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The most popular example would be the Oxford comma: for everyone knows that "dating Clara, the model, and the scientist" vs "dating Clara, the model and the scientist" can make all the difference in the world!

What are some other optional grammar rules in English?

closed as too broad by Chenmunka, Tushar Raj, Brian Hitchcock, Robusto, tchrist Jul 4 '15 at 12:50

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  • Putting your preposition at the end of the sentence? I need someone to discuss the matter with vs I need someone with whom to discuss the matter. Grammatically speaking a preposition should never end a sentence, but it is generally allowed as any alternatives usually sound awkward. – joe_young Jul 4 '15 at 8:09
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    The Oxford comma is not a grammatical rule. It's a rule of punctuation completely orthogonal to grammar. Incidentally, unless you are specifically saying that someone is dating three different people, there is no Oxford comma in your example. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 4 '15 at 10:40
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    @joe_young: There is no such "rule" regarding prepositions in English. The silly shibboleth that says a preposition should never occur at the end of a sentence was superimposed on the language by fussbudgets a few hundred years ago who wanted English to behave more like Latin. See this question. – Robusto Jul 4 '15 at 11:39
  • Yeah, my favorite is "Never use a preposition to end a sentence with." – Hot Licks Jul 4 '15 at 12:50
  • On the other hand, most syntactic rules are optional: Extraposition, Conjunction Reduction, Neg-Raising, Passive, Subject-Auxiliary Contraction, etc. Normally they're just additional settings that can be made if desired, but occasionally they're required in certain contexts. Back on the first hand, however, the OP clearly had no idea of what either "grammar rule" or "optional" meant. – John Lawler Jul 4 '15 at 14:25
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Are you looking for loopholes?

First of all, the Oxford comma is a rule about punctuation, not grammar.

Secondly, there is no official rule-making body for English along the lines of the Académie française for French. What English does have is a long history of towering literary geniuses living alongside a group of tiresome scolds. The former teach us the rules from the beacons we keep on library shelves, and the latter hector schoolchildren held captive in classrooms.

Thirdly, English is notorious for having exceptions to general rules:

  • Adjectives precede the noun they modify: a red ball, not a ball red. But attorney general and court martial. Channing Pollock wrote a play called The House Beautiful, famously reviewed by Dorothy Parker as "the play lousy."
  • Pronouns are placed in the objective case when they're objects; nominative case, when they're subjects. But only the pretentious say "It is I" instead of "It's me." And "whom" has all but disappeared, especially in conversational English.
  • The subjunctive is supposed to be used for uncertain conditions or conditions contrary to fact, but it's been supplanted by the indicative in most tenses. Have you heard anyone say, "If I be late, then start without me"?
  • I am; you are; he is. I'm right, aren't I? Check the google and you'll finds reams of reasons why "aren't" is just fine as a stand-in for the missing "amn't."

And then there the rules that aren't really rules -- don't end a sentence with a prepositon; don't start a sentence with a conjunction; don't split infinitives.

  • Was “you'll finds” intentional? (And if so, what was the joke/pun I missed?) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 4 '15 at 10:41
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Alas, I wish it represented extreme cleverness rather than the late hour. – deadrat Jul 4 '15 at 14:32

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