As content creators, we are in the realm of nerd when it comes to grammar. After all, it’s a key part of our skillset: our clients’ content has to be correct, or nobody is going to take it seriously. We always invite our clients to provide feedback on content, and every so often someone will mention sentence structure, specifically usage of conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence.
Where does this come from? Well, there seems to be a collective idea that sentences can’t start with conjunctions, by which we mean for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. This, however, isn’t a particularly sensible rule. It has never actually been wrong to begin a sentence with a conjunction. In fact, it’s been done all the way back to the 9th century, and plenty of sources such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage argue that starting a sentence with words like ‘and’ or ‘but’ is absolutely fine.
People naturally use language in this way, and while aiming to avoid it in some circumstances makes sense, 90% of the time it’s simply not a problem.
With that in mind, here are a few more English language ‘rules’ that we may or may not have been taught in school, or picked up from the ether, that are complete myths.
1. Split infinitives are grammatical heresy
To boldly go or to go boldly? That is the question. At a certain time, most notably during the Victorian era, a split infinitive was considered an affront to the English language. A few decades ago, it was considered bad form to split infinitives in formal writing. Now, it’s just considered normal. A study by Lancaster University and Cambridge University
Press concluded that as of 2017, split infinitives are almost three times as common in British speech as they were in the early 1990s.
“But that doesn’t mean they’re OK!” we hear you shout. Well, actually it does. Language is an evolving beast, and when you get to a point where language experts, professional writers and such are splitting away without a trace of self-consciousness, it’s fine to accept that language has moved on.
2. Thou shalt not end a sentence with a preposition
You can imagine some dusty old English teacher drumming this mantra – and many like it – into his class, as though it were a commandment delivered from upon high. Actually, it’s perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a word that typically precedes a noun or pronoun – such as ‘at’, ‘of’ and ‘on’.
The ‘rule’ that sentences can’t end with a preposition is attributed to a 17th century duo who objected on the grounds that in Latin a sentence can never end with one. Because Latin was believed to be more prestigious, they thought that emulating its idiosyncrasies might elevate the English language. Since the 20th century, however, various language authorities have roundly rejected the ‘rule’, meaning today’s content creators can safely ignore it.
Of course, at times ending on a preposition does feel clunky, and in such cases finding an alternative is better. But there’s no reason to avoid it just because you once heard that it wasn’t OK.
3. Contractions are the enemy
They’re not the enemy. In fact, they’re more likely your friend. We often get asked to replace contractions such as ‘don’t’ with ‘do not’ or ‘they’re’ with ‘they are’ because there seems to be a belief that this makes a brand sound more authoritative. Except no-one speaks like that these days, and when you’re trying to engage an audience, going super formal isn’t always the best path.
For academic papers, legal documents etc. it’s fine to leave out contractions – these are much more formal documents. But for web copy or general language use, keeping them in is much more likely to make your brand seem approachable and relatable.
4. Because… why not?
Another piece of grammatical wisdom imparted to many of us in school is that no sentence should start with ‘because’. But you can, as long as it’s done correctly. After all, if it’s good enough for Emily Dickinson (“Because I could not for stop Death…”), it’s surely good enough for the rest of us.
If you’re going to start a sentence with ‘because’, it should express a complete thought. ‘Because’ is typically used to join a main (or independent) clause with a dependent one, such as: The child ate seconds of her dinner because she was so hungry.
You can flip this around so that ‘because’ is at the beginning of the sentence: Because she was so hungry, the child ate seconds of her dinner. The key is that the dependent or ‘because’ clause is followed by another clause that completes the sentence. It’s the same for beginning with ‘although’ or ‘since’ – the dependent clause must always attach to the main or independent clause.
As much as some may desire it, the English language (or any other, for that matter) is not set in stone. It’s imperceptibly shifting and transforming all the time – it’s why, for example, we’ve long stopped speaking and writing in Middle English (“A chambre hadde he in that hostelrye” and all that).
Here at Minerva Creative we embrace the evolution of language and can help brans reach and engage their customers with the use of correct grammar alongside a relatable tone of voice. To discover how your business can benefit from our extensive copywriting services, get in touch today.