Language Peeves: Mistakes which aren’t

A while back I wrote that some mistakes aren’t in fact mistakes, especially conjunctions which are a natural part of the language. I have found a few other constructions which some people believe are mistakes when in fact they are anything but.

Split those infinitives:
Quick quiz. Which TV series’opening monologue has a grammatical mistake?
If you answered Star Trek you are both right and wrong. Right because it was the TV show I was thinking of but wrong because it does not contain a mistake. For years, people complained that ‘to boldly go’ was wrong because it split the infinitive. Well, in fact it is perfectly natural – which is why most people did not see a mistake.

However, I will leave it to the inimitable Bernard Shaw to explain. The following is taken from a letter he wrote complaining that a journalist was adhering to the rule too dogmatically:

I ask you, Sir, to put this man out. Give the porter orders to use such violence as may be necessary if he attempts to return, without, however, interfering with his perfect freedom of choice between “to suddenly go,” “to go suddenly”, and “suddenly to go”. See that he does not come back; that is the main thing.

I before e except when it isn’t:

There are surfeit of words in which i comes before e. Seizing on this rule is one of the most heinous of grammar fallacies. I would need a lot of caffeine to show all the inaccuracies and inconsistencies. But I hope you enjoyed these eight.

Collective data and media

I never thought this one was a mistake until doing some translation. Both data and media are the plural form of the Latin words datum and medium. However as soon as they were adopted into English they have been used as uncountable mass nouns, so we treat them as singular objects.


No one can agree on where these things go. So long as your sentence doesn’t, look, like, this, then use them where you feel a break is necessary.