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Top 10 Errors in English that Aren’t Errors
In 1762, Bishop Robert Lowth did a grave disservice to the English language when he published his Short Introduction to English Grammar. Rather than basing his grammatical rules in the usage of the best educated speakers and writers of English, he arbitrarily chose to base them on the Latin grammatical system. The result is that many modern usages in English, particularly an alarming number of rules of normative usage and Standard Written English, are based upon those false origins.
These very rules continue to plague us to this day as they are still used as the foundation of many modern school English curriculums. And so, with this list, I hope to finally put an end to many of these foolish rules. [Did you see what I did?]
The “tween” portion of “between” is a reference to the number 2, but the Oxford English Dictionary says this: “In all senses, between has, from its earliest appearance, been extended to more than two.” Many pedants try to enforce the use of “among” when speaking of groups larger than two. Even the pickiest speaker does not naturally say, “A treaty has been negotiated among England, France, and Germany.”
Because ’til looks like an abbreviation for “until”, some people believe that this word should always be spelt ’til (some don’t object to leaving off the apostrophe). However, “till” has been in regular use in English for over 800 years, longer than ’til. It is completely correct English to say “till”.
Some people have the strange belief that you must “persuade” someone to “convince” them, but you cannot “convince” a person. In fact, persuade is a synonym (means the same thing) for convince – and this usage goes back to the 16th century. It can mean both to attempt to convince, and to succeed in convincing. It is not common anymore to say things like “I am persuaded that you are an idiot” – though this is also correct English.
While it is admittedly logical and traditional to make the distinction between these two words, but phrases such as “part of a healthy breakfast” have become so common nowadays that they can not be considered wrong (except by pedants). It is also interesting to note that in English, adjectives connected to a sensation in the viewer (such as happy) are often transferred to the object or event they are viewing, for example: “a happy coincidence” or “a gloomy landscape”.
For most Americans, the natural thing to say is “Climb down off of [pronounced “offa”] that horse, Tex, with your hands in the air”; but many U.K. authorities urge that the “of” should be omitted as redundant. Where British English reigns you may want to omit the “of” as superfluous, but common usage in the U.S. has rendered “off of” so standard as to generally pass unnoticed, though some American authorities also discourage it in formal writing. But if “onto” makes sense, so does “off of.” However, “off of” meaning “from” in phrases like “borrow five dollars off of Clarice” is definitely nonstandard.
It is also quite common in New Zealand to use “off of” as well – presumably as a result of the English being spoken in the Empire at the time of New Zealand’s founding.
Some people insist that since “none” is derived from “no one” it should always be singular: “none of us is having dessert.” However, in standard usage, the word is most often treated as a plural. “None of us are having dessert” is perfectly fine. I spent many days debating this point with my Ancient Greek tutor via email quotations of its use as a plural (my tutor believed it to be singular only). Neither of us could convince the other but I firmly stand by my belief that it can be used as both plural and singular. ????!
There are actually many instances in which the conservative usage is to refer to a person using “that” rather than “who”: “All the politicians that were at the party later denied even knowing the host”. This phrase is actually more traditional than “politicians who”. It appears that this issue has sprung mostly from the politically correct idea that it is demeaning to refer to a person as “that” rather than “who”. In some sentences it is clearly better to use “that”: “She is the only person I know of that prefers whipped cream on her cereal.” And in the following case, it would be ridiculous to use “that” for “who”: “Who was it that said, ‘A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle’?”
It offends those who wish to confine English usage in a logical straitjacket that writers often begin sentences with “and” or “but.” True, one should be aware that many such sentences would be improved by becoming clauses in compound sentences; but there are many effective and traditional uses for beginning sentences in this way. One example is the reply to a previous assertion in a dialogue: “But, my dear Watson, the criminal obviously wore expensive boots or he would not have taken such pains to scrape them clean.” It would be wise to make it a rule to consider whether your conjunction would sound more natural in the previous sentence or whether it would lose its emphasis by being demoted from its place at the start of a new sentence.
If you want to keep the crusty old-timers happy, try to avoid ending written sentences (and clauses) with prepositions, such as to, with, from, at, and in. Instead of writing “The topics we want to write on,” where the preposition on ends the clause, consider “The topics on which we want to write.” Prepositions should usually go before (pre-position) the words they modify.
On the other hand, if a sentence is more graceful with a final preposition, leave it that way. For instance, “He gave the public what it longed for” is clear and idiomatic, even though it ends with a preposition; “He gave the public that for which it longed” avoids the problem but doesn’t look like English. A sentence becomes unnecessarily obscure when it is filled with “from whoms” and “with whiches”.
The famous witticism usually attributed to Winston Churchill makes the point well: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
For the hyper-critical, “to boldly go where no man has gone before” should be “to go boldly…” It is good to be aware that inserting one or more words between “to” and a verb is not strictly speaking an error, and is often more expressive and graceful than moving the intervening words elsewhere; but so many people are offended by split infinitives that it is probably better to avoid them except when the alternatives sound strained and awkward.
There are some very obvious times that the split infinitive is far superior:
Murders are expected to more than double next year. (split infinitive)
Murders are expected more than to double next year. (intact infinitive)
However, you could say: “Murders are expected to increase by more than double next year” – but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the split infinitive example above.
Source: Common Errors in English Usage