Because the English language continues to evolve and change over time, grammar is not a subject exempt from hot debate, especially among professional writers, editors, and proofreaders.
Here’s a list of the ten most hotly debated topics in grammar. Take a gander and then share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
1. The Oxford Comma
It seems like the debate about whether to use the Oxford comma (a.k.a. the “serial comma”) will always be around. Some style guides petition for it to be used and others contend that it should never be used. So, who’s “right”? We may never know for sure.
With the Oxford Comma: I would like to make apple, raspberry and blueberry, and peach pies for the festival.
Without the Oxford Comma: I would like to make apple, raspberry and blueberry and peach pies for the festival.
Read The Oxford Comma: Use It or Ditch It? to learn more details about this long-standing grammar debate.
2. Two Spaces After a Period
Before word processors and computers were widely used, typewriters were used to type important documents, and it was common practice to insert two spaces after every sentence typed with a typewriter for better readability. Some businesses, industries, and teachers still require individuals typing documents on word processors now to insert two spaces after every period. Yet others think that doing this makes things harder to read.
With Two Spaces: Bob arrived to the meeting late. At the meeting we discussed the budget.
Without Two Spaces: Bob arrived to the meeting late. At the meeting we discussed the budget.
3. Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotation Marks
Whether to, when, and where to put quotation marks is a global debate. The debate is mainly between grammarians in the U.S. and grammarians in Britain. The Brits call placing quotation marks outside punctuation in certain circumstances, “logical punctuation”. Read this illuminating Slate article about the nuances of this debate.
PBS is the only widely available channel that has any serious LGBT content; e.g., documentaries such as "Ask Not" and "Out in the Silence".
4. Possessive Apostrophes for Words Ending in “s”
Is it “Wales’ population’” or “Wales’s population”?
Did you know that in 2007 the Arkansas house voted to officially denote possessives as "Arkansas's" instead of the more standard "Arkansas'"? (Chicago Tribune) So, while some grammarians might think it’s always critical to denote possession of a plural noun ending in an “s” with an apostrophe, language conventions and actual laws denote disagreement.
5. When to Use What Dash Mark
With the growing popularity and widespread use of social media and online content sharing, many people are beginning to forgo commas for dashes. And they’re using dashes of all shapes and sizes in a variety of ways. While some grammarians will claim that the length of the dash mark and what it’s notating are important, critics will claim that since there is no real noticeable difference among the dashes, it shouldn’t matter which dash mark is used for what.
Do you know when and where to use the en dash (–) versus the em dash (—) versus the figure dash (‑)? And do you think it makes a significant grammatical difference?
6. Prepositions at the End of a Sentence
Some individuals claim that ending a sentence with a preposition is fine if the sentence is clear and more meaningful because of its placement at the end of the sentence. In fact, some think that it’s necessary to end a sentence with a preposition so that it remains natural-sounding and conversational. Strict grammarians contest this.
That was something they couldn’t get enough of.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
7. Splitting Infinitives
The most famous split infinitive known today is probably the Star Trek slogan, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Writers split infinitives all the time for emphatic effect, but some grammarians and editors cringe at the practice. Do you think that adding an adverb in between “to” and the verb of a sentence is out of the question all the time?
8. Starting Sentences with Conjunctions
Many writers start sentences with conjunctions (and, or, but). They do this to create a conversational tone and to avoid run-on sentences. Yet some individuals out there still claim that this practice is highly ungrammatical.
And then Will gave his moving speech.
But we all tend to think that from time to time.
9. Flat Adverbs
Do you “drive safely” or “drive safe?” Technically the more flat or simple adverb “safe” is regarded as incorrect, yet grammarians will still claim that it is the more correct option.
The stars shine bright on nights when there is no moon.
You will go far in life.
10. Gender-Neutral Pronouns
While the English language does contain a gender-neutral pronoun, “it,” the pronoun is only used to refer to inanimate objects and not people. So, instead of using “he” or “she,” a lot of writers will resort to using the plural “they” when referring to a singular person who doesn’t conform to traditional gender identities, or when an unidentified person is being discussed. This of course doesn’t sit well with many grammarians who don’t want to confuse plural and singular pronouns, as well as those who stick to using the masculine “he” when referring to an unidentified person. Some writers may even resort to using “he or she” and switching out the gendered pronouns throughout a piece of writing, but this can be confusing and still doesn’t account for non-gender-conforming individuals.
There are quite a few other topics that grammarians like to debate that aren’t listed above. Do you have another topic to add? What’s your take on the debates listed above? Share with us in the comments below and be sure to share this post with your friends and colleagues too.