inappropriate for adults. There is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a conjunction. "And", "but" and "so" are indispensable in linking individual sentences into a coherent passage, and they may be used to begin a sentence whenever the clauses being connected are too long or complicated to fit comfortably into a single megasentence. The conjunction "because" can also happily sit at the beginning of a sentence. Most commonly it ends up there when it introduces an explanation that has been preposed in front ofa main clause, as in: "Because you're mine, I walk the line." But it can also kick off a single clause when the clause serves as the answer to a why question: "'Why can't I have a pony?' 'Because Isaid so.'"

dangling modifiers

Do you see a problem with the sentences that follow?

"Checking into the hotel, it was nice to see a few of my old classmates in the lobby."

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"Turning the corner, the view was quite different."

"In order to contain the epidemic, the area was sealed off."

According to an old rule about "dangling modifiers", these sentences are ungrammatical. The rule decrees that the implied subject of the modifier (the one doing the checking, turning, and so on) must be identical to the overt subject of the main clause (it, the view, and so on). Most copy editors would recast the main clause, supplying it with a subject to which the modifier can be properly fastened:

"Checking into the hotel, I was pleasedto see a few of my old classmates in the lobby."

"Turning the corner, I saw that the view was quite different."

"In order to contain the epidemic, authorities sealed off the area."

Newspaper columns on usage are filled with apologies for "errors" like these. Danglers are extremely common, not just in deadline-pressured journalism but in the works of distinguished authors. Considering how often these forms turn up in edited prose and how readily they are accepted even by careful readers, two conclusions are possible: either dangling modifiers are a particularly insidious grammatical error for which writers must develop sensitive radar, or they are not grammatical errors at all. (Did you notice the dangler in the sentence before last?)

The second conclusion is the right one: some dangling modifiers should be avoided, but they are not grammatical errors. The problem with dangling modifiers is that their subjects are inherently ambiguous and sometimes a sentence will inadvertently attract a reader to the wrong choice, as in "When a small boy, a girl is of little interest."

But some so-called danglers are perfectly acceptable. Many participles have turned into prepositions, such as "according", "allowing", "concerning", "considering", "excepting", "following", "given", "granted", "owing", "regarding" and "respecting", and they don't need subjects at all. Inserting "we find" or "we see" into the main clause to avoid a dangler can make the sentence stuffy and self-conscious. More generally, a modifier can dangle when its implied subject is the writer and the reader. The decision of whether to recast a sentence to align its subject with the subject of a modifier is a matter of judgment, not grammar. A thoughtlessly placed dangler can confuse the reader or slow them down, and occasionally it can lure them into a ludicrous interpretation. Also, even ifadangler is in no danger of being misinterpreted, enough readers have trained themselves to spot danglers that a writer who leaves it incurs the risk of being judged as slovenly. So in formal styles it's not a bad idea to keepan eye open for them and to correct the obtrusive ones.

like, as, such as

Steven Pinker: 10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes) (1)

Long ago, in the Mad Men era when cigarettes were advertised on radio and television, every brand had a slogan. "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." "Lucky Strike means fine tobacco." "Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country." And most infamously, "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should."

The infamy did not come from the fact that the company was using a catchy jingle to get people addicted to carcinogens. It came from the fact that the jingle allegedly contained a grammatical error. "Like" is a preposition, said the accusers, and may take only a noun phrase object, as in "crazy like a fox" or "like a bat out of hell". It is not a conjunction and so may not be followed by a clause. The New Yorker sneered at the error, Ogden Nash wrote a poem about it, Walter Cronkite refused to say it on the air, and style guide icons Strunk and White declared it illiterate. The slogan, they all agreed, should have been "Winston tastes good, as a cigarette should." The advertising agency and the tobacco company were delighted by the unpaid publicity and were only too happy to confess to the error in the coda, "What do you want, good grammar or good taste?"

Like many usage controversies, the brouhaha over "like a cigarette should" is a product of grammatical ineptitude and historical ignorance. The ad's use of "like" with a clause was not a recent corruption; the combination has been in use for 600 years. It has been used inliterary works by dozens of great writers (including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, HG Wells and William Faulkner) and has flown beneath the radar of the purists themselves, who have inadvertently used it in their own style guides. This does not show that purists are only human and sometimes make errors; it shows that the alleged error is not an error. The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was confessing to the wrong crime; its slogan was perfectly grammatical. Writers are free to use either "like" or "as", mindful only that "as" is a bit more formal, and that the Winston-tastes-good controversy became such a bloody shirt in the grammar wars that readers may mistakenly think the writer has made an error.

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A related superstition, ruthlessly enforced by many copy editors, is that "like" may not be used to introduce examples, as in "Many technical terms have become familiar to laypeople, like 'cloning' and 'DNA'." They would correct it to "such as 'cloning' and 'DNA'". According to this guideline, "like" may be used only for resemblance to an exemplar, as in "I'll find someone like you" and "Poems are made by fools like me." Few writers consistently follow this bogus rule. "Such as" is more formal than "like", but both are legitimate.

preposition at the end of a sentence

Winston Churchill did not, as legend has it, reply to an editor who had corrected his prose with "This is pedantry up with which I will not put." Nor is that witticism (originally from a 1942 Wall Street Journal article) a particularly good example of the construction that linguists call "preposition stranding", as in "Who did you talk to?" or "That's the bridge I walked across." The particle "up" is an intransitive preposition and does not require an object, so even the most pedantic of pedants would have no objection to a phrase like "This is pedantry with which I will not put up."

Though the attribution and the example are spurious, the mockery is appropriate. The prohibition against clause-final prepositions is considered a superstition even by the language mavens, and it persists only among know-it-alls who have never opened a dictionary orstyle manual to check. There is nothing, repeat nothing, wrong with "Who are you looking at?" or "The better to see you with" or "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" or "It's you she's thinking of". The pseudo-rule was invented by John Dryden based on a silly analogy with Latin (where the equivalent to a preposition is attached to the noun and cannot be separated from it) in an effort to show that Ben Jonson was an inferior poet. As the linguist Mark Liberman remarked, "It's a shame that Jonson had been dead for 35 years at the time, since he would otherwise have challenged Dryden to a duel, and saved subsequent generations a lot of grief."

The alternative to stranding a preposition at the end of a clause is allowing it to accompany a "wh" word to the front, a rule that the linguist JR (Haj) Ross dubbed pied-piping, because it reminded him of the way that the Pied Piper lured the rats out of the village of Hamelin. The standard question rule in English converts "You are seeing what?" into "What are you seeing?" and hence "You are looking at what?" into "What are you looking at?" The pied-piping rule allows the "what" to pull the "at" with it to the front of the sentence, yielding "At what are you looking?" and similar clauses, such as "The better with which to see you," or "It's you of whom she's thinking."

How should you choose? Most obviously, pied-piping sounds better in a formal style. Abraham Lincoln knew what he was doing at thegraves of the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg when he vowed "increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion", rather than "increased devotion to that cause which they gave the last full measure of devotion for". The problem with stranding a preposition is that it can end the sentence with a word that is too lightweight to serve as its focal point, making the sentence sound like"the last sputter of an engine goingdead". By the same principle, apreposition should be stranded at the end of a sentence when it contributes acrucial bit of information, as in "music to read by", "something to guard against", or when it pins down the meaning of an idiom, as in "It's nothing to sneeze at" or "He doesn't know what he's talking about".

predicative nominative

When you come home after a day at the office, do you call out, "Hi, honey, it's I"? If you do, you are the victim of aschoolteacher rule that insists that a pronoun serving as the complement of "be" must be in nominative case (I, he, she, we, they) rather than accusative case (me, him, her, us, them). According to this rule, Psalms (120:5), Isaiah (6:5), Jeremiah (4:31), and Ophelia should have cried out, "Woe is I," and the cartoon possum Pogo should have reworded his famous declaration as "We have met the enemy, and he is we."

The rule is a product of the usual three confusions: English with Latin, informal style with incorrect grammar and syntax with semantics. Accusative predicates have been used for centuries by many respected writers (including Samuel Pepys, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf), and the choice between "It is he" and "It is him" is strictly one of formal versus informal style.

split infinitives

Most mythical usage rules are merely harmless. The prohibition of split infinitives (as in "Are you sure you want to permanently delete all the items and subfolders in the 'Deleted Items' folder?") and the even more sweeping prohibition of "split verbs" (as in "I will always love you" and "Iwould never have guessed") is downright pernicious. During the 2009 presidential inauguration, Chief Justice John Roberts, a famous stickler for grammar, could not bring himself to have Barack Obama "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office ofpresident of the United States". Abandoning hisstrict constructionism, Roberts unilaterally amended the Constitution and had Obama "solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully." The garbled oath raised fears about whether the transfer of power had been legitimate, and so they repeated the oath verbatim, split verb and all, in a private meeting later that afternoon.

The very terms "split infinitive" and "split verb" are based on a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split a verb because it consists of a single word, such as amare, "to love". But in English, the so-called infinitive "to write" consists of two words, not one: the subordinator "to" and the plain form of the verb "write", which can also appear without "to" in constructions such as "She helped him pack" and "You must be brave." There is not the slightest reason to interdict an adverb from the position before the main verb, and great writers in English have placed it there for centuries. Indeed, the spot in front of the main verb is often the most natural resting place for an adverb, and sometimes it is the only resting place. Unsplitting the infinitive in the New Yorker cartoon caption "I'm moving to France to not get fat" (yielding "I'm moving to France not to get fat") would garble the meaning, and doing so with "Profits are expected to more than double this year," would result in gibberish: "Profits are expected more than to double this year."

More generally, the preverbal position is the only one in which the adverb unambiguously modifies the verb. In a sentence in which the author may have taken pains to unsplit an infinitive, such as "The board voted immediately to approve the casino", the reader has to wonder whether it was the vote that was immediate, or the approval. With the infinitive left unsplit – "The board voted to immediately approve the casino" – it can only be the approval. This does not mean that infinitives should always be split. Indeed, it's a good habit to at least consider moving an adverb to the end of the verb phrase. If the adverb conveys important information, it belongs there; if it doesn't (such as "really", "just", "actually" and other hedges), it might be a verbal fluffball that is best omitted altogether. And since there are benighted sticklers out there who will mistakenly accuse you of making an error when you split an infinitive, you might as well not ask for trouble if it makes no difference to the sentence anyway.

Finally, in many cases a quantifier naturally floats leftward away from the verb, unsplitting the infinitive:

(Video) Steven Pinker

"I find it hard to specify when to not split an infinitive."

"I find it hard to specify when not to split an infinitive."

The unsplit versions sound more elegant to me, though I can't be sure that my ears haven't been contaminated by a habit of cravenly unsplitting infinitives to avoid spitballs from the Gotcha! Gang.

that and which

Many spurious rules start out as helpful hints intended to rescue indecisive writers from paralysis when faced with a choice provided by the richness of English. These guides for the perplexed also make the lives of copy editors easier, so they may get incorporated into style sheets. Before you know it, arule of thumb morphs into a rule of grammar, and a perfectly innocuous (albeit second-choice) construction is demonised as incorrect. Nowhere is this transition better documented thanwith the phony but ubiquitous rule on when to use "which" and whento use "that".

According to the traditional rule, thechoice depends on which of two kinds of relative clause the word is introducing. A nonrestrictive relative clause is set off by commas, dashes or parentheses, as in "The pair of shoes, which cost five thousand dollars, was hideous." A restrictive relative clause isessential to the meaning of the sentence, often because it pinpoints the referent of the noun from among a set of alternatives. If we were narrating a documentary about Imelda Marcos's vast shoe collection and wanted to single out one of the pairs by how much she paid for it and then say something about that pair alone, we would write "The pair of shoes that cost £5,000 was hideous." The choice between "that" and "which", according to the rule, is simple: nonrestrictive relative clauses take "which"; restrictive relative clauses take "that".

One part of the rule is correct: it's odd to use "that" with a nonrestrictive relative clause, as in "The pair of shoes, that cost £5,000, was hideous." So odd, in fact, that few people write that way, rule or no rule.

The other part of the rule is utterly incorrect. There is nothing wrong with using "which" to introduce a restrictive relative clause, as in "The pair of shoes which cost £5,000 was hideous." Indeed, with some restrictive relatives, "which" is the only option, such as "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "The book inwhich I scribbled my notes is worthless." Even when "which" isn't mandatory, great writers have been using it for centuries, as in the King James Bible's "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" and Franklin Roosevelt's "a day which will live in infamy".

So what's a writer to do? The real decision is not whether to use "that" or "which" but whether to use a restrictive or a nonrestrictive relative clause. If aphrase that expresses a comment about a noun can be omitted without substantially changing the meaning, and if it would be pronounced after a slight pause and with its own intonation contour, then be sure to setit off with commas (or dashes or parentheses): "The Cambridge restaurant, which had failed to clean itsgrease trap, was infested with roaches." Having done so, you don't have to worry about whether to use "that" or "which", because if you're tempted to use "that" it means either that you are more than 200 years old orthat your ear for the English language is so mistuned that the choiceof "that" and "which" is theleast of your worries.

If, on the other hand, a phrase provides information about a noun that is crucial to the point of the sentence (as in "Every Cambridge restaurant which failed to clean its grease trap was infested with roaches", where omitting the italicised phrase would radically alter the meaning), andif it is pronounced within the sameintonation contour as the noun, then don't set it off with punctuation. As for the choice you now face between "which" and "that": if you hate making decisions, you won't go wrong if you use "that".

who and whom

When Groucho Marx was once askeda long and orotund question, hereplied, "Whom knows?" A 1928 short story by George Ade contains theline "'Whom are you?' he said, for he had been to night school." In 2000 the comic strip Mother Goose and Grimmshowed an owl in a tree calling "Whom" and a raccoon on the ground replying "Show-off!" A cartoon entitled"Grammar Dalek" shows one of the robots shouting, "I think you mean Doctor Whom!"

The popularity of "whom" humour tells us two things about the distinction between "who" and "whom". First, "whom" has long been perceived as formal verging on pompous. Second, the rules for its proper use are obscure to many speakers, tempting them to drop "whom" into their speech whenever they want to sound posh.

So you may be inclined to agree with the writer Calvin Trillin when he wrote, "As far as I'm concerned, 'whom' is aword that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler." But this is an overstatement. There are times when even non-butlers need to know their "who" from their "whom".

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It ought to be straightforward. Thedistinction between "who" and "whom" is identical to that between "he" and "him" or "she" and "her", which no one finds difficult. We say "He kissed the bride," so we ask "Who kissed the bride?" We say "Henry kissed her," so we ask "Whom did Henry kiss?" But even after a century of nagging by prescriptive grammarians, the "who–whom" distinction remains tenuous in speech and informal writing. Only the stuffiest prig would say "Whom are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" "It's not what you know; it's whom you know," or "Do you know whom you're talking to?" And when people do try to write with "whom", they often get it wrong, as in "Whomever installed the shutters originally did not consider proper build out."

Like the subjunctive mood, the pronoun "whom" is widely thought tobe circling the drain. Indeed, tabulations of its frequency in printed text confirm that it has been sinking foralmost two centuries. The declining fortunes of "whom" may represent nota grammatical change in English but a cultural change in Anglophones, namely the informalisation of writing, which makes it increasingly resemble speech. But it's always risky to extrapolate a downward slope all theway to zero, and since the 1980s the curve seems to be levelling off. Though "whom" is pompous in short questionsand relative clauses, it is a natural choice in certain other circumstances, even in informal speech and writing. We still use "whom" in double questions like "Who's dating whom?", and in fixed expressions like "To whomit mayconcern" and "With whom do youwishto speak?". A scan of my email turns up hundreds of hitsfor "whom" in unmistakably informal sentences such as "Not sure ifyou remember me; I'm the fellow from Casasanto's lab with whom you had a hair showdown while at HunterCollege."

The best advice to writers is to calibrate their use of "whom" to the complexity of the construction and the degree of formality they desire. If William Safire, who wrote the New York Times' "On Language" column and coined the term "language maven" in reference to himself, could write, "Let tomorrow's people decide who they want to be president," so can you.

very unique

They say you can't be a little bit married or a little bit pregnant, and purists believe that the same is true forcertain other adjectives. One of the commonest insults to the sensibility ofthe purist is the expression "very unique" and other phrases in which an"absolute" or "incomparable" adjective is modified by an adverb ofdegree such as "more", "less", "somewhat", "quite" or "almost". Uniqueness, thepurists say, is like marriage and pregnancy: something iseither unique(one of a kind) or not unique, so referring to degrees of uniqueness ismeaningless. Nor can one sensibly modify "absolute", "certain", "complete", "equal", "eternal", "perfect" or "the same". Onemay not write, for instance, that one statement is "more certain" than another, or that an apartment is "relatively perfect".

A glance at the facts of usage immediately sets off Klaxon horns. Great writers have been modifying absolute adjectives for centuries, including the framers of the American Constitution, who sought "a more perfect union". Many of the examples pass unnoticed by careful writers, including "nothing could be more certain" and "there could be no more perfect spot". Though the phrase "veryunique" is universally despised, other modifications of "unique" are unobjectionable, as when Martin Luther King wrote, "I am in the ratherunique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers."

Here is the flaw in the purists' logic. Uniqueness is not like pregnancy and marriage; it must be defined relative to some scale of measurement. I am told that all snowflakes are unique, and so they may be under a microscope, but frankly, they all look the same to me. Conversely, each of the proverbial two peas in a pod is unique if you squint hard enough through a magnifying glass. Does this mean that nothing is unique, or does it mean that everything is unique? The answer is neither: the concept "unique" is meaningful only after you specify which qualities are of interest to you and which degree of resolution or grain size you're applying. Calling something "quite unique" or "very unique" implies that the item differs from the others in an unusual number of qualities, that it differs from them to an unusual degree, or both. In other words, pick any scale or cutoff you want, and the item will still be unique.

This doesn't mean that you should go ahead and use "very unique". "Very" is a soggy modifier in the best of circumstances, and the combination with "unique" grates on enough readers that it's wise to avoid it.

count nouns, mass nouns and"ten items or less"

English speakers can conceptualise aggregates as discrete things, which are expressed as plural count nouns, such as "pebbles" or as continuous substances, which are expressed as mass nouns, such as "gravel". Some quantifiers are choosy as to which they apply to. We can talk about "many pebbles" but not "much pebbles", "much gravel" but not "many gravel". Some quantifiers are not choosy: we can talk about "more pebbles" or "more gravel".

Steven Pinker: 10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes) (2)

Now, you might think that if "more" can be used with both count and mass nouns, so can "less". But it doesn't work that way: you may have "less gravel", but most writers agree that you can only have "fewer pebbles", not "less pebbles". This is a reasonable distinction, but purists have extended it with a vengeance. The sign over supermarket express checkout lanes, "Ten Items or Less", is a grammatical error, they say, and as a result of their carping upscale supermarkets have replaced the signs with "Ten Items or Fewer". By this logic, off licences should refuse to sell beer to customers who are "fewer than 21 years old" and law-abiding motorists should drive at "fewer than 70 miles an hour". And once you master this distinction, well,that's one fewer thing for you toworry about.

Clearly, the purists have botched the"less-fewer" distinction. "Less" is perfectly natural with a singular count noun, as in "one less car" and "one less thing to worry about". It's also natural when the entity being quantified is a continuous extent and the count noun refers to units of measurement, such as "21 years old" and "70 miles anhour"; like the 1-11 scale on Nigel Tufnel's favourite amplifier in This IsSpinal Tap, the units are arbitrary. And"less" is idiomatic in certain expressions in which a quantity is being compared to a standard, such as "Describe yourself in 50 words or less." Like many dubious rules of usage, the less-fewer distinction has a smidgen of validity as a pointer ofstyle. In cases where "less" and "fewer" are both available, such as "Less/fewer than 20 of the students voted", "fewer" is the better choice because it enhances vividness and concreteness. But that does not mean that "less" is a grammatical error.

Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century is published next month (Allen Lane, £16.99). To order it for £13.59 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330333 6846 or go to

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What are the 12 rules of grammar? ›

The 12 Rules of Grammar are:

Every sentence should start with a Capital letter in the first word. Every sentence should either end with a full stop (or) a question mark (or) an exclamation mark. Every sentence should have SVO (Subject – Verb – Object). The Subject and Verb forms are interrelated in the sentence.

What are the 10 most common grammar mistakes? ›

10 Most Common Grammar Mistakes to Look Out For
  • Subject-Verb Agreement Errors. ...
  • Sentence Fragments. ...
  • Misuse of Contractions and Apostrophes. ...
  • Passive Voice. ...
  • Dangling Modifiers. ...
  • Comma Splice. ...
  • Run-on Sentences. ...
  • Ending a Sentence in a Preposition.

How English breaks its own rules? ›

Oftentimes, English breaks its own "rules" anyway. Words that look the same can be pronounced differently, and words that sounds the same can be spelled differently. Some letters are silent altogether. And tricks like "I before E except after C" don't always apply.

Why do we need to break the rules? ›

Breaking rules is often the only way to explore new ideas and bring about change. If you toe the line all the time, how can your life be any different than it is – or for that matter, any different from the lives of many others around you? Learn all the rules, because you must learn the game and be accepted.

What are the 4 types of grammar? ›

Kinds of grammar.
  • prescriptive.
  • descriptive.
  • transformational-generative.

How many grammar rules are there? ›

Estimates range from 500 to 10,000, but for practical purposes, we can say that there are about 3,500 grammar rules.

What is an example of a grammar rule? ›

Six examples of grammar rules

Splitting infinitives: Avoid it in formal settings, otherwise, it's fine. Beginning a sentence with because: It's ok as long as the sentence is complete. Subject-verb agreement: The verb of a sentence should match the subject's plurality (or singularity).

Does English have grammar rules? ›

Some of the most basic and important English grammar rules relate to subject-verb agreement, meaning that a singular subject must have a singular predicate (and a plural subject must have a plural predicate).

What are 3 fundamental rules of sentence construction? ›

Sentence structure grammar rules

Capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence. End a sentence with a period, question mark, exclamation point, or quotation marks. Most of the time, the subject of the sentence comes first, the verb comes second, and the objects come last. (Subject -> Verb -> Object)

What is the most common grammar mistake? ›

Common English Grammar Mistakes
  • 1) Present and Past Tense. ...
  • 2) How To Avoid the Overuse of Adverbs. ...
  • 3) Your/You're. ...
  • 4) Misplacing Apostrophes. ...
  • 5) There / Their /They're. ...
  • 6) Confusing similar spellings and words. ...
  • 7) Using incomplete comparisons. ...
  • 8) Getting adjectives and adverbs confused.

What are the three most common sentence errors? ›

These errors are: run-on sentences; sentence fragments; and overloaded sentences.

How can I master grammar in English? ›

7 Tips to Improve Your Grammar Skills
  1. Read. Reading may be the number one way you can improve your grammar skills. ...
  2. Get a grammar manual. It is useful to have a thorough reference book nearby that you can consult when writing. ...
  3. Review the basics. ...
  4. Practice. ...
  5. Listen to others. ...
  6. Proofread…out loud. ...
  7. Write.
23 Oct 2014

What should I learn first in English grammar? ›

So, let's look at some basic grammar rules to get you started on your language-learning journey:
  • Step 1: Learn the Parts of Speech. The parts of speech are the different categories of English words. ...
  • Step 2: Learn New Vocabulary. ...
  • Step 3: Learn Sentence Structures. ...
  • Step 4: Learn Clauses. ...
  • Step 5: Learn English Grammar Tenses.
18 May 2021

How can I improve my English? ›

7 Ways to Quickly Improve Your English Language Skills
  1. Watch movies in English. ...
  2. Immerse yourself in English language news. ...
  3. Start a vocabulary book of useful words. ...
  4. Have conversations in English. ...
  5. Practice, practice, practice. ...
  6. Curiosity doesn't always kill the cat. ...
  7. Don't forget to have fun while you learn.

What are the types of grammar? ›

In English, there are two kinds of grammar: prescriptive grammar & descriptive grammar.

What is the basic grammar in English? ›

In English grammar, the eight major parts of speech are noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.

What is grammar in English PDF? ›

Grammar is a system of rules (and exceptions to those rules) that reveals and structures. meaning in language, and is made up of two things: syntax and morphology. Syntax is. concerned with the pattern or sequence of words in sentences, while morphology, as the.

Which language is hardest to learn? ›

15 of the hardest languages to learn, for English speakers -...
  • Russian.
  • Hindi.
  • Vietnamese.
  • Thai.
  • Korean.
  • 13. Japanese.
  • Mandarin Chinese.
  • Arabic.
7 Nov 2021

What happens when rules are broken? ›

Laws are enforced by the courts and the judicial system. If an adult breaks a law in the community or a business or organization does something illegal, they go to the judicial branch of government for review of their actions. The judicial branch is made up of different courts.

Why are rules are important? ›

Rules are important as families and citizens have to live their lives in a happy but safe state. Some aspects of why rules are important are: to maintain civil behaviour, be organised, more harmony in the community. Even under these aspects, there are more branches of why rules are important.

What are the consequences of breaking the rules? ›

When individuals violate the law, they face prison, fines, injunctions, damages, and any number of other unpleasant consequences.

What are the 12 types of tenses in English? ›

So, the twelve tenses in English are as follows:
  • Simple Present Tense.
  • Present Continuous Tense.
  • Present Perfect Tense.
  • Present Perfect Continuous Tense.
  • Simple Past Tense.
  • Past Continuous Tense.
  • Past Perfect Tense.
  • Past Perfect Continuous Tense.

What are 5 simple sentences? ›

1. Simple Sentences
  • Joe waited for the train. "Joe" = subject, "waited" = verb.
  • The train was late. "The train" = subject, "was" = verb.
  • Mary and Samantha took the bus. ...
  • I looked for Mary and Samantha at the bus station. ...
  • Mary and Samantha arrived at the bus station early but waited until noon for the bus.

What are the 7 types of sentences? ›

Answer: There are 8-types of sentences on the basis of function and structure are Declarative Sentence, Interrogative Sentence, Exclamatory Sentence, Imperative Sentence, Simple sentence, Compound Sentence, Complex sentence, and Compound -Complex sentence.

How do you avoid grammar mistakes? ›

  1. Learn Basic Grammar Rules. Before you can write without common grammatical errors, you must learn the rules. ...
  2. Write Clearly and Concisely. Keep your writing concise and clear. ...
  3. Proofread Your Work. ...
  4. Write and Review At Different Times. ...
  5. Read Your Work Backwards. ...
  6. Use A Spell Checker. ...
  7. Hire An Editor. ...
  8. Use Grammar Checking Software.

How much grammar is needed for spoken English? ›

Language acquisition doesn't require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules and does not require tedious drills. Once you know basic grammar such as tenses, prepositions, different forms of verbs, and subject-verb agreement, additional dose of grammar won't shine your spoken English further.

Why is grammar important? ›

Grammar is important because it provides information that helps the reader's comprehension. It is the structure that conveys precise meaning from the writer to the audience. Eliminate grammatical errors from your writing, and reward your readers with clear communication.

What is the most important part of English grammar? ›

The Tenses are the most important part of English Language. If you wish to write a correct sentence or wish to say anything to anyone, you need to express the idea in the right form of Tenses. English language has three main time divisions- Past, Present and Future expressed by the tenses.

What are the three major components of grammar? ›

Grammar consists of three components: (1) syntactic component, (2) semantic component, (3) phonological component. So, it does not only give sentence structure but also give an explanation of the mechanism of sentence formation as a structure born from an inner structure.

What are the two elements of grammar? ›

The subject and predicate make up the two basic structural parts of any complete sentence. In addition, there are other elements, contained within the subject or predicate, that add meaning or detail. These elements include the direct object, indirect object, and subject complement.

What are the 4 types of grammar? ›

Kinds of grammar.
  • prescriptive.
  • descriptive.
  • transformational-generative.

What are the basic grammar in English? ›

Basic Grammar Concepts: Parts of Speech. To start expanding your grammar knowledge, it's helpful to begin with an understanding of the eight traditional parts of speech that make up our sentences: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, interjections, and conjunctions.

How many rules does English grammar have? ›

Estimates range from 500 to 10,000, but for practical purposes, we can say that there are about 3,500 grammar rules. This estimate comes from David Crystal, the man who created the index for the grammar reference book: A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech & Svartvik.

What is the important of grammar rules in English? ›

Grammar is important because it provides information that helps the reader's comprehension. It is the structure that conveys precise meaning from the writer to the audience. Eliminate grammatical errors from your writing, and reward your readers with clear communication. Let us know if we can help.

What are the 12 types of tenses in English? ›

So, the twelve tenses in English are as follows:
  • Simple Present Tense.
  • Present Continuous Tense.
  • Present Perfect Tense.
  • Present Perfect Continuous Tense.
  • Simple Past Tense.
  • Past Continuous Tense.
  • Past Perfect Tense.
  • Past Perfect Continuous Tense.

What are 5 simple sentences? ›

1. Simple Sentences
  • Joe waited for the train. "Joe" = subject, "waited" = verb.
  • The train was late. "The train" = subject, "was" = verb.
  • Mary and Samantha took the bus. ...
  • I looked for Mary and Samantha at the bus station. ...
  • Mary and Samantha arrived at the bus station early but waited until noon for the bus.

What are the 7 types of sentences? ›

Answer: There are 8-types of sentences on the basis of function and structure are Declarative Sentence, Interrogative Sentence, Exclamatory Sentence, Imperative Sentence, Simple sentence, Compound Sentence, Complex sentence, and Compound -Complex sentence.

How do I improve my English grammar? ›

5 Tips to Improve Your Grammar
  1. Read: Reading is one of the secret weapons to improve your grammar skills. ...
  2. Use a grammar manual: It is a very useful idea to have a grammar manual nearby that you can consult when writing. ...
  3. Write more and quiz yourself: ...
  4. Re-reading aloud: ...
  5. 5 Consult others and learn from feedback:
4 Dec 2020

What is difference between grammar and Grammer? ›

Grammar consists of rules governing the structure of language. Grammer is a proper noun referring to a specific American neighborhood or a person's name.

What is a grammar mistake? ›

Grammatical error is a term used in prescriptive grammar to describe an instance of faulty, unconventional, or controversial usage, such as a ​misplaced modifier or an inappropriate verb tense. Also called a usage error. Compare grammatical error with correctness.

What is a grammar answer? ›

SOLUTION: Grammar is the study of words, how they are used in sentences, and how they change in different situations. ... The study of sentence structure.


1. The Sense of Style | Steven Pinker | Talks at Google
(Talks at Google)
2. Prescriptivism and Rules of Etiquette - Are you breaking the rules?
(Love Linguage)
3. 50 years of Linguistics at MIT, Lecture 1
4. How Does The Brain Develop Language? (S1EP5)
(Find Qualia)
5. You may be surprised where the left is getting inspiration
(Thomas SowellTV)
6. 50 years of Linguistics at MIT, Lecture 6
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