Lies Your English Teacher Told You

By Erin Nelsen

Picture the worst English teacher you ever had. The one who made you diagram sentences and say “May I” instead of “Can I” and never, ever laughed, even if you packed five vocabulary words into one demonstration sentence. The one who made you read The Scarlet Letter. The one who told you that everything you wrote from that moment forward had to have an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion to sum up your claims, preferably beginning, “In conclusion . . .”

How would you like to break some rules you learned in that class? What if it turned out that you never really needed to follow them in the first place?

Here are some of the lies your English teacher may have told you—grammar “rules” that are simply myths perpetuated through hearsay and folklore and transmitted to generations of students. Let the deception stop with you.

  1. You can begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” There’s no reason not to. You shouldn’t begin all of your sentences with “and” or “but,” but if it sounds right, don’t fight it.
  2. You can end a sentence with a preposition—“with,” “to,” “for,” “against,” any of them. The idea that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition comes from the fact that you shouldn’t in Latin. English is not Latin. In many of the most natural and simple constructions in English, a preposition falls at the end of the sentence. Don’t let a dead language complicate what’s not complicated.
  3. You can split an infinitive. Some poor misguided souls try to follow this rule, even to the point of phrases like “to go boldly where no one has gone before,” or “to reach home finally,” instead of “to boldly go” and “to finally reach.” Don’t let this so-called correct construction make your sentences weak and awkward.

Now that you know the truth, one quick reminder: These techniques are best used in moderation, just like other constructions.

But don’t let misinformation from your youth stilt your prose and cripple your sentences. For invigorating, natural writing, unlearn these silly superstitions and rediscover how to write what sounds right. It’s a freeing experience—and with no Gorgon of Grammar breathing down your neck, it’ll be much easier this time around.

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