Old Grammar Rules That Should’ve Died with Latin

Here lies an obsolete grammar rule…

A friend of mine sent me a link to Oxford Dictionaries’ “Can you end a sentence with a preposition?” a few weeks ago. Obviously, I wasn’t horribly curious to hear the answer (having only just read the article). And why not? I already knew the technical answer, and I still didn’t care if anyone ends a sentence with a preposition. I still don’t. In fact, I’d bet you don’t either. And neither does most of the English-speaking world – it’s one of those old grammar rules that is so under-emphasized that I don’t know why we still have it.

That said, as an English-loving person, I read the article anyway (eventually). Ok, ok. To be honest, I skimmed it for interesting tidbits, and I found one. A little-known historical fact that answers a question I’ve felt but never tried to put into words:

Who made up those old grammar rules
and why did *he/they do it?

Now, you know me: I support knowing grammar rules for the simple reason that they give you the tools to shape sentences to create the effect and meaning you want. They’re especially good for making meaning clearer and easier to understand (especially these 5 grammar rules). And in absolute terms, I can sort of see that putting a preposition next to its object should be clearer than separating them. It really should.

But it usually isn’t.

The problem is that we usually separate prepositional phrases when saying the phrase as a whole interrupts the flow of the sentence, requires additional words and phrases, and makes the whole statement downright clunky. That’s not simplifying anything. And it rarely makes the sentence clearer (unless you’re drawing a sentence diagram… you know… for fun.).

So why did they do it? Why did they care about the rule?

Well, according to aforementioned blog post, they did it to follow the rules of Latin. That’s right. They criticized people’s English skills based on Latin rules.

And you thought today’s Grammar police were bad!

Can you imagine criticizing someone’s writing based on a different language system? I mean, I get that English stole its grammar, syntax, and words from a variety of languages, so, yes, it’s got a lot in common with Latin. But still! That’s like judging American football by rugby rules because they have a shared origin (at least, I hope it is… sports aren’t my best thing.)

Long story short, no wonder no one cares anymore! You want me to rewrite this sentence based on the rules of a dead language? Um… no.

Because that’s what Latin is – a dead language. Instructors even had to make up an accent for it because there was no one left to speak it in outside of academia. Yet a tiny handful of people are still judging English on it – telling us not to end sentences with prepositions or not to split infinitives.

And they don’t even know. But they will, right? The next time they try to correct you. 😉

*I assume “he” because of the time period of the rule and the lack of influential female grammarians from that time.


The Most Common Colon Error Ever: Make It Stop!

Colon errors make happy smiley angry

How I feel when I see this colon error

The colon is one of those punctuation tools that people tell you not to use if you’re not sure how to use it correctly. One problem: people think they know how to use it when they don’t. Which leads to the most common colon error ever – and, no, I’m not being as dramatic as you think. I see this colon error every single day, and it drives me crazy.

Wondering what the most common colon error is? Let me give you an example.

The correct way to use a colon never includes:

  • What I just did [coming between a verb and its direct object(s)]
  • Interrupting a thought (especially a sentence)

For some reason, people think that if you have a line that leads up to a list, the line ends with a colon. Maybe, or maybe not. It depends on the line. If the line is a complete sentence, then sure. Use a colon or a period. If the line is only part of a sentence (like the one in the example above), then DON’T USE A COLON!

Yes, colons are used with lists, but colons should not be used after a verb – unless the sentence ends with the verb. A colon should not interrupt a sentence unless quotes are involved (which interrupt the sentence anyway), yet I see this happening over and over again.

So what makes this so hard?

It’s like people remember that colons go with lists, but not the other half of the rule. They think, “It’s a list, and it looks funny to have the word hanging out there by itself without the rest of the sentence to finish it. I know! I’ll add a colon!”


If you want to add anything (if you can’t stand leaving the last word before the list alone by itself before hitting that “Bulleted list” button), add an ellipse. Technically, it’s not necessary, but it is correct.

If you want to use a colon correctly, use…

  • An ellipse instead of a colon after a verb that doesn’t end the sentence (like I just did)
  • A colon after a complete sentence before a list

See that? That’s ok. That’s not a colon error. Here’s another correct way to use a colon.

These are my top colon errors to avoid:

  • Using a colon between a verb and its direct object(s)
  • Interrupting a thought with a colon

Notice how the line before the list is a complete thought – even though it ends with the verb (ok, it’s an infinitive phrase, but to people who don’t remember what that is, it’s a verb). If you replaced the colon with a period, the statement would still make sense.

That’s how you know it’s ok to use the colon. That’s how you avoid making the most common colon error ever.

Got it?

Articles Are Important. Don’t Believe Me? Here Are 3 Examples to Prove It.

Articles: a, an, and the. Three little words that are often overlooked or outright dismissed, especially by math-minded people or people with English as their second language. No, really – I do a lot of editing for writers in both categories, and from experience, I can tell you that both definitely tend to skip articles. I’ll tell you the same thing I tell them every time I edit: Articles are important.

Don’t believe me? I can prove it with these 3 examples.

3 Examples to Prove That Articles Are Important

 1. Why “the” is important

To a lot of people, the is a filler word. It’s a word you pronounce differently to sound funny or pretentious. A word you’ve used for so long that you don’t even know its definition. In fact, you’ve probably never even thought if it as having a definition. But it’s a word – of course, it has a definition.

the: a definitive article used to denote that a person, place, or thing is unique

In other words, you use it to indicate that something is special or one-of-a-kind. It’s a way of being specific. And you might be surprised how vital it can be to certain phrases or sentences…

the is important articles are important

Did she tell a secret, or did she simply drop something?

Can you honestly tell me that those two statements mean the same thing? I mean, really, people – that’s a pretty big jump in meaning from putting in or taking out 1 little word!

 2. Why “an” is important

Ok, an doesn’t have as much of a definition going for it. The definition is basically “the definite article used before a word beginning with a vowel.” But it adds so much more meaning than that by helping you distinguish between different options.

Picture a fancy dinner party – you’re talking to a sexy writer for a big-time magazine who, naturally, starts boasting about recent interviews. You hear one of the two statements below…

an is important articles are importantHow would you tell the difference between these two homophones without an? Putting in an unnecessary article can make as dramatic a change as dropping a necessary one (Although, honestly, I’d be more interested in the 2nd statement…).

3. Why “a” is important

A is an‘s counterpart. The other side of its coin. The dark side of its moon. The an for words starting with consonant sounds.

Ok, I’m done.

Seriously though, a is just as important as the other two definite articles. It makes your language more precise and really helps you express yourself clearly. And if you still don’t think articles are important, just wait. I have saved the best example for last, and it is my personal favorite because it very clearly illustrates exactly how valuable the word a is.

a is important articles are important

It’s an important distinction to make. Especially to a police officer.

WIFE: Bail? Why do you need bail?
HUSBAND: I dropped an article.

There you have it: 3 examples to prove that articles are important. They can help you communicate, improve your chances of getting a date, and keep you out of jail.


Ok, ok. They can help you with the first one, which can help you with the other two. You’ll definitely impress English lovers more if you use them correctly (and they’ll laugh at you less). Believe me, writing book, sentence, or even ode without them, doesn’t make most understandable creations in long run.

Any questions?

7 Product Grammar Fails: The Tip of the Iceberg

who rescued who whom

“Whom.” You were trying to say, “Who rescued whom?” It’s a direct object, not a subject.

Maybe, it was the 200th time I saw the pet adoption sticker above and wanted a red marker. Or it could’ve been all the advertising I see that ignores direct address rules. Like every sports ad ever. Whatever the reason, I found myself particularly aware of products with bad grammar this holiday season. Here are 7  product grammar fails that I saw and thought to document from 3 shopping trips (that’s right – 3 trips):

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No wonder people don’t know how to use commas correctly! They see bad grammar everywhere.

It’s bad enough looking at internet posts where anyone can upload anything. There’s no one checking the posts, no quality control. But these are products sold by big companies! They have copyeditors – they should, anyway. I know that the actual manufacturing is usually outsourced as cheaply as possible (often to countries where English grammar is not a common skill), but the designs are still made in-house and should be checked in-house.

In other words, there’s no excuse for this. Either the company was too cheap to hire a copyeditor and trusted their target audience not to care (a probable yet frustrating option), or the copyeditor didn’t know grammar that well (grumble). Neither option is pleasing, and there’s only one thing we can do to fight it: spread the awareness.

Post products with *grammar fails. Correct them so that people learn. So that they are too ashamed to show off products that are missing commas. Better yet, teach them the right way so that they will never buy them. At least, teach them the top grammar rules not to break!

I know. I’m an optimist.

Look at it this way: even if it doesn’t teach everyone, you still get to correct the error virtually. That’s a lot better than getting arrested for vandalism when you paint the comma onto the expensive-yet-grammatically-incorrect billboard, right? It’s definitely less expensive than the hospital bills from the fall when the police bullhorn startles you into falling off (or am I the only klutzy grammar Nazi?).

Think about it. Better yet, start posting photos of products with horrible grammar in the comments! Satisfy your inner grammar Nazi and show the world the right way to write.

*Yes, I know that “grammar fail” is technically a grammar fail – I appease my inner grammar Nazi by considering it slang.

Grammar Humor to Brighten Your Weekend

Want to brighten your weekend? How about some grammar humor?

 1. Are We There Yet?

Are we there yet? Almost. T-shirt

Run, pun! Run!

They get capitalization and punctuation leniency since it’s a pun (because puns naturally break a lot of those rules). Still, I’d be more tempted to buy the t-shirt from etsy if the capitalization were better…

 2. Learn to Cut and Paste Kids

We're going to learn to cut and paste kids. Commas matter.

Ah, Grammarly, an oldie but a goodie. Also, outside of an Adobe Cloud class, never say this as written. 

See! See! Direct address matters! Using correct direct address punctuation can keep you from sounding like a serial killer!

3. The Difference Between Knowing Your Shit And…

Grammar The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you're shit

Whoever wrote this at http://www.imfunny.net falls into the first category.

Granted, it’s possible to know your shit and still know you’re shit, but the related emotional problems are a little too deep for a grammar-humor post. Let’s just pretend that if you know your shit, you know you’re not shit (if you’ll excuse my French).

 4. Adjectives vs. Nouns: The Difference a Comma Makes

Toilet only for disabled elderly pregnant children

How does that even work? No. No. Don’t tell me.

So… nobody use this toilet. It’s off limits to everyone who exists within logic and reason. That, or add commas. Commas could work. Articles would help, too.

 5. The Cannons Be Ready, Captain

The cannons be ready Captain. Are.

I have no idea who made this. But whoever it was, hats off to you! (I’ll even overlook the missing direct address comma!)

This is a personal favorite. It’s fairly subtle as puns go, but you know that every time you hear a pirate say, “Arrr” now, you’re going to hear, “Are.” It’s a great example of how to take an old standard and turns it on its ear (AKA the art of the unexpected). Way to go! Now, even pirates can have grammar humor!

And now you’ve had a bit of grammar humor to brighten your weekend. I hope it was worth a smile at least!

Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About Split Infinitives?

You know it’s true. For all that high school Grammar & Composition teachers tried to drill it into us, nobody cares. I’m not even sure the teachers care outside the classroom. Even grammar nazis seem to shrug and look the other way.

In case some of you care so little that you’ve already wiped the error from your mind, here’s how it works.

to + a verb in its infinitive form = an infinitive phrase

For example, “to be,” “to run,” and “to gallivant” are all infinitive phrases. Written like that, they’d be correct (not split). If you stick an adverb in the middle of them, “to humbly be,” “to awkwardly run,” or “to dramatically gallivant,” then they’re split and (technically) incorrect.

So why doesn’t anyone seem to care?

I don’t know (I don’t think anyone can know), but I can theorize. I can theorize that most people don’t know what an infinitive is, let alone an infinitive phrase or a split infinitive. And if they have no clue what it is, why on Earth would they care? (Let alone how…)

Then again, many people don’t know about plenty of other grammar errors, and it drives grammar lovers crazy (homophone errors or direct address, for starters).

So why is it that grammar lovers (or nazis) don’t care about this particular rule?

It can’t be because we split infinitives all the time when we talk – we break plenty of grammar rules when we talk. Most grammar nazis either understand the difference between casual speech and formal speech (especially between spoken and written) or don’t care and get upset about grammar mistakes in either.

The only reason I can think that explains why no one cares about split infinitives is the fact that it doesn’t muddle meaning. It really doesn’t. In English, adverbs can go before or after the verbs they modify, so it isn’t misplacing the modifier. It truly seems to be a rule for the sake of a rule (which, I would argue, is not usually the case).

But, like I said, I don’t know. That’s the only reason I’ve thought of that makes some sense (to me). How about you? Got any ideas?

Is There an Author Who’s Submitted to a Publisher & Never Received a Single Rejection Letter?

I am seriously curious. Does anyone know if there is an author who’s submitted to a publisher and never – I mean NEVER – received a single rejection letter? I think if I submitted something and got accepted the first try I’d be tempted never to try again just to be able to say that (tempted only. I couldn’t resist writing and trying again!).

Many of the most famous writers received rejection letters before finally being published. There are any number of great quotes by them on the matter, too. Some of the best writing advice out there is to write and submit over and over and over again until you get something published. And then, start all over.

Here’s an interesting example:

J.K. Rowling, famed author of the Harry Potter series, not only received rejection letters for that aforementioned series (I bet those publishers regret that now) but also received rejections letters for the unrelated series she’s written since then. We know this because Rowling posted two of the rejection letters on her twitter feed to show her fans that a rejection letter is not the end of the world. Or the end of a writing career for that matter.

Personally, I feel a little sorry for the publishers who didn’t know they were turning down such a famous author (their names were hidden, so it’s ok.), but I can also understand why she would want to try to publish the new series without resting on her laurels. It’s kind of like being an actor or actress who did so fabulously and famously in a specific role that your chance of getting a different kind of role is almost impossible. Or, it could make you wonder if you’re getting the new role because you deserved it or simply because the producers thought your name would sell in the box office.

I’m actually the most curious about how different the Harry Potter series was when it was accepted versus when it was rejected. Did she change it, or did she submit the same manuscript elsewhere?

See, like those producers, publishers are also thinking of salability, and if there’s a glutton of a certain type of novel on the market, then, maybe, book A will be chosen over book B. On the other hand, if there aren’t so many books competing, maybe, both would be published (Or that’s my impression from what publishers and authors say on the subject).

So if the timing is such a big part of getting published, are rejection letters a kind of notice that the time isn’t right yet? And submitting again and again to different publishers is like knocking on someone’s door – are you ready yet? You don’t want to be too obnoxious, but checking in every so often makes sense.

That’s not to say that all manuscripts that are submitted are going to be published if they’re submitted over and over again without any changes. Some novels do need revisions. That said, there are also plenty of novels that were rejected by multiple publishers before being picked up and hitting it big. And plenty of novelists whose works were rejected after they had big hits. No one is immune (Seriously, can you think of anyone?), so think of rejection letters as part of the publishing process.

C’mon, guys. Everybody’s doing it.

With Perfect Grammar, They Ask “Why Does Grammar Matter?”

Since I think a lot of you are word lovers, I may be preaching to the choir, but it scares me a little when people ask things like “Why does grammar matter?

If it’s an honest, innocent question, that’s fine (although it makes me sad for our education system). When it’s an objection like “But that’s not really important!” it drives me a little crazy (I’ve had this discussion with a student recently. It hurt my heart.). The horrible irony of questions and objections like this is that the people saying them have to use grammar to say them.

That’s right. Grammar is how language works. It’s the system the language follows. Without it, you can’t say anything. Ok, maybe, you could say gibberish (unconnected words), but you can’t actually communicate well with words without any grammar. Grammar is the rules that glue words together so that people can understand what you’re trying to say.

Even if you somehow break all the rules of grammar and manage to convey your point, you know what? You’ve almost certainly set up new rules that allowed the words to function – which means there was still grammar. You were still following some sort of structure: otherwise, the “sentence” would have no meaning. Nonverbal and graphic communication also have their own systems of rules (A.K.A. grammar).

I think the people who ask stuff like this are tired of schoolwork – it requires a higher level of grammar. Yep. You heard right. Languages have several levels of grammar (English does, anyway.). Depending on what you’re doing, you may need a higher or lower level. School homework, academic publishing, and areas of nonfiction require the highest levels of grammar. Regular speech? Not so much. Even casual writing (like this) is less strict about grammar (“How Good Does My Grammar Need to Be?“).

That doesn’t mean you can ignore grammar completely and expect to be understood. If you want to write using a lower level of grammar, the main point is to use enough that people can still get what you’re saying. Watch out for the “Top 5 Grammar Rules Not to Break,” and if something is confusing, try improving the grammar. Odds are, it’ll get clearer.

But I’ve babbled on long enough. Long story short: the answer to the question is communicating ideas and making sense. That’s why grammar matters.

Less v. Fewer: Finally! A Checkout Lane with Good Grammar!

Thanks, Meijer. Please, share your wise, grammatically correct ways with other stores.

I was so excited that the grammar was correct that I had to take a picture. Ridiculous? Yes. But so many stores get it wrong, that a sign that actually said “12 items or fewer” made my day!

For the record, always use “fewer” with countable nouns: items, tables, shirts, cars, etc. If you can say, “1 car, 2 cars, or 3 cars,” and it makes sense, then it’s a countable noun. Nouns that aren’t countable don’t have plural forms: furniture, milk, money, etc. You wouldn’t say, “1 money, 2 money, or 3 money,” (at least I hope you wouldn’t), so you can use “less” with those words.

Yay! Now, you too can share in the annoyance when grocery stores get it wrong. Pass the word – maybe, someday, all the signs will be right! (I’m not holding my breath.)

3 Words So Commonly Used Incorrectly That Most People Just Don’t Care

Sadly, there are far more than three. You know it. I know it. Let us remove our hats, bow our heads, and have a moment of silence for all the poor words so commonly used incorrectly.

Ok. Moment of silence over.

I picked these three words because they’ve been misused so much that the false definition is commonly accepted as correct, and most people will react strangely if you use them correctly (and think you’re stupidly zealous if you correct them…).

 1. Literally

This word means that something actually happened or could happen. It means that the words it was applied to were factually true. Sadly, many people use it paired with an exaggeration. “It took literally twelve hours to travel 1 mile.” No, no, it didn’t. And if it did, you should’ve gotten out of the car and walked.

Sadly, I think it’s probable that actual grammarians started this through the use of sarcasm and irony, but as Oscar Wilde warned us, the irony was wasted.

 2. Nauseous

People say that they feel nauseous when they’re sick to their stomach, queasy, or liable to vomit. What they’re actually saying is that they feel disgusting enough to make someone else throw up. How, we don’t know (I’ve heard of colors that nauseous, but not usually people – and nauseous people aren’t usually that self-aware).

If someone feels sick, he or she should say, “I feel nauseated,” instead; however, they don’t. The wrong usage has become so common that it’s disgusting.

 3. Hopefully

“Hopefully, we won’t have any trouble making our connection.” We hear this, and we know the person means that he or she hopes that they won’t have any trouble with the connecting flight (or train, I suppose). It actually means 2 things: 1. they won’t have any trouble with the connection, and 2. they’re going to make their connection in a hopeful manner – maybe, they’ll smile and spout positive idioms at people all the time like some modern-day Pollyanna. Or perhaps they’ll keep their hands clasped in front of them and make a strong display of faith.

You know what, the way we use the word is actually really confusing and hard to picture. Instead of trying to figure out how to do things in a hopeful manner, just replace “Hopefully,” with “I hope.”

Of course, if you’re writing dialogue, you’ll probably want to use these words incorrectly to make it sound more like real dialogue – unless the character is strict about grammar. That character would probably use them right. Then, you could even have a conversation between the characters about correct usage.

Just think! You could educate a generation of readers about the right way to use a word! The only problem is… which one do you pick?