Adam Patterson | October 15th, 2013

The enduring popularity of English since the lapse of colonialism — the force that originally drove its spread across the world – is founded on the language’s flexibility. Indians, Scots, Fijians, Americans, Zimbabweans, and technologists are among the myriad groups that have taken the language in different directions. But rather than pull it apart, they add to its richness. The ease that new words and new uses of old words take root makes English an extremely effective global language.

So it’s strange that some of us hang on to grammar rules that no longer seem relevant, or at all useful. This is most likely due to haunting memories of an overbearing English primary school grammar teacher, or maybe a simple resistance to cultural change.

Here are a couple of examples of rules we would do best to forget. British-American linguist Geoffrey K Pullum calls them “zombie rules.” Although they’re dead, they shamble mindlessly on.

To stubbornly resist splitting the infinitive

Star Trek’s mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before” is often cited as the most brazen attack on the rule to never split the infinitive. We should “go boldly.” Few of us speak like this, however, and n/n would like “to personally vouch for” this fact.

Ending a sentence with a preposition

In the 17th century, English poet John Dryden decided that ending a sentence with a preposition was “not elegant” because you couldn’t do it in Latin. (Such inflexibility may be why Latin is almost dead as a spoken language). Thus, “the target he aimed at” became “the target at which he aimed,” and the rule has been bandied around for centuries ever since. But in recent years, this rule has also been challenged. H.W. Fowler, author of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage observed: “The power of saying ‘people worth talking to’ instead of ‘people with whom it is worthwhile to talk’ is not one to be lightly surrendered.”

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