There are two types of grammar: descriptive, which describes what is customary, and prescriptive grammar, which prescribes what should be.
A tension between the two systems is inevitable—and healthy; it keeps us thinking about what we’re saying and writing.
Allowing mob rule at the expense of some governing of composition is madness, but a diction dictatorship is dangerous, too. As with any prescription, an overdose is contraindicated. Here are some hard pills to swallow for language mavens who require a strict adherence to rigid syntactical patterns at the expense of, well, language:
1. Never split an infinitive.
It isn’t wise to always ignore this fallacious rule against dividing the elements of the verb phrase “to (verb)” with an adverb, but to blindly follow it is to prohibit pleasing turns of phrase—one of the best known of which is from the introductory voice-over from the “Star Trek” television series: “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” (The original series, produced before the more recent sensitivity to gender bias, put it “no man.”)
2. Never end a sentence with a preposition.