Saturday, May 26, 2007

Top 10 English Grammar Myths and Superstitions in Essay Writing

There are some myths in English grammar that people continue to believe and practise in their essay writing. It is a dismal situation that most English users learn these English grammar myths from their teachers who do not bother to update themselves with the evolution in English.

  1. Never split infinitives
    “To publicly critique someone you respect” was considered a grammatical error in the past because an adverb ‘publicly’ is placed between ‘to’ and the verb. Some professionals may still avoid it, but many publications regard it as acceptable.

  2. Never use contractions in essay writing
    Some English users believe that contractions should never be used in essay writing. They believe that contractions like won’t, can’t, shouldn’t etc should only be used in spoken English. This is no longer true as more and more newspapers and publications are using contractions in the writing.

  3. Never begin a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’ (conjunctions)
    As English evolves, this is no longer true. It is now acceptable to begin a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’. People promoting this myth are either not reading newspapers or do not care to learn proper English.

  4. Never begin the essay title with prepositions
    It has become a writing style for essay writing to be entitled using prepositions like ‘of’ or ‘on’. Examples of essay titles that I came across just now were
    - Of Professionals and Degrees
    - On Kolej Universiti Teknikal Kebangsaan Malaysia (KUTKM)

  5. Never use first-person pronouns in academic writing
    There is a superstitious notion that says never use first-person pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘we’ in essay writing because doing so will make your essay writing to look unprofessional. Contrary to the notion, English writers are encouraged to use first-person pronouns to draw readers’ attention and to put some life into your writing. Corporate letters should use ‘I’ to personalise the letter and accept responsibility.

  6. Never refer the readers as ‘you’
    Copywriters will find this myth very funny. Please take note that you can actually refer the readers as ‘you’ or ‘we’ to include yourselves. However, you should be consistent in using either ‘you’ or ‘we’ throughout your essay writing.

  7. Never use ‘between’ with more than two objects
    This is a popular misconception among English beginner users. While it is true that we use ‘between’ when comparing two objects, it is correct to use ‘between’ when more than two people or objects are involved.
    Examples taken from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE):
    Comparing two things: In her book she makes a comparison between Russian and British ballet.
    More than two people or objects:
    - Tom divided his money between his children.
    - Between the four of them they managed to lift her into the ambulance.
    - We collected £17 between us.

  8. Never use ‘since’ as because
    There’s a groundless notion that ‘since’ is only used to mean from a particular time or event in the past until the present, or in that period of time. ‘Since’ can actually be used to give the reason for something. The following sentence taken from dictionary is grammatically correct.
    - Since you are unable to answer, perhaps we should ask someone else.

  9. Never use direct question
    Using direct question in writing to arouse the readers’ interest on certain topic has become an essay writing style. When writing essay on smoking, for instance, you can include questions like ‘what are the bad effects of smoking?’ and ‘why people smoke?’ in your essay. There are debates that direct question is not suitable for academic writing.

  10. Two-syllable adjectives must use the suffix –er or suffix –est form to form comparative or superlative
    E.g. prettier, prettiest; gentler, gentlest; narrower, narrowest. Adding ‘more’ or ‘most’ to two-syllable adjectives to form comparative or superlative, however, is getting common and gaining ground in modern English. E.g. more pretty, most pretty; more gentle, most gentle; more narrow, most narrow.

After all, the evolution of English is about ‘spoken’ style becoming acceptable as writing forms.

Related Posts
Differences between British and American English
Correct Date Format in Essay Writing

Perring, Guy. "Informal or what?" Mind Our English 18 May 2007.

"Myths" Essay Info.


alicia said...

Haha, I actually used many of these in traditional writing. Perhaps I paid more attention during formal essays and research papers (usually depending, of course, on the teacher/professor and how far I thought I could push the boundaries without flunking!), but overall I suppose I was a somewhat unconventional English major.

Good thing most of my teachers and professors had soft spots for the unconventional ;)

Dana said...

If you compile all the "rules" of "good" writing, you will find that every good, published, respected author breaks them all. Writing shouldn't conform to rules, but to the idea and purpose being expressed.

Of course, you have to know the rules to break them effectively, but try finding a good piece of writing which does not break the rules of English grammar and style. Or take a good piece and edit to do so and you will see just how stilted and boring it becomes!

KarenW said...

Writing using the old rules or myths might be a bit boring. Thanks for the tips!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for trying but these are not all 'myths'. Split infinitives for instance are still wrong (even in 'Star Trek' :-) ). Also the article is full of grammatical errors and could do with rewriting.

Bree Zehnder said...

After reading these myths, I had mixed feelings about the accuracy of some of them. I think it is great that you are trying to correct the myths and dive deeper into helping writers and students of all ages to become better writers. In high school and currently in college, I have and am being taught to not use "you" in academic writing. I always agreed with this notion. Do you have any other references or proof that we can use "you" in academic writing? Thanks!

Bree Zehnder said...

I really enjoyed reading these myths because I am studying to be a secondary language arts teacher and am very interested in these topics. One myth I had trouble agreeing with was the one that approved of using "you" in paper writing. I have always been taught from high school on that "you" should not be included. Are there any other references or proof that supports the myth? These are all really good questions that every English teacher thinks of at least once in their lives. Again, great information.

Anonymous said...

There are a reason for rules. You should learn them. Your writing leaves little to be desired and is indicative of why the rules are taught in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
Let's make sure we understand this bit on using contractions. There's no rule that says you can't use contractions in essays, but we need to understand something a little deeper. In language, there is formal and there is informal. Magazines and newspapers are informal, they written as if to hold a conversational tone. Having been an editor in chief for three large newspapers and a contributor to scholarly journals, I can say that I know a bit on this. Magazines and newspapers use informal writing because not only does his help readers feel a kinship, but it also saves expensive printing space to have shorter words. They live by the motto "short is better than succinct" and therefore contractions are better than formal writing. Scholarly journals and academic research is formal, meaning that you show a respect to not only the field of study but to those who paved the road in research before you. You wouldn't walk up to the president of United States and greet him with "what's up dude." You would walk up and say "Mr. President." Essays can be informal and formal. Anyone who tries to claim that there is no need to use formal language in academic or other formal writing is flat out a lazy writer and has no business giving advice on writing any kind of essay. Anyone who knows how to decipher the difference between formal and informal will always write better with a formal voice than someone who doesn't understand the differences and who writes informally. Make no mistake, Magazines and newspapers are out to save space and time and they are not formal writing in the least degree. Don't be a lazy writer. And don't compare a medium that is designed to be written on a fifth grade level (newspapers) to those that are written for professionals and specialists with terminal degrees.