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14 Grammar Myths Your English Teacher Lied to You About

Updated: Jul. 28, 2021

Your English teacher would probably be mortified, but you can safely ignore these grammar "rules."

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Myth #1:

According to the grammar experts at the Chicago Manual of Style, you don’t have to do mental gymnastics to avoid starting a sentence with a conjunction. “There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so,” they write. “In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.” These are the 51 more facts you’ve always believed that are actually false.

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Myth #2:

When you’re just learning to write, starting a sentence with the word “because” can often lead to a sentence fragment. That’s why you probably learned to avoid doing so at all costs. As long as your sentence has at least one independent clause, you’re good to go.

Correct: Because I missed the bus, I couldn’t see my dad.

Correct: I couldn’t see my dad because I missed the bus.

Incorrect: I couldn’t see my dad. Because I missed the bus.

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Myth #3:

You’ll also want to use the word “an” before words that start with vowel sounds.

Correct: I’m thinking of starting an herb garden

Correct: The Knicks are an NBA team.

(Don’t misplace your modifiers. This grammar rule is important to remember.) 

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Myth #4:

Many students are taught it’s unacceptable to end a sentence with a preposition—words like “on,” “from,” “for,” “by,” above,” “over”—but that rule is a myth. As Grammar Girl writes, there are some cases where ending a sentence with a preposition is necessary. For example: “I want to know where he came from” could be written, “I want to know from where he came”—but no one talks like that.  Here are 10 more grammar rules you can probably ignore.

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Myth #5:

You might’ve been taught you shouldn’t refer to people with the word “that.” But this isn’t a strict grammar rule. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, saying something like “kids that are late for school will miss math class,” is perfectly acceptable. Join the exciting grammar debate–is “funner” really a word? 

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Myth #6:

The authorities on proper grammar agree it can be weird to refer to a beloved pet as an “it.” According to the AP Stylebook, you can call an animal “him,” “her,” or “who,” as long as the animal has a name or you know its sex.

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Myth #7:

You might’ve heard that “such as” is the only proper way to introduce a list of examples. But actually, it depends on what you’re trying to convey.

Correct: I love active dates like fishing, skydiving, and hiking.

Correct: I love active dates such as fishing, skydiving, and hiking.

Both are correct, but the first one implies a comparison. When you say you enjoy “dates like fishing,” you’re implying that you might also enjoy a date that someone might classify as being in a similar genre as fishing.

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Myth #8:

Oxford Dictionaries says this is another grammar myth you can safely ignore. They also note that in some cases, “trying to avoid a stranded preposition could lead you to get your linguistic knickers in a terrible twist.”

Correct: The baby has no one to play with.

Correct: The baby enjoys being fussed over.

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Myth #9:

This “rule” states that you should never put an adverb in the middle of an infinitive. Think of the Star Trek quote, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” “To go” is the infinitive, and “boldly” splits it. In fact, there’s no formal evidence that splitting infinitives is incorrect. “The only logical reason to avoid splitting infinitives is that there are still a lot of people who mistakenly think it is wrong,” writes Grammar Girl.

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Myth #10:

While active voice is generally preferred, passive voice is almost never incorrect. In some cases, it even comes in handy. As writeathome.com points out, if you’re trying to encourage sympathy for your subject, you might prefer to use passive voice. It’s the difference between “Grandma got run over by a reindeer,” and “A reindeer ran over Grandma.”

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Myth #11:

I.e. and e.g. are both Latin abbreviations, but they don’t mean the same thing. E.g. stands for exempli gratia and means “for example.” I.e. stands for id est and means “in other words.” Here are a few more examples of when to use i.e. and when to use e.g.

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Myth #12:

In most cases, using a double negative can make your sentence clunky and confusing. But according to Oxford Dictionaries, there’s one case where they’re acceptable: when they’re used to make a statement subtler. The example Oxford uses is the sentence “I am not unconvinced.” “The use of not together with unconvinced suggests that the speaker has a few mental reservations about the argument,” they write. “The double negative creates a nuance of meaning that would not be present had the speaker just said: I am convinced by his argument.” Only word nerds will understand these 20 grammar jokes.

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Myth #13:

In grade school, you might’ve learned that any long sentence is a run-on sentence. But that’s not always true, and in reality, it’s possible for a sentence to be both long and structurally sound. A true run-on is when you put two complete sentences together in one sentence without separating them properly.

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Myth #14:

Everyone knows at least one so-called grammar expert who claims there’s only one way to add an apostrophe to a word that ends in “s.” But according to the experts, it’s merely a matter of style.

Correct: The Harris’s cat is in their yard.

Correct: The Harris’ cat is in their yard.

These are the 41 little grammar rules that make you sound smarter.