So you want to sound proper ...?

Proper English isn’t correct English. At least, it’s not the only correct English in town. It’s more like a flavor. Or a style.

It’s the type of English used in academic and literary as well as professional and diplomatic circles. An ambassador hosting a foreign emissary would never say, “Tell me you ain’t leaving so soon.”

Sticklers spend a lot of time telling people that informal English is incorrect English. That’s why people like me spend a lot of time pointing out that terms like “ain’t” aren’t wrong.

You can use them if you want to. But we seldom get around to asking the next logical question: Do you want to? Even people who understand that less-formal English is as correct as the proper kind still might like to master the proper kind. It’s nice to know how, even if you know it’s not necessary.

Here's how proper types say to handle a range of terms, including "whom," "lay" and "lie," "between" and "among," and "anxious" and "eager."

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