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October 13, 2010

Elegant Errors?

There are certain errors learners of English make. Those who are not native speakers have fairly predictable patterns of errors that come with not hearing native speakers.

But what about...

... the errors of native speakers?

Many native speakers of English, even those with a good education can get confused or get into the habit of saying something incorrectly.

Two areas in particular can be linguistic trouble zones; subject/verb agreement and the dreaded objective and subjective case of pronouns.

In theory, subject/verb agreement is straight-forward - all you have to do is keep track of whether your subject is singular or plural. Ah, but that means you have to identify - and keep track of - the subject.

That is far easier said than done.

Consider this simple sentence from a speech by the former President George W. Bush; "Taking tests are hard".
If the sentence was "Tests are hard" it would be correct - and would sound correct. "tests" is clearly and obviously the subject. The subject and verb are both plural. But in the sentence "Taking tests are hard" "Taking" is clearly the subject, and it is singular, so the correct phrasing should be "Taking tests is hard".

As to the objective and subjective case of pronouns, all that means is that some pronouns are always used as the subject of a sentence, and some never are. I, we, he, she, and they are ALWAYS used as subjects. Him, her, us and them are NEVER subjects.

Pay attention to how words are used by professional writers and speakers, but watch out for these "elegant errors" - actually there is nothing "elegant" about them.

Those who make those errors may be educated, but an error is still an error. Do your best to make your words as proper as you can.

Don't forget, people are listening.

It is not difficult to keep these connections straight, but tread carefully as you make your words public.

What are some questions you have about learning or teaching English - or any language?

Let me know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities. Morf is currently a radio host (tacoma.fm) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/.

Posted by mmorf at October 13, 2010 11:31 PM

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