Over the years I’ve mentioned all four of these incorrect rules, both in the classroom and on this blog. Use the search box in the upper right to find several mentions of each bad rule.
What English language rules are incorrect?
Never split an infinitive Never end a sentence with a preposition Never use a double negative The pronouns “them” and “they” are always plural, never singular
I had forgotten the source of these rules. I think he was mentioned once in my sophomore English class. But I have long known that these rules were bad. Anyway, here’s an essay from Quora on the subject. It was written by Franklin Veaux, published author and compulsive writer. Thank you, sir, for the reminder.
All four of these rules were made up by one person, Bishop Robert Lowth.
Lowth was a religious scholar who was obsessed with the “purity” and perfection of Latin. He had a big-time fetish for Latin grammar. He considered Latin the ideal language, and believed that English should be more like Latin.
In 1762, he published a book on English grammar that made up a whole bunch of new rules, including the four above. His sole rationale for many of these rules was simply to try to force English grammar to be closer to Latin grammar.
Those rules had never been part of English until he made them up, and outside of prescriptivist grammar taught in school, they never caught on. Today, English grammar experts have largely abandoned teaching any of them.
What is the subject of “gives the clearer signal of global warming”? Is it surface temperatures or ocean temperatures? Put another way, what does the “therefore” refer to, the “swing greatly” or the “much less variable”?
“Surface temperatures” and “swing greatly” are both closer to the “therefore give,” so that’s what the clause should refer to, right? Nope!
I think the writer of this article, Nicholas Kusnetz, (and maybe his editor) are so familiar with the mechanics of the topic that they assumed the readers would already know that the more stable temperatures are better indicators of change.
They expected the readers to jump over two wrong answers to get to the correct reference, a serious mental jolt. Mental jolts are not good. The sentence should have ended:
… and therefore ocean temperatures give a clearer signal of global warming.
Now the reader can’t get it wrong. And that’s how you should write!
PS—I like to include pictures in this blog when I can, so here’s one from the article. Notice that it describes ocean temps, not air temps.:
They aren’t expository writing! Even though people treat them as if they were. Headlines are marcom (marketing communications). We tech writers say that all marcom people are insane, and it’s true!
I’ve been meaning to write a post about headlines, and I ran into this comic on the subject , so here’s the post. First the comic:
Okay, here are several headlines on one topic in the rather uncontroversial field of astronomy:
Our Galaxy is Destined for a Head-on Collision
Galaxy collision to send solar system flying?
‘GREAT COLLISION’ COULD WAKE UP THE SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLE AT THE MILKY WAY’S CENTER
Galactic collision could wake up Milky Way’s dormant black hole
Black hole in middle of Milky Way could grow TENFOLD, scientists predict HUGE space crash
Our Milky Way to Face Double-KO Punch in Two Galactic Collisions – Astronomers
The Milky Way Could Crash Into Another Galaxy Billions of Years Earlier Than Predicted
Catastrophic Galactic Collision Could Send Solar System Flying into Space
The actual topic sentence should be something like “Astronomers have recently increased their precision regarding the movement of the Large Magellanic Cloud.”
We are not in danger—the event is more than a billion years from now. Are the headlines true? Well, they’re all about side issues, not the main topic. Literally true, perhaps, but misleading!
A lot of us read only headlines, and for every topic I’ve checked into— politics, energy, global warming, environment, economics, private lives of famous people, you name it—both sides (all sides?) frequently distort what’s going on either to get you to click, or to convince you of their position if you don’t read in depth.
And don’t get me started on checking the source of the headline…
We have four kinds of horizontal lines in English typography. Everybody knows about the hyphen; you even have two keys for it on your keyboard, the minus key, and up toward the right end of the top row of keys. Speaking of that key, the slightly longer horizontal line above the hyphen is, counterintuitively, the underscore character. (If you want the underscore under letters, you have to use the underscore font style, Ctrl-u in MS Word.)
You might or might not know about the other two horizontal lines, the N-dash and the M-dash. (Alt-0150 and Alt-0151 respectively. Hold down the Alt key while you type the digits on the numeric keypad.)
Use the N-dash to show a range; your work hours are 9–5, for example.
Use the M-dash to show a break in thought. It’s like a strong parenthesis.
And here we come to the matter of style:
Don’t put spaces around your dashes.
Those spaces waste space. Here’s an otherwise good sentence with those bad spaces:
That year — 2014 — three young quantum gravity researchers came to an astonishing realization.
PS— I just ran into an alternative to the M-dash in a place where I’m not used to seeing it: Professional writing. That alternative is two hyphens. Typing two hyphens is okay for casual writing, say, on a typewriter, but not in an ezine article. I suspect his editor was asleep n the job. Here’s the sentence:
Hope you stayed up late watching West Coast basketball (and/or the Masked Singer premiere) last night — otherwise you might’ve missed the quasi-surprise drop of this April’s entire Coachella lineup at 11:28 p.m. ET.
First, look at the comic. It’s the second speech bubble.
First, a rule:
Who is some kind of a subject Whom is some kind of an object.
Is the word a subject or an object? How else might you say that sentence?
You could say, “Who are ‘they’?” That would make the word a subject, so “who,” not “whom.”
You could say, “They are who(m)?” Since the verb is a form of “to be,” the word is a predicate nominative, so we still get “who” not “whom.”
Maybe look for an antecedent, which would be in the speech bubble in the upper right. That has “they’re doing,” short for “they are doing.” Still a subject, so we’re still stuck with “who,” not “whom.”
The gal in the glasses is incorrect, using a pretentiousism. Maybe she takes after her mom, who also makes lots of mistakes.