Kids go to college with all sorts of misinformation, and they can be very unwilling to let it go. How do you explain to someone that their most favorite English teacher of all time told them a wee fib about grammar and / or punctuation? How do you explain to someone who’s eighteen (and therefore, we’ll all recall from our own eighteen-hood, knows everything. How do you tell them) that they are wrong about things they have long been told by teachers that they are right about?
How many of us were taught the ‘pause’ rule? This is the “rule” taught to kids that goes something like this (hum along, if you like): Every time you pause in the reading of a sentence, place a comma at the place you pause. Shoot me now. People read at different paces, emphasize different things, pause for emphasis, even. Surprisingly to people who had “pause rule” teachers, punctuation has nothing to do with the pace at which you read aloud (nor with whether or not you move your lips at all when you read). Really. I promise. Commas go in all sorts of places, and one thing you can almost always know is that you most likely don’t need them in all the places you have them. For some reason, writers use commas like seasoning . . . peppering them all over the place, for flavor. (I have a bad habit of doing that with ellipses . . . I just like them.)
Ooooh, or how about the very famous and equally wrong “never begin a sentence with the word ‘and’ or ‘but’”? Another fave of the junior high and high school teaching brigade. If you’ve been told these things, forget them immediately; they’re wrong. And silly. A pause rule, indeed! And how can it be incorrect to begin a sentence with the word “and”? Didn’t I just do just that? And it’s a proper, complete sentence (as is this one.).
Now some misinformation is just funny. I love the syntactic tangles that people who believe the “you cannot end a sentence with a preposition” rule get themselves into (see, I did it again): “This a rule up with which I will not put.” This sort of craziness just makes me laugh. That’s my favorite one, but then there’s the one about the English teacher whose student asked her some question, and the teacher replied, “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” To which the precocious student replies, “blah blah with, Lady.” (only not “Lady,” of course). But you can end sentences with prepositions in English. And you often should.
The last one that I’ll write about today is the “split infinitive” (infinitives, to remind you, are “to” verbs: to go, to walk, to run, to shop, to watch, etc.); this one is open to a bit more debate than the others, but ultimately, it’s as dead as the dodo, or more punnily, as dead as Latin. We’ve been told we can’t split infinitives because of some sentence structure stuff dealing with Latin grammar—just as with the preposition thing; however, this idea is based on a language that is not a perfect match for English and whose rules cannot therefore be applied to English. So if you want to randomly split an infinitive, feel free to spontaneously do so (see, I just did it there. Twice. Cool, huh?). The bit of debate here is rooted mostly in tradition, but frankly, it often makes more sense and is more precise to place the modifier either before or after the infinitive and not right in the middle.
Other misconceptions probably don’t come from English teachers at all. Take the misuse of “I” when “you” would be correct, for instance—Won’t you sit down and enjoy a glass of wine with Jensen and I? That’s wrong. It’s “with Jensen and me”—the object of a preposition is “me” not “I.” (Oops, didn’t mean to explain the rules, I didn’t want to be quite that boring.) Remember that April Wine song “Just Between You and Me”? It’s grammatically correct. It IS just between you and me. Not you and I. Unless you and I are going to the mall, in which case it is I with whom you are going (hehe, see what I did there with the preposition? I love this stuff.).
But you may not. So here endeth today’s lesson. Okay, it was more of a long, self-indulgent monologue. But, hey, what’s the dif?
I don’ t know if or how much this differs from . . . um, English, that version you lot speak and write in . . . well, England. But I would love to learn any differences or modifications. Yes, I’m that much of a geek.