English Language Blog

First Rule of Learning English… Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in English Grammar

Fight Club meme

I know many ESL learners get frustrated by English grammar, spelling, and pronunciation rules because it often seems like there are no rules or at least the rules are often broken. If you ever feel this way then the picture above probably sounds about right to you. This picture, and a similar saying, is taken from the movie Fight Club. The movie clip that corresponds to this saying above is here:

For this post I wanted to make a list of English grammar rules that have NO exceptions, that is rules that are ALWAYS followed, but I couldn’t think of any! So, instead I have a short list of bad grammar rules in English. These are rules that are broken all the time and when they are broken it is not a big deal. So, go ahead and break a few rules now and then, because the first rule of English should be: THERE ARE TOO MANY RULES!

English rules that should be broken:

1. Don’t split infinitives.
To split an infinitive means to put a word between ‘to’ and the verb that follows it,  like ‘to go.’ English speakers split infinitives all the time, for example a common saying from the show Star Trek is “to boldly go where no one has gone before” – with ‘to’ and ‘go’ split by ‘boldly.’ When infinitives are split no one gets hurt, so go ahead and split an infinitive or two!

2. Never end a sentence with a preposition.
It is commonly said that sentences should not end with a preposition, but when native English speakers talk they often end sentences with prepositions and everyone still understands each other. Even though English teachers may not like it, it is just more common to say, ‘What did you put that there for?’ instead of saying ‘For what reason did you put that there?’

3.  The passive voice is bad and shouldn’t be used.
The passive tense is a tense like all other tenses and you shouldn’t be ashamed to use it. It is considered a bad tense to use in writing by many English teachers, but it is no worse than any other tense really.  You probably shouldn’t write all your sentences in the passive tense, but every now and then it won’t hurt anyone. The grammarians will be upset by it, but you will still be understood.

Now, it is your turn, what is the silliest, worst, or hardest English grammar rule that you can think of?

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.