#1–Mention the Oxford Comma
The Oxford Comma triggers not just the Grammar Purists. People who are flexible with grammar rules are ready to battle over the Oxford. On one side are the rigid grammarians who look down on anyone who doesn’t place the comma before “and” in items of series.
On the other side, rebels say the Oxford Comma should be thrown on the trash heap of obsolete grammar rules, such as ending a sentence with a preposition or splitting an infinitive.
You can stay out of the Oxford Comma wars by always using the comma—not because it is or is not a rule—but because being on autopilot means you never have to ask yourself if the Oxford Comma is needed for clarity.
#2—And Trigger The Grammar Nazi By Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction
Yes, some teachers continue to tell their students to never start a sentence with a conjunction like but or and. This usually happens in elementary school after students begin to write paragraphs like this:
I went to school, and we sat in a circle during reading time, and Mrs. Twizzle started to read, and the new kid started to make funny faces, and Mrs. Twizzle got mad, and we had to go back to our seats, and she made us put our heads down, and I fell asleep and missed recess.
Overzealous Grammar Nazis continue to feed this myth in the upper grades. We have a post on the site that gives examples of avoiding overused conjunctions in writing here.
Oh, and I split an infinitive in the first sentence of this section—to never start. And I can’t wait for the letters to come pouring in.
#3–Use “They” and “Their” as Antecedent Pronouns
If there is one rule that should be changed in the 21st century, being able to use “they” instead of “he” as an antecedent should be it. Fifty years ago, this sentence would have been accurate:
The astronaut released his cord and floated into space.
But by the 1980s, female astronauts were launching into space. Sally Ride flew in 1983, and it would not have worked to write:
The astronaut launched into space in his Shuttle Challenger.
Of course, the sentence could be rewritten like this:
Sally Ride launched into space in her Shuttle Challenger.
In the 21st century, to avoid sexist language, use the plural they/their when you do not know the gender of the subject.
The subject could be male or female: The astronaut wanted to rehearse their launch protocols.
The subject is plural: The astronauts wanted to rehearse their launch protocols.
We know the gender of the subject: Lance Wilcox wanted to rehearse his launch protocols.
Lauren Williams wanted to rehearse her launch protocols.
To be fair, the first woman in space was the Soviet cosmonaut Valentia Tereshkova. And the Mercury 13 is a group of female pilots who could have qualified for NASA’s astronaut program except for their gender.
#4–Rules Are Not Written in Stone
Language is fluid, not fixed. It is governed by the people who use it. The rules do not change overnight (that would be too confusing), but they do. Otherwise, thou wouldest, alas, speaketh as though you are a character in a Shakespearian play.
Only dead languages, such as Latin, are fixed. Ironically, the Strict Grammarians often rely on Latin when creating rules, such as the “don’t split an infinitive” rule.
#5–Pick Apart the Grammar Nazi’s Favorite Chestnut
Finally, if none of those trigger the Grammar Nazi, find the one they believe in and pick it apart. Do not end a sentence with a preposition—why not? Do not split an infinitive—how did that become a rule?
You can find more ideas on how to trigger a Grammar Nazi on our Grammar Nerd post.
What grammar rule would you like to see added to the pile of outdated rules?