I was just working on a document a fellow writer sent me for review, and I couldn’t help but notice all those spaces between sentences. Ah, I thought, she must be over forty since she’s using the old-fashioned two spaces after a sentence rule. That got me to thinking about grammar rules that have changed and whether it’s possible to guess someone’s age from their grammar. So, just for fun, let’s have a look at grammar that gives away your age.
Two spaces between sentences. If you use two spaces after a period, you’re probably over forty or use a manual typewriter. And I really hope you don’t use a manual typewriter. There are actually people out there who do. Yes, it’s true. I once took a job at the Province of North Holland to replace someone who was retiring. Not only did the man use a MANUAL typewriter, but he had a big cartoon taped to his dusty computer that said computers were for cave dwellers. I never did understand that joke.
His or her. Welcome to the new century, where we are now using the singular they. I know, I know. It feels wrong, but – admit it – it’s also easier and kind of makes sense. The Brits are totally okay with the singular they, American sources are still clenching their teeth and wondering why we have to follow the stupid Brits anyway.
And or But. If you are violently opposed to starting a sentence with and or but, you’re probably over forty. Unless, like me, you like to write in first person and have realized that a lot of thoughts start with BUT. If you’re one of my characters, you probably use the word ‘but’ way too much, BUT you don’t know how to stop.
Split infinitives. Oh gosh, where to begin with this one. We all learned in school that splitting infinitives was bad – equivalent to having sympathy with those Ruskies. (In case you didn’t guess it yet, I went to school during the Cold War.) Unless all your characters are over forty and speak using perfect grammar (or are Sheldon Cooper), you’re going to need to get over your irrational fear of split infinitives.
Fun is a noun. Apparently, fun is now an adjective and we mere mortals are allowed to use it as such. I’m still violently opposed to ‘funner’ and will continue to fight the good fight against the use of that word in anyone’s vocabulary. Good thing I live in a country that does not have English as a first language, because you just know I would stop people on the street and correct them for use of that word. (Free has also morphed into an adjective, but one new adjective a week is all I can take.)
I’m not going to get into the defunct use of whom. Whoever did the research indicating its use was declining obviously hasn’t read any fiction lately. For my thoughts on the whole who or whom debacle, read this blog post.