Introduction: Does Grammar Really Matter?
The Essential Tools: The 25 Rules of Grammar
Rule 1: When is a Sentence Not a Sentence?
Rule 2: Recognizing the Subject and the Object in a Sentence
The Essential Tools: The Naming of Things
Rule 3: How to Use ‘Much’ and ‘Many’
Rule 4: The Spelling Conventions for Singular and Plural Nouns
The Essential Tools: Being and Doing: The Business of Verbs
Rule 5: How to Spot the Difference Between Regular and Irregular Verbs
Rule 6: Don’t Feel Tense About the Tenses
Rule 7: Dangling Participles Mangle Meaning
The Essential Tools: Adverbs – It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That
You Do It!
Rule 8: ‘Neither/Nor’ and ‘Either/Or’ Must Always be Used Together
Rule 9: Try Not to Ever Split Infinitives
The Essential Tools: Problems with Pronouns
Rule 10: The Correct Use of ‘That’ and ‘Which’
Rule 11: When to Use ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’
Rule 12: The Proper Use of ‘You and I’/ ‘Me, Us and We’
The Essential Tools: Give Us a Clue: Adjectives
Rule 13: Don’t Use No Double Negatives
Rule 14: When to Use ‘Different To’, ‘Different From’ or ‘Different Than’
规则14：何时使用“Different to”、“Different From”或“Different Than”
Rule 15: Tautology: Beware of Repeating Yourself and Saying the Same
The Essential Tools: The Correct Uses of the Different Forms of
Rule 16: How to Use Apostrophes Correctly
Rule 17: Uses and Abuses of Commas, Colons and Semicolons
The Essential Tools: Advanced Grammar
Rule 18: Ending Sentences with Prepositions Can Bring You Down
Rule 19: And Avoid Starting Sentences with Conjunctions
Rule 20: Pronouns Must Always be Agreeable
Rule 21: How to Spot Misplaced Correlatives
Rule 22: The Differences Between the Four Grammatical Cases in English
Rule 23: Be Careful What You Wish For in the Subjunctive Mood
Rule 24: Selecting the Correct Preposition
Rule 25: Commonly Confused, Misused and Misspelled Words
When Grammar Goes Wrong
And Finally . . . A Grammarian Walks into a Bar . . .
English grammar is often said to be over-complicated and difficult to get to grips with, but the truth is that, while there are certain rules that should be obeyed, the language evolves and develops over time—and quite rightly so. In this book, Joseph Piercy outlines the 25 rules that should be adhered to in written and spoken English, defining the rules themselves and then decoding them for the layman so that he or she understands each rule and how it has been used and developed over time.
In doing so, the author highlights the most common misuses—or plain errors—in the language, such as apostrophes, “who” and “whom,” and avoiding split infinitives and double negatives, while also setting the reader on to the right path to speaking and writing in good, plain English.
Does Grammar Really Matter?
Yes. It does. Matter. Because how, wood you under stand; what I is saying?
My personal experience of grammar lessons at school was, at best pretty
torpid and, at worst downright arduous. This scale encouraged neither
interest or learning. I only really became very totally interested in grammar
when training to become an EFL teacher. Although English hadn’t not
become my subject; I’d flirted with being an artist (couldn’t draw) and a
musician (couldn’t play an instrument) and I liked reading books. Lots of
books. You can never have enough books. And real books too!
Eagle-eyed grammarians would argue that the last sentence of the
previous paragraph isn’t a sentence. And they wouldn’t not be right. After a
fashion. But I am better now than I were before . . .
Shall I start again?
Does grammar really matter? Well, I have tried to break as many
grammatical rules in the opening to this introduction as possible to see if
anybody notices. It is a Where’s Wally? of grammar errors but, although it
reads a touch like experimental fiction in parts, it is fairly coherent.
The current trends in English grammar fall into two schools. On one side
are the ‘prescriptivists’, the ‘Olde School’, those who phone in to the BBC
to complain about minor errors in news reports on national television and
radio. On the other side are the ‘descriptivists’, the ‘New Skool’, those who
feel that language is always evolving and that therefore grammar should
evolve too. Fundamentally, the argument comes down to one sticking point
about the nature of how language actually functions. Is usage determined by
grammatical rules? Or are grammatical rules defined by usage?
In order to function as a practical means of communication a language
needs a vocabulary and a grammar. Every written language in the world has
a grammatical structure, rules that govern, determine and define how
meaning is produced. This seems more than plausible and, although I
started this introduction by trying to deliberately flout (not flaunt) the rules,
precision in thought and, by extension, clarity of expression are important.
On the other hand, there is a counter-argument that if people keep making
the same mistakes, over and over again, after a while it is no longer a
mistake but becomes commonplace and therefore correct. It is certainly true
that lots of grammatical forms: words, moods and structures, have fallen out
of general usage. The use of ‘shall’, for example, as a future form has been
reduced to little more than polite requests or offers (‘Shall we go to the
pub?’; ‘Shall I buy you a drink?’) in the last century and a half. Other words
such as ‘forensic’ have taken on a whole new meaning in less than thirty
years. ‘Forensic’ was originally a legal term that had nothing at all to do
with cutting up the dead bodies of murder victims; it means simply the
practice of rhetoric associated with legal matters, the presentation of
argument supported by evidence in a court of law. On any given day you
can turn on the television and a crime drama will talk about the need of
getting the ‘forensics’ in order to achieve an arrest and probable conviction.
They only actually need the forensics in court, they don’t need them
beforehand as it is a matter of rhetoric, not minute skin fibres or
complicated DNA test results.
The English language has lots of rules, over 2,000 to be imprecise. Some
of these rules are archaic and arguably unnecessary. The first attempts at
writing down the essential rules of grammar surfaced in the mid-eighteenth
century. Bishop Robert Lowth’s A Short Introduction To English Grammar
(1762) proved extremely popular at the time and unbeknown to the kindly,
but somewhat pedantic clergyman, set in motion arguments on correct and
incorrect usage that still rage on to this day. Lowth was directly responsible
for several of the grammatical shibboleths analysed in this book; some of
them still hold true but at least one of them is at best outmoded and at
worst, bogus in the first place. The irony concerning Robert Lowth’s
influence on English grammar is that his book was written as a guide to
correct English usage for his son Thomas and was never intended to be
published, let alone spark centuries of argument and rancour.
Lowth’s rules were taken up by a whole generation of Victorian
grammarians, who followed his ideas that you could apply the grammatical
rules of Latin to modern English. Unfortunately, this rather spurious
premise has caused the entire furore. The Olde School stick to the rules
stringently as a badge of status and superiority over the New Skool whom
they believe are ill-educated and only semi-literate. The New Skool, with
some justification, view their detractors as stuffy, elitist snobs.
The two grammar camps are poles apart and will never be reconciled so
perhaps it is time to try and find a third way. In my opinion, the English
language is under much less threat from sloppy usage or the influence of
modern technology than it is from the language of modern marketing and
commerce. The Greek term ‘pleonasm’ refers to unnecessary words placed
next to each other to produce largely redundant phrases. Advertising is full
of pleonasms such as ‘extra bonus’ and ‘free gift’ or even ‘extra bonus free
gift’ just in case you didn’t quite grasp the concept first time round.
Knowing and being able to spot such nonsense is a valuable skill and
preserving a sense of clarity and quality of expression in written and spoken
language is also vital so as to see through all the bilge and balderdash. This,
more than anything else, is a viable argument for understanding some of the
‘essential rules’ and knowing when it is OK to break them. In this view,
grammar does matter, for frankly horrible phrases such as ‘blue-sky
thinking’ only stem from cloudy thoughts.
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