sexta-feira, 22 de julho de 2011
Grammar Pet Peeves
I read an article the other day in The Huffington Post called "Grammar Pet Peeves: Who, Whom, None Is or Are", by author Robert Lane Green who also wrote "You Are What You Speak". It really struck me because many of the things he wrote about grammar "rules" match my thoughts on the topic.
Language does not follow rules. Rules do not control language. Rules were only created to try to explain language. You can read some of my thoughts on grammar rules in "Grammar or Content", "Fluency vs Accuracy", "Breaking the Chains" and "What is the Purpose of Language". Rules can guide us and help us understand language, but they should not be the primary focus for most language learners.
In Mr. Green's words:
"Many people think of language as a set of rules; break them, and you're Wrong. But that's not how language works. There are different degrees of wrongness, and there's not a bright line between the degrees--and many things that people think are wrong aren't."
I encourage you to read the article yourself, but there are a couple things the author mentioned about tricky, obsolete and disputed rules that I'd like to repeat here, as well as "non-rules" and regional & formality differences.
One rule Mr. Green called "tricky" that I would call "obsolete" is the use of "whom" (object pronoun) vs "who" (subject pronoun). In actual, everyday language, "whom" is disappearing, as most native American English speakers use "who" for both objects and subjects.
He also mentioned "disputed" rules, and as an example he gave the dispute over "None of us is leaving" vs "None of us are leaving". I mentioned another commonly disputed grammar point in "There is -or- There are". Internet forums and language blogs are full of debates by language professionals over this rule or that, proving that it is not always as clear as some would like you to believe.
Then there are the "non-rules", which Mr. Green describes as someone's grammatical pet peeves that somehow made their way into grammar books and teaching, but they are not real rules. These can include things like starting sentences with conjunctions or ending sentences with prepositions.
Speaking of ending sentences with prepositions, it reminds me of a funny story from one of my favorite TV series, Designing Women:
Charlene to rich lady: Where y'all from?
Rich lady: I don't speak to people who end their sentences with a preposition.
Charlene: Oh. Where y'all from, BITCH?
Finally, he talks about formality and regional differences. We generally use different language in formal and informal situations. For example writing generally calls for more formal language and speaking is generally more informal. Additionally, native English speaking people from different countries or even different regions within the same country speak differently. It is not exactly accurate or appropriate to lable one as "correct" and the other as "incorrect".
Don't worry, though. There are some grammar rules that are fairly solid, for example "She is here" is absolutely correct, whereas "She are here" is absolutely incorrect.
Mr. Green closes his article with this paragraph, with which I totally agree:
It's not easy keeping track of so many kinds of right or wrong. It'd be so much easier simply to memorize one set of rules and let that be that. But it's much more rewarding to develop a feel for the different things we mean when we say "correct," and much more interesting too.
So to all of us language learners, I will close by repeating what I've often said. You will go much further in your language learning if you focus more on ideas and communication and less on rules and regulations.
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