Superstitions

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,
Then you suffer:
Superstition ain’t the way.
– Stevie Wonder

You must unlearn what you have learned.
– Yoda


Occasionally, people fabricate “rules” they think everyone ought to follow but that have no basis in true English usage or grammar. Many of these superstitions date from earlier centuries, when grammarians were trying to pretend that English grammar was — or should be — identical to Latin grammar. Some superstitions come from well-intentioned but misguided teachers who overcorrect their student’s minor stylistic problems by concocting fraudulent rules.

The best writers have always, quite properly, ignored such superstitions entirely. Unfortunately, since some English teachers become enthralled by grammatical superstitions and force their students to comply with them, many otherwise well-educated readers and writers treat these superstitions as gospel.

Here are five widely believed yet utterly baseless superstitions:

  1. Never use the first-person pronoun.
  2. Never start a sentence with And or But.
  3. Never use contractions in formal writing.
  4. Never end a sentence with a preposition.
  5. Never split an infinitive.

But how, you may ask, do I know these are just superstitions? There are two primary reasons.

First, unlike real principles of grammar and usage, these superstitions have no logic or reason to back them up; they are purely arbitrary. If you can’t give a coherent explanation for why something is ungrammatical or incorrect, why should anyone believe you?

Second, all of the best writers simply ignore these superstitions. If first-rate writers consistently ignore a so-called rule, then that “rule” is clearly not viable, and you should feel no obligation whatsoever to obey it.1

Anyone who tries to correct you for ignoring one of these superstitions is ignorant of English usage and grammar and probably needs some remedial instruction. Refer such all such sadly misinformed persons to this site.


1To demonstrate that first-rate writers ignore my list of grammatical superstitions, I have provided quotations from exemplary authors breaking each alleged rule.

Page Last Updated: 13 December 2013