(Those usages people keep telling you are wrong but which are actually standard in English.)
For the hyper-critical, "to boldly go where no man has gone before" should be " to go boldly. . . ." It is good to be aware that inserting one or more words between "to" and a verb is not strictly speaking an error, and is often more expressive and graceful than moving the intervening words elsewhere; but so many people are offended by split infinitives that it is better to avoid them except when the alternatives sound strained and awkward.
Ending a sentence with a preposition
A fine example of an artificial "rule" which ignores standard usage. As Winston Churchill said, "From now on, ending a sentence with a
preposition is something up with which I will not put." Jack Lynch has some sensible comments on this issue.
Beginning a sentence with a conjunction
It offends those who wish to confine English usage in a logical straitjacket that writers often begin sentences with "and" or "but." True, one should be aware that many such sentences would be improved by becoming clauses in compound sentences; but there are many effective and traditional uses for beginning sentences thus. One example is the reply to a previous assertion in a dialogue: "But, my dear Watson, the criminal obviously wore expensive boots or he would not have taken such pains to scrape them clean." Make it a rule to consider whether your conjunction would repose more naturally within the previous sentence or would lose in useful emphasis by being demoted from its position at the head of a new sentence.
Using "between" for only two, "among" for more
The "-tween" in "between" is clearly linked to the number two; but, as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, "In all senses, between has, from its earliest appearance, been extended to more than two." We're talking about Anglo-Saxon here--early. Pedants have labored to enforce "among" when there are three or more objects under discussion, but largely in vain. Even the pickiest speaker does not naturally say, "A treaty has been negotiated among England, France, and Germany."
Forward vs. forwards
Although some style books prefer "forward" and "toward" to "forwards" and "towards," none of these forms is really incorrect, though the forms without the final S are perhaps a smidgen more formal.
Gender vs. sex
Feminists eager to remove references to sexuality from discussions of females and males not involving mating or reproduction introduced the broadened meaning of "gender," which referred previously only to language, as a synonym for "sex" in phrases such as "Our goal is to achieve gender equality." Americans, always nervous about sex, eagerly embraced the new usage, which is now standard. In some scholarly fields, "sex" is now used to label biologically determined aspects of maleness and femaleness (reproduction, etc.) while "gender" refers to their socially determined aspects (behavior, attitudes, etc.); but in ordinary speech this distinction is not always maintained. It is disingenuous to pretend that people who use "gender" in the new senses are making an error, just as it is disingenuous to maintain that "Ms." means "manuscript" (that's "MS"). Nevertheless, I must admit I was startled to discover that the tag on my new trousers describes not only their size and color, but their "gender."
Use "who" for people, "that" for animals and inanimate objects
In fact there are many instances in which the most conservative usage is to refer to a person using "that": "All the politicians that were at the party later denied even knowing the host" is actually somewhat more traditional than the more popular "politicians who." An aversion to "that" referring to human beings as somehow diminishing their humanity may be praiseworthily sensitive, but it cannot claim the authority of tradition. In some sentences, "that" is clearly preferable to "who": "She is the only person I know of that prefers whipped cream on her granola." In the following example, to exchange "that" for "who" would be absurd: "Who was it that said, 'A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle'?"*
*Commonly attributed to Gloria Steinem, but at least one source says she was quoting Irina Dunn.
This word has meant "it is to be hoped" for a very long time, and
those who insist it can only mean "in a hopeful fashion" display
more hopefulness than realism.
"The plane will be landing momentarily" says the flight attendant, and the grumpy grammarian in seat 36B thinks to himself, "So we're going to touch down for just a moment?" Everyone else thinks, "Just a moment now before we land." Back in the 1920s when this use of "momentarily" was first spreading on both sides of the Atlantic, one might have been accused of misusing the word; but by now it's listed without comment as one of the standard definitions in most dictionaries. Back in the eighteenth century, the form "momently" served much the same purpose.
Lend vs. loan
"Loan me your hat" was just as correct everywhere as "lend me your ears" until the British made "lend" the preferred verb, relegating "loan" to the thing being lent. However, as in so many cases, Americans kept the older pattern, which in its turn has influenced modern British usage so that those insisting that "loan" can only be a noun are in the minority.
It is futile to protest that "near miss" should be "near collision." This expression is a condensed version of something like "a miss that came very near to being a collision" and is similar to "narrow escape." Everyone knows what is meant by it and almost everyone uses it. It should be noted that the expression can also be used in the sense of almost succeeding in striking a desired target: "His Cointreau soufflé was a near miss."
None should be singular
Some people insist that since "none" is derived from "no one" it should always be singular: "none of us is having dessert." However, the earliest form in English is "nan" and "none" is in fact most often treated as a plural. "None of us are having dessert" will do just fine.
Scan vs. skim
Those who insist that "scan" can never be a synonym of "skim" have lost the battle. It is true that the word originally meant "to scrutinize," but it has now evolved into one of those unfortunate words with two opposite meanings: to examine closely (now rare) and to glance at quickly (much more common). It would be difficult to say which of these two meanings is more prominent in the computer-related usage, to "scan a document."
For most Americans, the natural thing to say is "Climb down off of [pronounced "offa"] that horse, Tex, with your hands in the air;" but many people urge that the "of" should be omitted as redundant. It may well be superfluous, but common usage has rendered "off of" so standard as to generally pass unnoticed.
"I feel bad" is correct because adjectives routinely modify verbs involving sensations, as in "This t-shirt smells bad" (not "badly"). "I feel badly" is an incorrect hyper-correction by people who think they know better than the masses. Similarly if you feel good while others feel well, you're just fine.
Some people like to distinguish between these two words by insisting that you persuade people until you have convinced them; but "persuade" as a synonym for "convince" goes back at least to the 16th century. It can mean both to attempt to convince and to succeed. It is no longer common to say things like "I am persuaded that you are an illiterate fool," but even this usage is not in itself wrong.
"Connoisseur" should be spelled "connaisseur."
When we borrowed this word from the French in the 18th century, it was spelled "connoisseur." Is it our fault the French later decided to shift the spelling of many OI words to the more phonetically accurate AI? Of those Francophone purists who insist we should follow their example I say, let 'em eat bifteck.
List of errors