Places with strict and unforgiving rules make great settings for spooky stories. Think about all the books and movies set against the backdrop of a strict school, a rigid convent, or an oppressive family home. The unyielding rules contribute to an atmosphere that invites creepiness. The same is true for grammar—when rules are enforced arbitrarily, sometimes horror ensues. Especially when it’s Halloween and the moon is full.
1 The Initial Conjunction Oh, the repression that is being unable to start a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “so”! Of the many horrifying rules that don’t make sense, this one takes the cake. You don’t have to be afraid of starting a sentence with a conjunction as long as it makes sense and you don’t start every sentence with one. 2 The Terminal Preposition All things must come to an end. But when your sentence comes to an end, and it just so happens to end with a preposition, do you have to rearrange it? Would you craft one jack-o’-lantern after another because somehow their eyes always seem too big? Well, maybe you would, but with sentences, it’s perfectly okay to leave the terminal preposition be. In fact, sometimes you don’t have a choice, as the alternative would be much worse.
3 The Plural Apostrophe That Should Not Be There’s nothing inherently scary about acronyms and initialisms. There aren’t any in particular associated with Halloween. But let’s say that you prefer watching TV to reading a book on Halloween and that you’re using a DVR to record that scary movie marathon. If you had more than one TV and DVR, how would you write the plural? You’d just add an s, giving you TVs and DVRs. That’s the favored practice these days, but not so long ago some styles guides did advise using an apostrophe to pluralize acronyms. In fact, The New York Times still does it, but only when the abbreviation contains periods (M.D.’s.) or when pluralizing a single letter (dot the i’s and cross the t’s).
4 Who Is It? It Is I! Here’s a quick test to help you make sure the person knocking at your door is not something scary disguised as a person: when they knock and you ask who it is, if they say “it is I,” they are either a nineteenth-century monster or a relentless grammar pedant. While the use of “I” instead of “me” in this case is technically grammatically sound, using “me” is so much more common that saying “it is I” sounds awkward and unnatural.
5 The Generic “He” Scary monsters don’t have to be male. Sure, Dracula is, and werewolves often are, but there are also bad witches and all kinds of monsters you can’t refer to as “he.” It was once standard to use “he” as a generic pronoun for people and monsters of unspecified gender. We’ve moved on from those times, however, and we’ve adopted “he or she” or “they” as the generic pronouns.
6 To Whom It May Concern… Some things just refuse to accept that it’s their time to go. Like zombies, ghosts, and vampires, “whom” likes to come out from time to time and wreak havoc on unsuspecting victims who think there’s nothing wrong with saying “to who.” And there was a time when “whom” was the only correct form to use when referring to the object of a verb. However, using “who” has become so widespread that “whom” may be on its way out.
7 No Splitting When Infinitives Are Involved While splitting your group of friends might be helpful if you want to cover more Halloween parties, splitting an infinitive will do you no good. At least, that’s what some misinformed pedants would say. In practice, however, splitting an infinitive is sometimes the better-sounding choice, and it often makes more sense. So don’t be afraid to split—a rule to live by when it comes to both infinitives and scary noises in the middle of the night.