There are a whole bunch of "commandments" of American English usage,
usually picked up from Miss Thistlebottom directly but often acquired through
the ministrations of well-meaning friends, that happen not to be commandments at
all; they are mythical rules, coming most often from some well-intentioned but
misguided early grammarian. You can ignore them without doing any violence to
the language whatsoever.
In doing so, however, you need to be aware that there are a great many people
who still believe that these rules have the effect of law and you must consider
whether or not you wish to cater to their corrupted tastes. For instance, on the off
chance that such people have a decision-making role in the company where you'd
like to be employed, it might be a good idea to avoid these usages in your résumé.
As a public service, wordworks herewith lists the ones that you can blithely
ignore if you want to:
Note: If you don't know what some or any of those rules mean, that
also means that you are not burdened with those particular ignorables, and have
already been ignoring them all along; more power to you!
The proponents of this rule would hold that trekkies must not say,
"to boldly go"; it is stylistically unacceptable. When you point out
that there are some cases (as indeed there are) where the infinitive must be
split for the sentence to have its intended meaning, they'll acknowledge it is acceptable (if
lamentable) in those cases. But it is otherwise
How can splitting infinitives be forbidden, you think, if there are times when it must be
done? If you are brave enough to ask this question aloud, you will be told
that it is "poor style."
Of course, the reason it is "poor style" is that the infinitive
has been split; there is nothing inherently poor about it except to those people who have been told and
who have believed that splitting infinitives is poor style.
The other reason for forbidding infinitive splitting, you might be told,
is that some people do it wrong. If some people's errors were a reason to forbid the use of a language
construction, we would all have to lock up our pens and pencils and keyboards forever.
There's reason to believe that the infinitive-splitting rule has its origins in some
grammarian's fantasy that, because the Latin infinitive form is a single word,
and thus unsplittable, ours should be, too. For this argument, there are two
rebuttals, the first being, obviously, "Hey, this ain't Latin!" (for
which most of us are grateful). The second is more subtle but more compelling--in English the infinitive form is also one word, the
"to" that we associate with it being nothing more than a marker that
says "there's an infinitive coming," so there's no way to split our
infinitives, either. At this point, you'll want to leave the discussion before
it is necessary to get involved in what markers are.
While we wouldn't want to go around saying "thee we sing of,"
neither would we be caught dead at a cocktail party saying to a
promising-looking stranger "From where are you?" The prohibition
against ending sentences with a preposition is vastly overrated. If it seems
natural to do it in some circumstances, that's probably because it is natural
in those circumstances. "What are you afraid of? Miss Thistlebottom?"
is as natural as it comes.
Go ahead and do it--you'll have not only my blessing but Winston
Churchill's (possibly apocryphally) as well.
Some people have become so frightened of the word "hopefully"
that they won't use it even when no one would object to it, as in "the
dog watched the door hopefully." Here it is a simple adverb, modifying
"watched" and meaning "full of hope." And it's perfectly
The other usage, the one that gets some people all worked up, is when you
use "hopefully" as what is called by some people a "sentence
adverb" that modifies the whole sentence and means "it is to be
hoped" (which some people would never say). It's perfectly okay,
too. "Hopefully, the sun will come out in time for our picnic" is
Happily, "hopefully" is the only one of the common sentence
adverbs that gets this response. Fortunately, no one has noticed that there
are a whole bunch of these adverbs. Naturally, we're not going to tell them.
Unfortunately, they might find out anyway. Hopefully, they'll figure out that
there's nothing wrong with sentence-modifying adverbs and they'll leave poor
little "hopefully" alone.
If you're wondering what the others are, try "happily,"
"fortunately," "naturally," and "unfortunately."
There are certainly others, but I can't think of them at the moment, or else I
would have stuck them in the previous paragraph, too.
I was reading a mystery novel the other day in which the protagonist said "I
can't stand people who use 'contact' as a verb." (As it happened, this
protagonist proved to be pretty stupid about other things, too, because when
her husband is kidnapped, the kidnappers tell her not to go to the police, and
so she doesn't. If she had, the whole plot would have disintegrated in two
pages, which would have been a really good idea, not to mention saving me
Personally, I have a real hard time trying to figure out what objection
someone might have to "contact" as a verb except as they might be
the type of people who object to the verbing of any noun that occurred after
they were born. Our language is full of verbs that started life as nouns.
"Telephone"; "iron"; "microwave." More recently,
"format" and "access." And just yesterday in linguistic
time, "e-mail." A lot of them (like "contact") are highly
useful in that form. That's why they tend to stick.
It has been said that there is no noun that can't be verbed. If you think
you've found one that can't, you just haven't challenged the right people.
However, despite the fact that one can, as with anything else, taste
and discretion are required to determine whether one should, and there
are many verbings that should be abandoned on a desert isle unheard and
unread. Usually these are ones that are created despite the language's already
having perfectly good, straightforward verbs from the same root.
[My spellchecker objected strenuously to all the uses of "verbing" above,
just proving how little spellcheckers know.]
I have never been able to figure out why anyone thought this ought to be a
rule in the first place. I think it may be another one of those "poor
style" rules that came in the same package with "don't use the word
'very'" and all the others intended to give teachers with no imagination
something to do. But you can ignore this one, too. Or not.