Bad grammar: to how people boring angry make!

Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Grammar |

There really is nothing quite so tedious and boring as a prescriptive grammarian.  And I’m a native speaker, and an English teacher with a section about grammar on his blog!  I really have a lot of sympathy for people who are learning English.  Let me explain what I mean by “prescriptive grammar.” To paraphrase the linguist David Brazil, a grammarian must begin from one of the following assumptions: We can discover the rules of grammar by assuming that when people speak or write, their motivation is the production of what we call “sentences.” We can discover the rules of grammar by assuming that when people speak or write, they do so with some communicative purpose.  By analysing their purpose and the structures they use, we can find patterns. So if you want to make correct sentences, the prescriptive grammarian can tell you the rules of sentence-making.  The second position is called descriptive grammar: we assume that communication is generally successful and we look at how that communication was achieved.  Unfortunately, a great number of people still assume that what we all want to do when we open our mouths or sit down at the keyboard is make a bunch of correct sentences.  And oh, how they complain when we don’t! I found an example of this in yesterday’s Guardian: Grammar rules everyone should follow.  By the time I read the article, about 16 hours after it had been posted, there were more than 600 comments by people who were mostly complaining about grammar mistakes in the newspaper or other comments.  People have a special sort of passion for some of the rules in the list (especially the two items in the list–numbers 3 and 5–which the writer explains aren’t actually rules of grammar!), regardless of whether they are accurate or not.  If your friend is enjoying some music, would you ask them, “Hey!  To what are you listening?” The Guardian’s article was written as a result of the Bad Grammar Award which was ironically given to a group of educators who wrote a letter to a politician.  The “critique” of the letter is a perfect example of assuming that everyone sets out primarily to write correct sentences.  The authors seem to have never heard the expression “too much too young” and to deliberately have difficulty understanding other straightforward sentences based on the perceived parts of speech of the words.  All of this prescriptive grammar is not just boring, it’s harmful.  In another article criticising the writer of the Bad Grammar Award: “I suspect [he] will have immense amounts of fun and satisfaction telling people what is “right”. People attending his classes will feel immensely pleased that they have been...

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Write like a pro: use a style guide

Posted by on Mar 28, 2013 in Writing |

How do you write about the person who plays music on the radio or at the club?  Is it DJ, D.J., D. J., deejay or dee-jay? Should there be 3 commas or 4 commas in the list above? Should I have written three and four in the sentence above this one? Should I have written “three” and “four” in the sentence above this one? Is it better to write from 2-5:00 pm or from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm? Do you write the abbreviations for meters, kilograms, etc. next to the number or leave a space?  100m or 100 m? It’s confusing for everybody, even professional writers.  And for the pros, there is always someone who delights in finding “mistakes” and “exposing” the writers as barely literate children.  I’m sure the same thing happens in your language. The solution for this is the style guide.  Each publication that you read has a set of rules that they declare to be THE RULES.  Many of these rules will be the same for everyone, but sometimes they are particular for the institution.  But the purpose of style guides is not to declare one set of rules to be the only correct set of rules, but to make consistent choices in your writing.  So choose one of the style guides below and stick to it.  If you’ve followed the guide, you don’t have to worry about people telling you where to put your commas. These are all respected English publications written to a high standard: The Economist style guide The Guardian style guide The Telegraph style guide For business writing, why not follow the European Union style guide? The European Union style guide American style guides (sometimes called “stylebooks,” a term I doubt would be permitted in a British English publication) are a for-profit industry, I’m afraid.  All of the major publications’ stylebooks are available for purchase or online subscription only.  You can see a small sample of the Associated Press stylebook in the link below.  You can also try a free 30-day trial of the Chicago Manual of Style: Chicago Manual of Style AP Stylebook FAQs New York Times Manual of Style...

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Ask a teacher

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 in Grammar, Learning Websites, Vocabulary, Writing |

You’ve checked your dictionary and your grammar books and you still don’t know the best way to say something.  Or maybe you know the “right” way to say something, but you want to know why it’s the “right” way.  You might have problems with an idiom, slang or phrasal verbs; or you just want someone to check some sentences you’ve written. Here are two great forums where English teachers and native speakers will answer your questions for free!  I post on these forums because I like to learn more about the language and I just like talking to people. UsingEnglish.com/forum  I post here as Mr_Ben EnglishForums.com  I post here as mrBen Please be patient with the teachers on these sites we all answer questions in our free time and some questions are more difficult than others.  A lot of us answer questions on both sites as well, so please only ask your question once.  But I look forward to hearing from you… see you on the...

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CAE writing style guide: proposal

Posted by on Mar 12, 2013 in CAE style guides |

Part 3 of 5, you can find the other style guides by clicking here: CAE writing style guides. This is a short summary of some style points to keep in mind when attempting the tasks in the Cambridge English: Advanced writing section. Proposal Who is the audience? The audience for this question is usually your boss, a professional group or a school administrator. What is the purpose of the writing? You are suggesting a solution to a problem.  You need to support your suggestion with factual information and be persuasive. Is it formal? Yes. Should I use headings or bullet points? Yes.  Your target audience wants to quickly find the information they need in order to make their decision. How should it start? Use a very simple title (Proposal for _____).  The first section should describe the problem and the possible solutions. How should it finish? Make your...

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Natural English explained at UsingEnglish.com

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Grammar, Learning Websites, Vocabulary |

Using English is particularly useful for its phrasal verb dictionary, idioms dictionary and ask a teacher forum.  They have quizzes about phrasal verbs and if you have any questions they have special forums for phrasal verbs and idioms.  If you’ve heard an expression in a film or read something in a book that you just can’t understand, ask the helpful people at Using English.  I post there sometimes,...

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