The Next Time Someone Corrects Your Grammar, Tell Them This

photographed by Eylul Aslan
Millennials have been blamed for the eradication of pretty much everything that prior generations once held so dear — from cereal to napkins to the housing market — and some fear that, even worse, they’re chipping away at the very foundation of the English language as we know it. Alas, even the once-innocuous full stop has not been spared the contempt of those pesky millennials, out to ruin everything in their path that’s had a solid run thus far.
But let’s face it: As the world evolves, our means of communication inevitably follows suit. It’s a cycle as old as time but, thanks to new technology, we’re seeing that evolution on a turbo-charged scale. The internet is a breeding ground for change, and from memes to Tumblr to emoji, the possibilities for modes of expression are expanding at an ever-increasing rate. And sure, that might mean fewer full stops and more nuanced slang, but it’s something we should be celebrating — not resisting.
Here are a few of the language and grammar “rules” that we once held as hard-and-fast but have shape-shifted over the years and, tbh, don’t really matter anymore...
Don’t end a sentence with a preposition
This one’s been over and done with for a while. Despite what your high school English teacher may have drilled into your brain, there is nothing inherently wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition — especially if the alternative is clunky and awkward-sounding. When was the last time you asked someone, “From where are you?”
Look a word up in the dictionary to determine whether it’s “real”
We all could benefit from being bolder about challenging the notion of “real” words. If we use a word and we write it down and we all understand its meaning, it’s real, plain and simple. Dictionaries record how people actually use words and sometimes they simply can’t keep up with the pace of change. The word adulting, for instance, is a word most of us have used for years by this point and know well, though you won’t find it in a current standard dictionary. You might also need to make up a word to convey an idea for which there is no “real” word in existence yet (maybe sciencey, not scientific, more accurately describes the sentiment you’re looking to express). And sometimes it just doesn’t matter whether you spell rollercoaster as one word or two; it’s understandable either way.
Use idioms or turns of phrase to mean what they originally intended and only what they originally intended
“Beg the question”, for instance, is a phrase derived from formal logic that means to make an assumption based on a premise that lacks evidence, or a kind of circular reasoning. But it’s just as fine used in its newfangled sense as a stand-in for “raises the question” — we can’t turn back time and undo this organic shift in its usage.
Don’t use they when you mean he or she
Not only does use of he or she or he/she erroneously suggest that only two genders exist, it’s also terribly stilted and clumsy-sounding. The singular, epicene they is here to stay, and it makes life for everyone a whole lot easier.
Use the subjunctive mood when something is wishful or contrary to fact
As an intrinsically cynical person, I’ll be honest — I don’t hate the subjunctive. A verb is in the subjunctive mood when it expresses something that is doubtful, wishful, or contrary to fact — aka using were instead of was (or adding the word had before a verb that isn’t was or were): “If I were to leave the house, I’d have to put on pants.” But I also accept the death of the subjunctive as imminent, because subbing in a was for were there (and in most other instances) works just as well and reads just as smoothly, albeit grammatically “incorrectly”.
Avoid profanity whenever possible
In a world where things much worse than a straggling F-word are accessible via the fingertips of children, we’ve seen a shift in attitudes toward “casual-use” profanity for comedic effect or more dramatic emphasis — see, for example, BuzzFeed quiz “How Fucking British Are You?” or essential reading material “27 Trees That Don’t Give a Fuck About You Or Anything You Do.” We’d be much better off worrying about things that are truly offensive, like exclusive or derogatory language.
Always use end punctuation
This depends on context, of course. No one cares if you don’t end a tweet or Instagram caption with punctuation, or if you choose to punctuate a sentence with an emoji instead, for instance. But in anything more than a few lines long, of course, full stops and other end punctuation marks serve an essential purpose — and they’re not going away any time soon.
And of course, use the word whom instead of who in the objective case
Face it: You hate whom. (Go ahead, I won’t tell anyone!) Can you recall the last time you asked, “Whom is this for?” The worst offence is when whom is used incorrectly, in the subjective case — “They were not sure whom would do a better job” — a move made perhaps in fear of being judged for not using the correct form of the word. Let’s avoid the headache altogether and help whom see its way out; you can thank me later.