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Friday, February 22, 2013

Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar Is Wrong | Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellarman, Smithsonian Magazine

We can’t end this without mentioning Raymond Chandler’s response when a copy editor at the Atlantic Monthly decided to “fix” his hard-boiled prose: “When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split.”
That's the conclusion of this article by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellarman. But they begin with an oft-told story about Winston Churchill and his comment about ending a sentence with a preposition:
It’s a great story, but it’s a myth. And so is that so-called grammar rule about ending sentences with prepositions. If that previous sentence bugs you, by the way, you’ve bought into another myth. No, there’s nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction, either. ...
After noting another myth about splitting infinitives, O'Conner and Kellarman answer these questions:
Where did these phony rules originate, and why do they persist?
And then they add this advice:
As bloggers at and former New York Times editors, we’ve seen otherwise reasonable, highly educated people turn their writing upside down to sidestep imaginary errors. There’s a simple test that usually exposes a phony rule of grammar: If it makes your English stilted and unnatural, it’s probably a fraud.
I provide more similar advice at Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.

Their article is featured today, Feb. 22, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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