Myth #1. Never split an infinitive.
An infinitive is the to form of a verb: to go, to holler, to whisper, to study. “Splitting an infinitive” means to put some word (usually an adverb) between the to and the verb: to quickly go, to loudly holler, to quietly whisper, to avidly study.
Rule of thumb: If it’s just as easy to word something in a way that avoids splitting an infinitive, do so—if for no other reason than because some readers, editors, and proofreaders will fault you if you don’t. However, if doing so interrupts the flow, or makes comprehension difficult or awkward, go ahead and split that infinitive.
Myth #2. Never end a sentence with a preposition.
A preposition is a word that connects with a noun phrase to form a modifying phrase. Most prepositions refer to time, space, or position:
across the country
after the movie
at the store
in the room
Many students are taught that prepositions should never come at the end of a sentence. However, the proper ordering of prepositions can sometimes result in sentences that sound awkward, stilted, or pompous.
As a general rule, try to avoid ending sentences with prepositions. But if that’s the only way to avoid sounding strange, then by all means, break the rule. Sometimes a preposition is the best word to end a sentence with.
Myth #3. Never use the word hopefully in place of “It is hoped” or “I/we hope.”
Many writers have been upbraided for using what is sometimes considered the colloquial usage of this word. The argument is that hopefully means “in a hopeful manner.” Therefore, a sentence like “Hopefully, this will clear things up” could only mean “This will clear things up in a hopeful manner.”
However, according to the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, hopefully has two meanings. The first is “in a hopeful manner.” The second is “It is hoped; I hope; we hope.” The example given is “Hopefully the rain will end soon.”
The second definition of hopefully is in a class of adverbs known as “disjuncts.” Many other adverbs (interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately) are also disjuncts.
Myth #4. Never start a sentence with a conjunction.
A conjunction is a word that defines the relationship between different units of thought. Examples: and, so, but, if, or. Writers are often taught that beginning a sentence with a conjunction makes it incomplete, a sentence fragment. And sometimes that’s true. Example:
Try to catch me. If you can.
But sentence fragments are perfectly acceptable if they’re not overused, confusing, or unclear. Experienced writers may deliberately use the occasional sentence fragment for emphasis or to create a particular tone. (Note, however, that a dash can also be used for emphasis, and it is often preferable if the effect is the same. “Try to catch me—if you can.”)
In many cases, opening with a conjunction does not turn a sentence into a fragment; it simply serves to connect the current information more strongly to the information that comes before it. Beginning a sentence with a conjunction is sometimes the best way to express the sentence’s relationship with the previous one.
If you have multiple statements that go together, and then a statement that makes a contrast to the previous ones, make the last statement a separate sentence, starting with “But …” For example:
You may not like splitting infinitives. Ending a sentence with a preposition may cause you to cringe. Using hopefully to mean “I hope” may be anathema to you. But these are all grammatically correct by today’s standards.
If you replaced the period before but with a comma, the last statement would refer only to the statement immediately preceding it, rather than to all of the previous statements.
Kathy Ide, author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and editor/compiler of the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series , is a full-time freelance editor/writing mentor, working with new writers, established authors, and book publishers. She speaks at writers’ conferences across the country and is the director for the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference. Kathy is the founder and director of the Christian Editor Connection, a service that links authors and editors, and The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, which provides training, encouragement, networking, and community for Christian freelance editors. For more about Kathy, visit www.KathyIde.com.