Grammar Myths

Are these grammar myths holding you back?

1.  “A comma takes the place of and.”

No, it doesn’t. You won’t find this hokey rule in any grammar book. Often, in fact, you need a comma with and. Read up on Comma Rule 2.

What if you have a list of three items – do you use a comma before and?

The music played, we started to dance, and I was in heaven.

If you’re writing for a newspaper or magazine, no. If you’re writing a book, yes. (It’s true, folks – some rules vary according to the situation.) The rest of the time it’s your choice. Many writers (including me) have found that the comma makes sentences easier to read, so we always use it in a series.

2.  “Ain’t ain’t in the dictionary.”

Yes, it is – and it always has been. (Look it up!) Ain’t is a word. Admittedly it’s slang, but nevertheless it’s a real word with a long history.

3.  “You can’t start a sentence with but” (or and or because).

There’s no such rule – and never has been. Click here to see some research I’ve done on this.

4.  “Don’t use I or you when you write.”

I’m doing it right now. This rule applies only when you’re writing for an academic publication or something else that’s very formal, such as a president’s Inaugural Address.

5.  You can’t end a sentence with a preposition.

Nonsense. We end sentences with prepositions all the time: “Try this on.” “I’m heading to the train station to pick her up.” “What did I get myself into?” “What is this button for?” “Tomorrow morning I’ll try to stop by.” “You’re always welcome to drop in.” [A grammarian would probably say that those aren’t actually prepositions: read a guest post by Kelly Pomeroy here.]

It’s true that you shouldn’t say “Where’s it at?” in a professional setting – but the preposition isn’t the problem. “Where it’s at?” is a regionalism that will sound odd to someone who didn’t grow up in the South.

6.  Use a comma with a person’s name.

Not true. Use the comma with a name only when you write a Comma Rule 3 sentence, like this one:

Jennifer Grey, who starred in Dirty Dancing, has been a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. CORRECT

Don’t use a comma with a person’s name in other situations:

Jennifer Grey played Baby in Dirty Dancing. CORRECT

Dirty-dancing 2


One thought on “Grammar Myths

  1. Gustavo A. Rodriguez

    You are doing a great didactic job with this site (it’s working with me, for one). Here’s my bit to support your cause, though your research is far more extensive and conclusive. I

    CASHEL. I go. The meanest lad on thy estate
    Would not betray me thus. But ’tis no matter.
    (Bernard Shaw. Cashel Byron’s Profession)

    I love debunking myths, especially grammar myths.

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