Have you ever seen a person obsessively correcting other people’s grammar errors even if they are minor or non-existing? Or maybe you’re that kind of person? Some mistakes are obvious and it’s a real wonder that people just can’t seem to learn those common rules. On the other hand, some “mistakes” are not mistakes at all, and correcting them makes you look both petty and uneducated.
In case you were wondering, this phenomenon is called “hypercorrection” or “hyperurbanism”, when it’s practiced by people who want to appear formal and educated, as Kingsley Amis defined it – “to be posher than posh”. Persons who engage in hypercorrection sincerely believe that their grammar rule is correct. However, these rules are often imagined or applied in an inappropriate context.
Here are the 10 most common grammar misconceptions – mistakes that aren’t actually wrong.
1. A clause shouldn’t end with a preposition
The “rule” that forbids P-stranding was in fact introduced by grammar prescriptivists. Linguistic prescriptivism means advocating one use of language against another. Since the English language has no authoritative language academy, many different sources invent their own rules and that is the cause of the problem. Since 1672 until today, students have been taught that prepositions mustn’t end a clause, although there is no such rule. This is a great opportunity to quote Churchill’s alleged phrase: “This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put.”
Cockney accent is one of several English accents that omits the initial “h” in words. So, “house” is pronounced as “ouse”, have as “ave” etc. That is called H-dropping. The opposite of that is H-adding, when people add the letter “h” where it shouldn’t be. This happens because they are accustomed to omitting “h” in most of the words that start with it. So, we witness language abominations such as “We’ll ‘ave the h’aristocrats ‘ere soon” (quoting the character of Parker in the British series “Thunderbirds”).
Hyperforeignism is the practice of applying the rules of English to a foreign loanword (or a word that is believed to be foreign). This is particularly common when using Spanish or French words. Here is an example: people believe that “Habanero” and “habañero” are the same words, so they pronounce the first word with “ñ”, which is wrong.
4. Infinitives must not be split
Split infinitive is a construction in which a word or phrase (usually an adverb) divides the “to” and the bare infinitive. If you are a fan of “Star Trek” you surely remember the part of its title sequence: “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. “The Oxford Guide to Plain English” says that there is no rule against splitting an infinitive and we agree with this opinion.
5. “I” instead of “me”
Most linguists claim that putting “you” in front of “I” is a more elegant option that “me and you”, and it’s often used by native English speakers. However, that correction is often applied in inappropriate contexts and some people say “you and I” when “you and me” is the correct option. Example: “They gave an assignment to George and me”. Some linguists would even say “They gave the assignment to George and I” but this doesn’t mean that “George and me” is incorrect.
6. Well instead of good
When people ask us “How are you?” we usually answer with “I am good, and you?” Some people think that answering “I am well” is a much better option. If the main verb is an action verb (to read, to write) you should use an adverb instead of an adjective (well instead of good). However, in this case it is not necessary, since “to be” is a linking verb.
7. “That” mustn’t be used to refer to people
This is a widespread misconception. A majority of people believe that we must refer to people with the relative pronoun “who”: “These are the people who ruined your party.” Although we still prefer “who” when referring to people, the difference between “who” and “that” is a question of style – not rules.
8. Sentence mustn’t start with “but” and “and”
This is another college rule, and most writers and copywriters obey it (you’ll notice that there are no such sentences in this article). However, this is a modern rule and we can’t find its grammatical or historical foundation. The name of Agatha Christie’s novel is an excellent example – “And Then There Were None”. You can’t call her illiterate!
9. Incorrect Latin plurals
Words derived from Latin end in several ways: -us, -uses or -i. Do not automatically correct someone who used the “wrong” ending without checking the dictionary. Sometimes, one ending is preferred over the alternative but both are correct; sometimes the reverse is true and sometimes, only one form of the Latin word is the correct one.
10. Double negatives are always bad
Some uses of double negatives are always incorrect such as “He didn’t steal nothing from me”. Patricia T. O’Conner, famous author of books about the English language, claims that this is a “bogus rule”. She advises readers to avoid the complete removal of the double negative, especially in prose. Here are a couple of examples: “It is not untrue” and “He is not unworthy”.
If you are not sure about a certain grammar rule, it’s always best to check it before correcting someone. If you need to run a meeting or give a lecture and you want an accurate and grammatically correct transcription, hire experts who’ll make sure your lecture comes out perfect.