Special Report

21 English Grammar Rules That Confuse Everyone

Source: Portra / E+ via Getty Images

1. It’s OK to start a sentence with a conjunction

Despite what your teacher may have told you, starting a sentence with “and” or “but” is acceptable according to most style guides. But it does look a bit informal.

Source: PeopleImages / iStock via Getty Images

2. “Which” and “that” are not interchangeable

While they are both relative pronouns, “which” should be used in non-defining clauses with a comma, as in, “My car, which is in the shop today, has a flat tire.”

“That,” on the other hand, should only be used in comma-free clauses that are essential to the meaning of the sentence, as in, “The car that had a flat tire is in the shop today.”

Source: Anastasiia Yanishevska / iStock via Getty Images

3. Ablaut reduplication

Reduplication is the repetition of a word in a phrase like bye-bye or no-no. Ablaut reduplication changes the interior vowels of one or more of the almost-identical words in a phrase, as in tick-tock or lovey-dovey. Though we’re not usually aware of it, there is an order that the emphasized vowels should be placed in. In cases where there are two words, the first vowel should be “i” and the second is either “a” or “o,” as in hip-hop or chit chat. If there are three words, the order of the vowels has to be “i, a, o” as in tic-tac-toe. (Try reversing the order and see how it sounds.)

Source: Courtney Hale / E+ via Getty Images

4. Parenthesis and punctuation

If a parenthetical phrase is at the end of a sentence, the terminal punctuation mark must be placed outside of the parentheses (like this).

(However, if the parenthetical is a full sentence and not part of another sentence, the punctuation mark is included within the parentheses.)

Source: SeventyFour / iStock via Getty Images

5. Adjectives have a proper order

Here’s one we follow instinctively without questioning why: In most cases when multiple adjectives are used, their order is as follows: opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose – and then the noun they modify. They’re your “nice big old misshapen brown Italian leather hiking boots.” Try it out of order and see how strange it sounds.

Sponsored: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.