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Rules That Aren't Options
tfrank
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 5:49:13 PM
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Joined: 3/16/2009
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Location: Pennsylvania
Wordnerd's response to my earlier prescriptivist/descriptivist quesry got me thinking about this one.

Any rules that some people strongly adhere to that just make no sense to you at all? Rules your teachers insisted on but that you now know grammarians laugh at? Rules that have changed or that never were?

It makes me a little crazy when people insist a singular noun that ends in s can't take an apostrophe s and must take an apostrophe only. Wrong, wrong, wrong! (Um, okay, with a few exceptions.) Although both methods are considered correct, the apostrophe s has been the preferred method for showing possession in such cases at least from the time E. B. White first wrote about it.

I'm also okay with split infinitives. I know a lot of people aren't, but there has never been a consensus among grammarians with this one. Even Henry Fowler had no problem with it back in 1926. How much less striking would the opening sequence of Star Trek be if Captain Kirk were only going boldly instead of boldly going?

What are the "rules" that you take issue with? (Oh, excuse me - with which you take issue?)
NickN
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 5:55:41 PM
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Joined: 3/16/2009
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Neurons: 275
Well your last one is a great example: ending a sentence with a preposition.

Why not?
tfrank
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:13:51 PM
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Joined: 3/16/2009
Posts: 73
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Location: Pennsylvania
That was the inspiration from wordnerd. I just couldn't help myself.

Wordnerd (okay, here is where a gender-neutral pronoun would be useful) said the rule is a carryover from Latin, and points out (rightly) that this is ridiculous in English.

I hate the "this is how it's done in Latin" argument. I've heard it before. The editor of Copyeditor, Wendalyn Nichols, has used it. Blech. As if changing the newsletter's name from Copy Editor wasn't enough.
krmiller
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:26:56 PM
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Not splitting infinitives and not ending sentences with prepositions are both rules taken from Latin. I believe it was some medieval grammarians, at the time that Latin was starting to die out as the language of scholarship in favor of the vernacular, who decided that English didn't have any grammar because it didn't have rules as strict as Latin did, so they got some rules from Latin and said they had to apply to English too. (Note: this is the layman's version and an actual philologist would probably have a much better way of putting it.) So they've been dutifully recited ever since, without regard to the actual way English is used.

Rearranging sentences so they don't end in prepositions can be fun, though. "This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put!" (George Bernard Shaw again, I think.)
tfrank
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:41:20 PM
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Joined: 3/16/2009
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Neurons: 219
Location: Pennsylvania
I always heard it was Churchill, and then I read this:

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001715.html

Gotta love "arrant pedantry," though.
prolixitysquared
Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 8:36:58 PM
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Joined: 3/16/2009
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Location: pennsylvania.
NickN wrote:
Well your last one is a great example: ending a sentence with a preposition.

Why not?


Another peeve that causes shuddering-- ending a sentence with a preposition.

It sounds so incomplete and choppy to end sentences in prepositions, but then on the other hand, when you do speak correctly with the preposition in its proper place, that then comes off as as somewhat snobby and elitist. That may be an opinion, but I have a feeling most would agree with it.

I am full of anecdotes, I suppose. A few years ago, I was with friends on some rail car heading to a hotel in Portland, Oregon. We were about to attend an English convention. We were talking about this issue, and suddenly the man across from us joined in on the conversation. It turned out that he was an English professor attending the convention. He gave us the explanation that it's acceptable to end sentences in prepositions in common speech but not in formal writing. But really, is that only acceptance because it's the norm ? I guess there is a lot more about language that is ruled by 'the norm,' and I just haven't heard all instances yet.
Citiwoman
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 1:59:08 AM
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Although split infinitives irk me, I see that they are more commonly accepted with time. I would put ending sentences with prepositions (which once made me cringe but now tempts me because it seems more natural) and beginning sentences with "and" (practically my hobby) in the same category. Writing seems to get more relaxed with time. I do notice elementary-level teachers in ways I deem just wrong. It's a little disheartening.
tfrank
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 7:38:00 AM
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Joined: 3/16/2009
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Location: Pennsylvania
Oh, my gosh, elementary school teachers - yes! My mother was a teacher, I have friends who are teachers, and I have the utmost respect for good teachers, but a lot of teachers aren't good.

One of my son's teachers even passed out a list of spelling words once on which "you're welcome" was written as "your welcome." Unbelievable. I set my son straight, but someone must have set the teacher straight - the word wasn't on the test.
Lawrence
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 8:30:21 AM
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"Your welcome to the returning troops was very touching." Anything wrong with that?
tfrank
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 8:12:19 PM
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Location: Pennsylvania
Good one. If "his welcome" and "her welcome" and "our welcome" were phrases you'd see on a spelling test, I might be convinced.
shkiwi
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 8:38:09 PM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 3/19/2009
Posts: 2
Neurons: 12
Location: New Zealand
tfrank wrote:
Good one. If "his welcome" and "her welcome" and "our welcome" were phrases you'd see on a spelling test, I might be convinced.


Your welcome is lifting.
Can top
Posted: Sunday, August 9, 2009 12:37:36 PM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 8/5/2009
Posts: 35
Neurons: 117
Location: Canada
prolixitysquared wrote:
NickN wrote:
Well your last one is a great example: ending a sentence with a preposition.

Why not?


Another peeve that causes shuddering-- ending a sentence with a preposition.

It sounds so incomplete and choppy to end sentences in prepositions, but then on the other hand, when you do speak correctly with the preposition in its proper place, that then comes off as as somewhat snobby and elitist. That may be an opinion, but I have a feeling most would agree with it.

I am full of anecdotes, I suppose. A few years ago, I was with friends on some rail car heading to a hotel in Portland, Oregon. We were about to attend an English convention. We were talking about this issue, and suddenly the man across from us joined in on the conversation. It turned out that he was an English professor attending the convention. He gave us the explanation that it's acceptable to end sentences in prepositions in common speech but not in formal writing. But really, is that only acceptance because it's the norm ? I guess there is a lot more about language that is ruled by 'the norm,' and I just haven't heard all instances yet.


The English professor was mistaken. Fronting the preposition is only a choice, one that make for a more formal demeanor. There is absolutely nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition.
early_apex
Posted: Sunday, August 9, 2009 1:18:16 PM
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Joined: 4/20/2009
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I think it was Calvin Trillin who said, "Whom is a word designed to make us all sound like butlers".
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