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Neither you nor I set the "rules" of English; we do it together, by using words in certain ways. But we do learn certain "rules," and we can either remember them, forget them, or ignore them. For example, most of us learned that "neither" and "nor" were a pair, like Lucy and Ricky, or peanut butter and jelly.  Continue reading...
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This summer, I've been looking at zombie rules, false grammar rules taught and followed slavishly with little thought. Today, I'll kill three final zombies: the split infinitive, hopefully, and singular they. They're style rules — albeit awkward ones — that are lumbering around as grammar rules.  Continue reading...
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The long-running battle between descriptivists and prescriptivists involves many arguments about whether particular points of usage are right or wrong. Plenty of arguments boil down to "Just because everybody does it doesn't make it right!" I've occasionally asked, "So what would make it right?" but I've never received a real answer.  Continue reading...
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Last month, I introduced the idea of a zombie rule: a false grammar rule that is taught and followed slavishly as though it were the real thing. Like their namesakes, these rules have no life in them, but they keep returning no matter how many times their true form is revealed.  Continue reading...
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One man "pleaded guilty to DWI." Another "pled guilty of DWI." A third "entered a plea of guilty to DWI charges."

What's going on, aside from way too much drinking?  Continue reading...
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The New York Times recently posted an opinion piece and a short film about a "vigilante copy editor" who was "correcting" placards at the sculpture garden at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Among the hundreds of comments lamenting the proliferation of bad grammar and misspellings in the world were the inevitable swipes at the grammar and spelling of the other commenters, as well as that of The Times.  Continue reading...
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The distinction between that and which is a favorite among usage writers. It's an interesting usage item for several reasons: first, it is an invention that was first proposed in the early 1800s yet didn't catch on until the 1900s; second, it's primarily, though not exclusively, an American distinction; and third, it has been very successful in print, though I think a good portion of its success is attributable to copy editors.  Continue reading...
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3 4 5 6 7 Displaying 29-35 of 187 Articles