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January 25, 2013

More Grammar Rules That Aren't

There are two basic approaches to grammar: Prescriptive; how a language should be used and Descriptive, which describes how a language is actually used. With that dynamic tension in mind, here are some rules to, at least, keep in mind as you use...

...or violate them.

One of the core rules that one hears in English grammar circles is that one should never end a sentence with a preposition.

The word 'preposition' actually is 'pre-position' which literally means 'a word that shows position' (or relationship) and that comes 'before' (hence the prefix 'pre').

Some languages, on the other hand, (like Korean) have what might be called 'post-positions' (the word showing position comes after the noun it describes).

I mention all this because it makes logical sense that a sentence should not end with any 'pre' word - especially one that is the beginning of a prepositional phrase.

But sometimes it makes sense; for example, have you ever asked anyone where they are FROM?

Yes, 'from' is a preposition. But how else would you end that question?

Another 'rule' is that you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. But I just did it - three times in the previous three paragraphs.

If you want to know more about the 'rules' of grammar that aren't really rules, take a look at this website - http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Most-of-What-You-Think-You-Know-About-Grammar-is-Wrong-187940351.html.

On the other hand, if you want a confirmation of the established, enduring rules of English, you might want to look here - http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/jan/23/praise-language-police/ .

I confess to being an unrepentant word nerd, and I love the many possibilities and contradictions in a language as flexible and fluid as English - especially the always-unpredictable American version.

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.


If you'd like to contact me, my email address is mmorf@mail.com.

Posted by mmorf at January 25, 2013 08:22 PM


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