Many modern usages in English are based on false origins. I know! I’m just as shocked as you are. But I should explain, yes? In 1762, Bishop Robert Lowth published his “Short Introduction to English Grammar.” Instead of basing his grammatical rules on the usage of the most educated speakers and writers of our wonderful language, he (for reasons known only to himself) chose to base them on the Latin grammatical system. The result? Many modern usages, mostly rules of normative usage, may not always be the best way to go. These rules continue to be a pain in the ass because they’re still used as the foundation of many school English curriculums. So let’s put an end to this nonsense, shall we?
Persuade versus convince
So I’ve noticed that some of you believe that you have to persuade someone in order to convince them of something. But you’re wrong. You can’t actually “convince” a person in this manner because persuade is a synonym for convince. That means that persuade and convince mean the same thing. This usage dates all the way back to the 16th century. But, no one says “I’m persuaded that you’re a jackass.” although that would be correct English should you want to do so.
Between can only be used for two items, people, etc.
This rule is rationalized by the fact that the “tween” part of “between” is a reference to the number two, but the Oxford English Dictionary says that between has long been extended to more than two. Many annoying pedants (those who like to show their vast knowledge by sticking to rules with alarming ferocity) try to make us believe we must only use “among” when speaking of groups larger than two. But consider that even the most precise speaker doesn’t naturally say something like “She must choose among Charlie, Bill and Joe.” (Because Harry is out of the running due to her extreme dislike of his mother.) No, we’d say she had to choose between Charlie, Bill and Joe. Lucky gal. In this case, you’d perfectly right to do so.
Healthy versus healthful
Why am I even bothering to clarify the right and wrong of these two? Well, it’s come up more than once. You see phrases like “part of a healthy diet” are common, but pedants consider them improper usage. I argue that they can’t really be considered wrong because “healthful breakfast” is like…retarded and old usage. But those pedants, annoying little shits that they are, would tell you otherwise. Neither usage is wrong due to the common usage of healthy instead of healthful, so use what flows naturally with what you’re writing.
So many grammar fanatics would tell you that saying “off of” together is redundant, and they’d be right. To be honest, that usage annoys the shit out of me, but common usage in the United States has rendered “off of” as standard English, so it goes unnoticed. Some English teachers will try to discourage you from using it in formal writing, but it helps to know that in terms of fiction, the use of “off of” isn’t totally wrong, particularly if you’re writing dialogue. Think about it. If “onto” makes sense when climbing onto something, then of course “off of” would make sense. The only time it’s not correct usage would be in phrases like “can I borrow five bucks off of you” or “he flicked the bug off of her shirt.” In these cases, you should really drop the “of” because no one speaks that way. They just don’t. Stop arguing with me.
Till versus ’til
I think we use ’til mostly because it looks like an abbreviation for “until,” and some people believe that this word should always be spelt ’til. Usually they won’t object to you leaving off the apostrophe unless they’re particularly anal and friendless. But did you know that “till” has been common usage for more than 800 years? By the way, that would be much longer usage than ’til. So it is perfectly fine to type “till” which, personally, looks more right to me than ‘til. Just saying.
Is “none” singular or plural?
It can be either, actually. Some will insist (quite emphatically) that since “none” is derived from “no one” it should always be singular. “None of us is going to the bar.” But in standard usage, it’s usually treated as a plural. “None of us are going to the bar after work.” is fine. Just so you know, when I check it through the grammar checker programs I use because grammar is a bitch I have not totally dominated yet, both usages come back as correct. So…do what feels natural and change it only when the folks paying you say to do so.
Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction
Sigh. Anal grammar devotees might tell you that you can never start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, so, etc.). I agree that when you do use a conjunction to start a sentence, it’d most often be improved by combining it with the previous sentence to become a compound sentence. But there are many times when beginning sentences in this way is correct. For example, replying to a previous assertion in dialogue: “But my love, your fingerprints are all over her breasts. How do you explain that?” So how do you know when it’s correct and when it’s not? Consider whether the conjunction would sound more natural in the previous sentence or whether you would lose its emphasis by taking it from its place at the start of a new sentence. Yeah, that style thing again.
Who and That
Man, this one drives me fucking bonkers. There are many instances in which the traditional usage dictates that we refer to a person using “that” rather than “who.“ For example, “All the girls that were at the party denied even knowing the man.” This phrase is actually more traditional and sounds better than using “girls who.” But using “who” is correct also. The different usages popped up mostly from some sensitive asshole believing that referring to people as “who” instead of “that” would be more politically correct. Thanks, jackass. Make grammar even harder for the rest of the world because you don’t want to offend people. In some cases it is clearly better to use “that.” For example, “He’s the only man I know that prefers chick flicks to horror movies.” If this rule of using who instead of that when referring to people were stuck to religiously, then “who was it who said…” would sound ridiculous, no? Far better to write “who was it that said...” Gotta eliminate those echoes, right?
Don’t end a sentence in a preposition.
I used to have a real problem with this. Ask Carlos. I think I drove him half-mad (he was already half way there when I met him, so I can’t be blamed for all of it) with my sentences and clauses ending in to, with, from, at and in. Instead of writing “The issues we will debate on,” where the preposition “on” ends the clause, I’ve learned we’re supposed to write “The issues we will debate,” Why? Prepositions should go before the words they modify, hence the term preposition. But, if a sentence flows better or makes more sense with a preposition at the end, leave it that way. You won’t be wrong. For example “She got what she came for.” makes sense. Right? The proper way, “She got that which for she came.” or something, is just weird.
It took me a long time to understand split infinitives and why one way might be wrong, but another might be right. You see, for the pedants (who I think I’ve established annoy me immensely) “to boldly go where no man has gone before” should be written as, “to go boldly…” instead. This reads awkwardly though. What’s the secret? Just be aware that inserting one or more words between “to” and a verb is not always wrong. Sometimes it would flow better if you were to move the intervening words elsewhere, but other times, it might not. Basically, it’s wise to avoid split infinitives whenever possible, but don’t avoid them to the point that your sentences sound strained and awkward. For example “They expect profits to more than double over the next quarter.” uses a split infinitive. It might be wrong, but when you write it properly, “They expect profits more than to double over the next quarter,” it sounds…well it’s wrong. The split infinitive is necessary here. Even better would be to write “They expect profits to increase by more than double over the next quarter.” But still, the split infinitive wouldn’t be wrong, and it has two less words. Or is that fewer words…