Can you catch what is wrong with these sentences?
“Five items or less” “I could of danced all night” “I’m going to be late for the train, aren’t I?” “He was only the pope for a short time before he was shot.” No? I couldn’t either, right away.
OK, I'm not a grammar expert, but without looking these up, I think that the errors are:
1. "Less" should not be used with discrete items - use "fewer" instead. For example, "I have less time than I need to finish building this wall." vs. "I have fewer bricks than I need to finish building this wall."
2. Should be "I could have danced all night".
3. Properly "I'm going to be late for the train, am I not?"
4. "He was the pope for only a short time before he was shot." When using only, put it with the thing that you wish to modify. As written, the author sounds very hard to impress: "he was only the pope - it wasn't like he had an important position".
Out of these four, I really only think that the last one is an error, in the sense of not conveying the message that the writer was trying to. (And yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposition.) The third one especially seems dumb to call a mistake. The formal version may have the benefit of being consistent with the rules, but it sounds awkward and stuffy. I think that the proper response to "I'm going to be late for the train, am I not?" would be "Why, yes, I believe you will be, Lord Pantload".
So many of the rules of formal English are pretty pointless and difficult. Take the prohibition on splitting infinitives (e.g "to boldly go" is, strictly speaking, wrong; it should be "to go boldly"). My understanding is that this rule is in existence because it is impossible to split infinitives in Latin (because infinitives in Latin are one world: e.g. "amare" - to love), English grammarians ruled that the same should be true in English. But that is silly. English isn't Latin. And the rule adds no precision to the meaning of what is said. The same could be said of the "never end a sentence in a preposition" rule. If your meaning is clear and unambiguous, then I say you know where this type of silly rule can go to.