In this lesson, we’re going to explore three myths about English grammar and reveal the truth behind each. The first two myths have an element of grammatical truth to them; they take what are essentially guidelines and turn them into absolutes. The third is the type of myth that seems to make sense at first glance but falls apart upon closer examination.
Never end a sentence with a preposition
This is one of those grammar myths that just won’t die. Simply put, there is no grammatical reason why you can’t end a sentence with “at, of, for,” or another preposition. In fact, trying to rewrite a sentence to avoid ending it with a preposition usually results in an awkward sounding sentence. This is especially true with questions. Consider the following:
What are you looking at?
Who are you waiting for?
These sentences sound quite natural to native English speakers. If, on the other hand, we attempt to rewrite them to not end with prepositions, we end up with sentences that bear little resemblance to the way modern English speakers actually talk:
At what are you looking?
For whom are you waiting?*
* Note that this revision also requires changing “who” to “whom” because the relative pronoun is now the object of a preposition.
The only time you should not end a sentence with a preposition is when you can remove the preposition without changing the meaning of the sentence:
Where were you at?
This sentence means the same thing if we remove the preposition. Therefore, we should do exactly that:
Where were you?
Never use passive voice
In most situations active voice is preferable to passive voice. Active voice places who or what is performing the action in the subject role. Passive voice reduces who or what should intuitively be the subject of the sentence to the object. However, there is one situation where you should use passive voice: when you don’t know the identity of whom or what is performing the action:
Evidence was gathered.
Reports were submitted.
Because we don’t know the identity of who gathered the evidence or submitted the reports, these sentences are virtually impossible to rewrite in active voice:
[?] gathered the evidence.
[?] submitted the reports.
You could use pronouns as a workaround, but that only creates another problem:
They gathered the evidence.
She submitted the reports.
Now we are left with pronouns without antecedents. All this does is call attention to the fact that we don’t know the identities of the people who performed the actions.
You should insert a comma wherever there is a “pause”
English comma usage rules can be somewhat complex, and occasionally, counterintuitive. Rather than attempting to make sense of these rules, some teachers simply tell students to use a comma wherever they would “pause” while speaking.
There are two problems with this approach. First, not everyone pauses in the same places while speaking. Second, individuals themselves don’t consistently pause in the same places while speaking. Everyday conversations tend to stop and start at irregular intervals. Native speakers sometimes skip over places where, grammatically speaking, there should be a pause/comma and routinely pause while trying to think of the best way to say something. Stick to the comma usage rules we’ve covered in previous lessons, and don’t try to use your pauses while speaking as a model for your comma usage while writing.