We all grew up learn­ing cer­tain lan­guage rules, but what you may not know is that some of the rules you learned were wrong.

We can’t blame the teach­ers since most of them weren’t lin­guists or had Eng­lish degrees. They just did what they could with the resources at hand, and those resources often per­pet­u­at­ed these false gram­mar rules.

Over the years, I’ve dis­cov­ered some gram­mar myths, and I’ve been try­ing to expose them on this site. Here are 5 that I’ve writ­ten about so far:

1. Never use “like” to introduce clauses

The myth goes some­thing like: you must use “like” when com­par­ing nouns and “as” when com­par­ing claus­es. How­ev­er “like” intro­duc­ing claus­es has been in use for cen­turies by dozens of great writ­ers, includ­ing William Shake­speare, Charles Dick­ens, Mark Twain, HG Wells, and William Faulkn­er.

2. Never start a sentence with a conjunction

Like the first myth, peo­ple have been start­ing sen­tences with con­junc­tions for hun­dreds of years. In fact, the old­est record we have of such usage is from the 9th cen­tu­ry.

3. Using “alright” is wrong

As the the­o­ry goes, “alright” isn’t a real word and should be writ­ten as “all right”. How­ev­er, like the oth­ers, this is anoth­er one of those made-up rules; “alright” is a legit­i­mate word with a wide usage. It, too, has been around for cen­turies, hav­ing emerged around the turn of the year 1700. Plus, it has been gain­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty for at least 100 years.

4. Never use “that” for a person; use “who” instead

Again, if you sup­port using “that” for peo­ple, you have time on your side. “That” has been the stan­dard rel­a­tive pro­noun for about 800 years for per­sons, ani­mals, and things, 400 years before “which” and 500 years before “who”.

5. Don’t use “they” as a singular pronoun

Some peo­ple are stick­lers for keep­ing “they” as a plur­al pro­noun, despite the fact that we don’t have a gen­der neu­tral sin­gu­lar pro­noun. The thing is that such peo­ple don’t have a leg to stand on: the sin­gu­lar they has been in com­mon use since the 13th cen­tu­ry, about 700 years longer than “he” (which was the pro­posed stan­dard for much of the 20th cen­tu­ry).

What are some per­sis­tent gram­mar myths that you wish would final­ly die out?

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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