11 Grammar Rules That Make No Sense

istock
istock

When you first learn the rules for English grammar in elementary school, you find there are a lot of don’ts: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition; don’t begin a sentence with because. But as you become a more sophisticated writer (and reader), you realize that many of these so-called “rules” are really more like guidelines, and are better ignored.

1. DON’T SPLIT INFINITIVES.

The rule says nothing should come between the to and its verb in the infinitive, which makes “to boldly go where no one has gone before” incorrect. (According to the rule it should be “to go boldly” instead.) But the placement of the adverb is more a matter of style than grammar, and often the split sounds way better. Almost all style guides agree.

2. DON’T END A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION.

It’s a good idea to remove the final preposition from a sentence like “Where is he going to?” But modern style guides see nothing wrong with a sentence like “This picture is lovely to look at.” Even “Which student did he give it to?” is considered much less stuffy and awkward than “To which student did he give it?” And certainly no one would endorse “This is a grammar rule up with which I will not put.”

3. DON’T START A SENTENCE WITH A CONJUNCTION.

For someone just learning to write, this may be a good style tip, but it is not a rule of grammar. It is perfectly fine to begin sentences with and or but. And that’s what all the major usage guides say, too.

4. DON’T USE PASSIVE VOICE.

This is another rule that has more to do with style than grammar. Sometimes you don’t know the agent of an action. How else would you phrase “I was stranded on a desert island”? “The storm stranded me on a desert island”? The passive is the much better voice choice in many situations.

5. DON’T START A SENTENCE WITH HOPEFULLY.

The argument against starting a sentence with hopefully objects that hopefully can only mean “in a hopeful manner” and that “Hopefully, the bus will get here soon” therefore implies the ridiculous assertion that the bus is making its way here in a hopeful manner. But in cases like this, hopefully is actually an adverb for the whole sentence. It’s like frankly, apparently, or certainly. “Certainly, the bus will get here soon” doesn’t mean the bus is certain, but that the attitude toward the situation of the bus coming is one of certainty. Likewise, hopefully refers to an attitude of hopefulness toward the whole situation.

6. DON’T USE OVER TO MEAN MORE THAN.

This rule states that over is only to be used for spatial position and not for numbers. You do not spend over $5 on coffee, but more than $5. Stylebooks have recently been giving up on this rule. After all, we do talk about numbers in spatial terms. If it’s OK to say a price is higher or lower, why not over $5 or under $5?

7. DON’T USE BETWEEN FOR MORE THAN TWO.

According to this rule, you should say among instead of between when there are more than two entities involved. You have to choose between soup and salad, but you choose among all the menu items. There are, however, many cases where between works fine for multiple items, as when there are multiple individual interactions implied. “The talks between the U.S., Russia, and China went well.”

8. NONE TAKES A SINGULAR VERB.

This rule states that because none comes from no one, it is singular and should therefore have singular verb agreement, as in “None of the plates was broken.” But most style guides acknowledge that that is a stylistically awkward construction and none should be allowed to have singular or plural agreement. “None of the plates were broken” is completely acceptable.

9. USE A BEFORE CONSONANTS AND AN BEFORE VOWELS.

The rule for a vs. an doesn’t depend on what letter a word begins with, but what sound. Usual begins with a vowel, but the sound it begins with is a consonant. No one should write “an usual day” or “an one horse town.”

10. DON’T USE FUN AS AN ADJECTIVE.

Fun was originally a noun. It was considered incorrect to say “that was a fun party” in the same way it would be incorrect to say “that was a noise party” when you mean “that was a noisy party.” But funny is already taken for a different meaning, and fun has slowly become acceptable to use as an adjective. Style guides have begun to admit that yes, parties can be fun.

11. SAY “IT IS I,” NOT “ME.”

This rule came about from people analyzing English as if it were Latin. But English is not Latin and “it is I” sounds so painfully formal as to be distracting. “It is me” has been the natural way to say it for hundreds of years, and is still perfectly good English.

11 Lively Gifts for Plant Parents

Blue Q/Amazon/Picnic Time/World Market
Blue Q/Amazon/Picnic Time/World Market

Many folks have been showing off their green thumbs this year thanks to the pandemic, so why not encourage their hobbies? There's a special gift for every kind of plant parent out there—think starter grow kits to gardening tools to cute cartoon socks. If the Christmas tree in the living room isn't enough greenery for your gift recipient's taste this festive season, we have some great gift options below.

1. Back To The Roots Garden In A Can Herb Growing Kit; $25

Back to the Roots/World Market

Herb gardens are compact, useful, and easy to maintain. If your giftee lives in an apartment and doesn't have outdoor space for a large garden, Back To The Roots's Garden In A Can Herb Growing Kit—a three-pack of basil, cilantro, and mint—is a great place for them to start their indoor horticultural journey.

Buy it: World Market

2. Plants Rock Cactus Growing Kit; $13

Plants Rock/World Market

Another option for small spaces is cacti, which do not require much water or attention. This kit makes it easy to start growing cacti in your gift recient's home. The tools are all included, so all your giftee has to do is plant the seeds and set the ceramic pot in a sunny spot.

Buy it: World Market

3. Picnic Time Folding Garden Stool With Tools; $69

Picnic Time/World Market

For more experienced gardeners, tools are essential for helping plants thrive. This stool with tools might solve the problem of sore knees and backs from kneeling in dirt. Not only is the seat portable and lightweight, but it also includes a storage tote and five pockets for tools like the included trowels and garden forks.

Buy it: World Market

4. Green and Pink Ribbed-Glass Plant Misters; $26

World Market

Indoor plants need as much care and attention as their outdoor cousins, but lugging around a watering can may cause a mess in your giftee's home. Using this set of two plant misters is an easy way to keep moisture-loving plants like orchids and Boston ferns nice and dewy.

Buy it: World Market

5. Cotton Macramé Plant Hanger; $18

World Market

Macramé plant hangers were all the rage back in the '70s. They've made a comeback this year as people have become craftier at home. This plant hanger is great for showing off plants that grow long, curtain-like tendrils and helpful when your giftee lives in a small space. With the roof as the limit, they can pack in as many plants as they want.

Buy it: World Market

6. Can't Kill Me 2021 Calendar; $8

TF Publishing/World Market

If your gift recipient loves plants but can't keep real ones alive, give them this mini wall calendar. It features, well, plant arrangements they can't kill, like succulents, bonsai trees, and snake plants. This calendar will surely add a dose of green to their home office.

Buy it: World Market

7. The New Plant Parent: Develop Your Green Thumb and Care for Your House-Plant Family; $17

Harry N. Abrams/Amazon

All gardeners want one simple thing: to know more about keeping their plants alive and thriving. This book has all the essentials for cultivating houseplants. It's full of tips and tricks for repotting a plant, taking care of certain types of plants, and adjusting light for your plant baby's survival.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Homenote Bamboo Plant Labels; $14

HOMENOTE/Amazon

Plant labels are a great way for your giftee to remember where they planted their rosemary versus their parsley before they sprout. This 60 label set comes with a pen, so the labeling process is a breeze.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Blue Q Proud Plant Mom Socks; $13

Blue Q/Amazon

Proud plant moms want to show off their love for their greenery any way they can. That's why these crew socks will be a hit with any of your green-thumbed friends. Blue Q also donates 1 percent of its sales revenue to Doctors Without Borders.

Buy it: Amazon

10. EuroGraphics 1000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle; $20

EuroGraphics Toys/Amazon

This 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle will occupy your gift recipients from the fall harvest to the spring planting season. The challenging design of multiple succulents features each plant's common and scientific name.

Buy it: Amazon

11. AeroGarden Indoor Hydroponic Garden; $124

AeroGarden/Amazon

If seasons don't matter to your giftee and they want to start their herb garden right now, then the AeroGarden is going to be their best friend. They'll be able to grow herbs like dill, thyme, and mint indoors in the middle of winter. Thanks to the LED grow lights, there is no need to worry about plants getting enough sunlight. They can grow up to six plants at a time, all year round.

Buy it: Amazon

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13 Little-Known Punctuation Marks We Should Be Using

Damon Amato
Damon Amato

Because sometimes periods, commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, hyphens, apostrophes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks, brackets, parentheses, braces, and ellipses won't do, here are a few other punctuation marks to work into your everyday communications.

1. Interrobang

Advertising executive Martin Speckter came up with the interrobang in 1962.Damon Amato

You probably already know the interrobang, thanks to its excellent moniker and popularity (You did what!? or You don't read Mental Floss?!). Though the combination exclamation point and question mark can be replaced by using one of each, they can also be combined into a single glyph. The interrobang was invented by advertising executive Martin Speckter in 1962; according to his obituary in The New York Times the interrobang was “said to be the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders. It applied solely to the rhetorical, Mr. Speckter said, when a writer wished to convey incredulity.” The name is derived from the Latin word interrogatio, which means “questioning,” and bang—how printers refer to the exclamation mark.

2. Percontation Point or Rhetorical Question Mark

Damon Amato

The backward question mark was proposed by printer Henry Denham in the 16th century as an end to a rhetorical question. According to Lynne Truss in the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, “it didn’t catch on.”

3. Irony Mark

Alcanter de Brahm's irony mark.Damon Amato

According to Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters, it was British philosopher John Wilkins who first suggested an irony mark, which he thought should be an inverted exclamation point.

Next came Alcanter de Brahm, who introduced his own irony mark (above)—which de Brahm said took “the form of a whip”— in the 19th century. Then, in 1966, French author Hervé Bazin proposed his irony mark, which looks a bit like an exclamation point with a lowercase U through the middle [PDF], in his book, Plumons l’Oiseau, along with five other pieces of punctuation.

4. Love Point

Hervé Bazin's love point.Damon Amato

Among Bazin's proposed new punctuation marks was the love point. It was composed of two mirrored question marks that formed a heart and shared a point. The intended use, of course, was to denote a statement of affection or love, as in "Happy anniversary [love point]" or "I have warm fuzzies [love point]."

5. Acclamation Point

Hervé Bazin's acclamation point.Damon Amato

Bazin described this mark as "the stylistic representation of those two little flags that float above the tour bus when a president comes to town." Acclamation is a "demonstration of goodwill or welcome," so you could use it to say "I'm so happy to see you [acclamation point]" or "Viva Las Vegas [acclamation point]."

6. Certitude Point

Hervé Bazin's certitude point.Damon Amato

Need to say something with unwavering conviction? End your declaration with the certitude point, another of Bazin's designs, which is an exclamation point with a line through it. As Phil Jamieson writes at Proofread Now’s GrammerPhile blog, “This punctuation would best be used instead of writing in all caps.”

7. Doubt Point

Hervé Bazin's doubt mark.Damon Amato

Another Bazin creation, the doubt point—which looks a little like a cross between the letter Z and a question mark—is the opposite of the certitude point, and thus is used to end a sentence with a note of skepticism.

8. Authority Point

Hervé Bazin's authority point.Damon Amato

Bazin's authority point "shades your sentence" with a note of expertise, "like a parasol over a sultan." (“Well, I was there and that's what happened [authority point].”) Likewise, it's also used to indicate an order or advice that should be taken seriously, as it comes from a voice of authority.

Unfortunately, as Houston writes at the BBC, “Bazin’s creations were doomed to fail from the start. Though his new symbols looked familiar, crucially, they were impossible to type on a typewriter. The author himself never used them after Plumons l’Oiseau and the book’s playful tone discouraged other writers from taking them up too, so that today the love point, irony point, and the rest are little more than curiosities.”

9. SarcMark

The SarcMark (short for "sarcasm mark") looks like a swirl with a dot in the middle. According to its website, “Its creator, Douglas Sak, was writing an email to a friend and was attempting to be sarcastic. It occurred to him that the English language, and perhaps other languages, lacked a punctuation mark to denote sarcasm.” The SarcMark was born—and trademarked—and it debuted in 2010. While the SarcMark hasn't seen widespread use, Saks markets it as "the official, easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message." Because half the fun of sarcasm is pointing it out [SarcMark].

10. Snark Mark

You don't need a special font or keyboard to make the SnarkMark.Damon Amato

This, like the SarcMark, is used to indicate that a sentence should be understood beyond the literal meaning. Unlike the SarcMark, however, this one is copyright-free and easy to type: It's just a period followed by a tilde. It was created by typographer Choz Cunningham in 2007.

11. Asterism

We can think of a few situations in which the asterism would be useful.Damon Amato

According to Houston, this triangular trio of asterisks was “named for a constellation of stars and used as late as the 1850s to indicate ‘a note of considerable length, which has no reference.’”

12. And 13. Exclamation Comma and Question Comma

The exclamation comma and the question comma should be used "within a written sentence between words as a comma, but with more feeling or inquisitiveness."Damon Amato

According to the Huffington Post, Leonard Storch, Ernst van Haagen, and Sigmund Silber created both the exclamation comma and the question comma—an exclamation mark with a comma for a bottom point, and a question mark with a comma for a point, respectively—in 1992. The patent for the marks (which expired in 1995) reads:

“Using two new punctuation marks, the question comma and the exclamation comma … inquisitiveness and exclamation may be expressed within a written sentence structure, so that thoughts may be more easily and clearly conveyed to readers. The new punctuation marks are for use within a written sentence between words as a comma, but with more feeling or inquisitiveness. This affords an author greater choice of method of punctuating, e.g., to reflect spoken language more closely. Moreover, the new punctuation fits rather neatly into the scheme of things, simply filling a gap, with a little or no explanation needed.”

The patent closes with an imagining of what a reader might “silently remark” when seeing the marks for the first time: “Clever [exclamation comma] funny I never saw one of those before.”

This story has been updated for 2020.