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September 01, 2011

Grammar Make You Crazy?

Even many of my native English speaking students struggle with grammar. What could be so difficult about how...

...words fit and flow together?

In a sense, I guess, it's pretty straight forward. Most, perhaps all, languages have a basic structure of a sentence. In English, we use the form Subject Verb Object in the vast majority of sentences. We don't need to, and many sentences don't, but you can't beat the simple clarity and flow of a sentence with this basic structure.

Here are some simple examples;

He ate lunch.
She went to work.
He is sleeping.
Fred has a dog.
My cat is hungry.

In each of these sentences, the subject comes before the verb, which in turn comes before the object.

As a sentence structure, you just can't get much simpler than this. As you can see, many of these sentences are only three words.

When I talk about this in class, I use the initials SVO for Subject Verb Object.

Ah, but if it could only always be so simple!

'In considering the use of grammar as a corrective of what are called 'ungrammatical' expressions, it must be borne in mind that the rules of grammar have no value except as statements of facts: whatever is in general use in a language is for that very reason grammatically correct.' Henry Sweet, 1891

There are two general categories of grammar definition; descriptive and prescriptive. "Descriptive" means how everyday people really speak. "Prescriptive" means how we should speak.

I love the rules of grammar - they help me focus on what I am really saying, but native speakers of English are, many times, sloppy and nearly incoherent out in public. Any learner of English needs to listen closely to native speakers speaking unrehearsed and informally.

Perhaps it's true of every language, but English is certainly two distinct languages - one proper and relatively formal while the other is more nuanced, abstract and slang-filled - and probably more interesting.

But both languages will have their own rules and their own "flow'.

I confess to being a word nerd, and I love the many possibilities and contradictions in a language as flexible and fluid as English.

Send us any words or phrases that make you crazy and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning 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 is currently a radio host (http://www.tacoma.fm/) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/ and would love to do either one of those somewhere else in the world. Morf is on an extended break in September, so if you'd like him to visit, contact him at mmorf@mail.com.

Posted by mmorf at September 1, 2011 11:05 PM


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