When you learn them at school, rules of grammar may very well seem eternal. After all, what you’re learning is the “proper” way of speaking and that should be something that stays more-or-less constant at least throughout your life, right? While that might seem like the reasonable thing to assume, languages (including English) are in constant flux, developing to keep up with modern times and fashions.
As such, the rules that govern proper use of language also change. Depending on your age, quite a lot of what you might have learned about writing (or speaking) proper English at school is now outdated. Here are only a few of the more striking examples:
Never end your sentences with prepositions!
This is probably the most obvious example to start off with. (See what we did there?)
These days, not ending your sentences with prepositions can sound utterly confusing and anachronistic. Compare: “Who did you give it to?” with “To whom did you give it?” and say which one of them sounds out of place and which one is proper English?
In fact, while you might have been taught that you should never end your sentences with prepositions, the rule itself is not even based on English. It was adopted by some over-eager writers from Latin who saw that language as the perfection of human achievement and tried to fit the lowly English to its rules. And since Latin doesn’t let you end sentences with prepositions, neither, they thought, should English.
But, since we know better, go ahead and enjoy adding a full stop after that “at”, “to”, or “for”.
Never split an infinitive!
Not splitting an infinitive refers to the idea that if you use a verb in its infinitive form, i.e. “to eat”, “to be”, you should keep the “to” and the main verb next to each other. Often, however, it makes sense to add an adverb between the two words. For example, “She wanted to secretly eat the cake”, “I want to really be with you.”
Some say that in those cases, you’d need to rewrite the sentences and move the adverb, so it became “She wanted to eat the cake secretly” or “She secretly wanted to eat the cake” or “I really want to be with you.” Note, however, how the rewrite might change the emphasis or, in the last case, the entire meaning of the sentence.
Weirdly enough, this “rule”, too, has its roots in people trying to force the grammar of Latin onto English. But you don’t have to pay that any attention and keep splitting those infinitives if it makes you happy!
It’s “Between you and me” not “Between you and I”!
Another hotly contested topic is the phrase “Between you and I/me”. While “Between you and I” is much more widely used, prescriptive grammarians are still convinced that the correct version of that should be “Between you and me”.
The point they’re trying to make is that you need the object pronoun in that particular sentence and the object pronoun of I is me. Indeed, if you tried turning that phrase around to say “Between I and you”, it doesn’t really sound right. So, they might have a point. However, some linguists, including Noam Chomsky, argue that in “Between you and I”, the entire phrase “you and I” is the object of the preposition and, in that case, the individual I or me becomes irrelevant.
To really annoy the grammarians, you can also opt for the even more casual version of “Between me and you”.
Never use contractions in writing!
As you’ve probably seen, this is a guideline we at the Teacher Finder blog certainly break with a relish. The idea behind this rule is to always write “You are” instead of “you’re” and “I will” instead of “I’ll”. While this approach might help you increase the word count of any essays you might be required to write (just a free tip for you), in real life, contractions in written texts are completely fine.
There might be a small caveat here when talking about hyper-formal situations and, potentially, in academic writing (if your professor seems to be the type who minds that sort of thing) but, by now, even most professional fields have caught on to the fact that not using contractions makes you seem like a robot.
Conclusion – Some “rules” are made to be broken
In essence, the debate over these “rules” comes down to the old clash between prescriptivists and descriptivists. While it might seem that “proper English” requires you to write and speak in a certain way, these ways are constantly changing. So, these days, it’s completely fine to end your sentence with a preposition, split that infinitive, and use contractions even in business writing.
Between you and I, it’s about high time everyone recognises that language is malleable and holding on to old rules only delays its natural evolution.