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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Free spelling and grammar checking software

Posted by on Mar 15, 2013 in Grammar, Writing |

We all use a spell-checker when we write, but most of them don’t notice when we write the wrong word.  If I wrote, “I had a bear at the pub last night,” all of the words are spelled correctly but I should have typed “beer.”  Ginger is a new kind of spelling and grammar checker that checks the context of your words, not just the words in isolation.  Ginger notices “pub” in the sentence and offers to correct it for me.  Try it here: World’s Leading Grammar and Spell Checker Learn More Ginger doesn’t catch everything (it accepted some present perfect/past simple errors in my tests), but it will catch a lot of mistakes.  Use it to quickly check your English emails and letters before you send them out.  It will keep a record of your errors and suggest activities for you to do, too.  Or it will just help you write better for...

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Learning with the BBC

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Grammar, Learning Websites, Listening, Reading, Videos, Vocabulary, Writing |

The BBC is possibly one of the richest sources of high-quality, free English learning material on the Internet.  Their Learning English site has so many sections I really can’t talk about all of them here (although I will say Words in the News is a very good place to start).  Skillswise has excellent sections on spelling, reading, and writing.  Their Video Nation site has interviews with real people and a short quiz afterwards to see if you heard the information correctly.  A good way to hear lots of different accents (and see where they are...

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Advanced writing techniques for American university students

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Grammar, Writing |

The Guide to Grammar and Writing is a resource for American college students so the language on the site is considerably more advanced than on a site for English learners.  However, the information is extensive and you may find the pages on punctuation (under Word and Sentence Level) and sentence combining skills (under Paragraph Level) particularly...

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