You’ve probably heard the old story about the pedant who dared to tinker with Winston Churchill’s writing because the great man had ended a sentence with a preposition. Churchill’s scribbled response: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
It’s a great story, but it’s a myth. And so is that so-called grammar rule about ending sentences with prepositions. If that previous sentence bugs you, by the way, you’ve bought into another myth. No, there’s nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction, either. But perhaps the biggest grammar myth of all is the infamous taboo against splitting an infinitive, as in “to boldly go.” The truth is that you can’t split an infinitive: Since “to” isn’t part of the infinitive, there’s nothing to split. Great writers—including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne and Wordsworth—have been inserting adverbs between “to” and infinitives since the 1200s.
I must admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I once believed all of these myths. And that is a difficult admission to make. Why? Because I spent thirty years as an English teacher busily propagating those very myths. That means approximately five thousand innocent teenagers have been fed incorrect information. There is some comfort to be had, however, in that, believe it or not, I did not always have the full attention of every student for the entire duration of every lesson. In fact, it is entirely possible that virtually none of my students remember any such discussion. There were many days when they were obviously more interested in discussing the fact that my tie did not properly match my jacket or that my shoes were lacking polish.