We Take Grammar For Granted

Jerry WalchStarred Page By Jerry Walch, 8th Nov 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/25e3rkve/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Languages

Someone told me a few days ago that the English grammar is the easiest syntax to learn. That might be appropriate for those of us who are native speakers, but may not be right for those who have English as a second language. There's more to learning a grammar than memorizing pages of rules.

English isn't just English.

There's a plethora of usage rules, dozens, maybe hundreds, that the native speaker takes for granted and applies without giving them a conscious thought when speaking and writing. Many of those rules were learned by listening to those around us speak as we were growing up. We have no need to think about how to order adjectives in a sentence so the they make sense. The English as a second Language (ESL) speaker and writer has to think about the most insignificant of those rules and how to apply them every time he speaks and every time he or she sets down at the keyboard to write a letter or article

The English dialects.

Not many Americans think that they are speaking a dialect. For most Americans, there're only two types of English, the type spoke by Americans, and the type spoke by members of the United Kingdom. The truth is, according to professional linguists, that there are 27 distinct dialects of English spoken in the US alone. When one factors in all the other English speaking countries in the world-Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, Jamaica, among the others-the number of dialects grow exponentially. Every one of those dialects employ slightly different syntax, use idioms unique to their country, which sound foreign to our ears. Although perfectly intelligible to other native speakers of that dialect, they may sound like a totally different language to our ears. If we, English speaking people have trouble understanding other English speaking people, think of how much harder it is for people for whom English is a second language to speak and write English using proper syntax.

Two approaches to grammar.

Linguists have taken two approaches to grammar-the prescriptive and the descriptive.

Prescriptive linguist layout rules for the way they think English should be spoken and written. Prescriptive grammar is what our high school and college teachers tried to drum into our brains. Prescriptive grammar contains all the rules that professional writer are expected to abide by. They are the rules that appear in grammar books and other reference books. They are the rules appearing in dictionaries and thesauruses. Strict grammarians try to ignore the fact that these rules are extremely fluid and change significantly with every border one crosses.

Descriptive linguist look at the way the language is actually spoken and written, analyze that, and then attempts to formulate rules about that structure. With the descriptive approach, there's no such thing as proper or improper English as there is with standard or prescriptive English. Descriptive grammar is a grammar based on the way a language is actually used and not on the way some people say it should be used.

Which approach should the writer take.

Using descriptive grammar, writing the way we really talk, is fine if we are writing fiction and creating dialog. It's the preferred approach when writing dialog because it will create dialog that rings true. Descriptive grammar is to be avoided like the plague when writing nonfiction.
Prescriptive grammar, as difficult as it may be for those who have English as a second language to master, must be used and used correctly if you want to be published.

Where to start.

William J. Strunk Jr. first published his classic “The Elements of Style” in 1918 but it's just as valuable a reference today as it was in 1918. It's a thin book but packs an encyclopedia worth of knowledge. “The Elements of Style” is available for reading on line at Bartelby.com or you can purchase a print copy of Strunk and White's “Elements of Style” from Amazon.com for less than $10. E.B.White was one of Strunk's students and revised and expanded “The Elements of Style” in 1959, 1972, and 1979, expanding the 36 pages to 85 pages. This slim book is the definitive source of instruction on prescriptive grammar and every writer needs to have a copy on his reference shelf.


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Elements Of Style, English, English Grammar, English Language, English Online, English Terms, Grammar, Grammar Correct, Grammar English, Grammar Help, Grammar Proper, Grammar Tips, Grammatical Errors, Grammer, Strunk White, Writing, Writing Articles, Writing For A Living, Writing For Money, Writing For Pay, Writing Site, Writing Skill, Writing Skills, Writing Tips, Writing Tips And Tricks, Writing Training, Writing Web Content

Meet the author

author avatar Jerry Walch
Jerry Walch is a 71 year old freelance writer for hire living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has been writing since the late 1970s, and writes for both the print and online media. He specializes in

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Comments

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
8th Nov 2010 (#)

a bit off topic, but I just want to say I am trying to relearn a second language, French. Learning new languages is certainly better at an early age.
You are Very Correct about different dialects and ways of speaking in different areas, coming from Michigan to Alberta I am often mistaken simply because of how I word things.

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author avatar Jerry Walch
8th Nov 2010 (#)

Hi Mark. If my wife reads this I'm going to have to hog tie her to keep her from heading for north of the border to tutor you. Eileen has a double certification as both a French and as a Spanish teacher. She taught Spanish for twenty years before being forced into medical retirement ten years ago.

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author avatar Paul Lines
8th Nov 2010 (#)

Some very good points explained here Jerry

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author avatar Jerry Walch
8th Nov 2010 (#)

Thanks Paul.

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author avatar Retired
8th Nov 2010 (#)

Great topic. Now I know why foreigners prefer to speak their language. Our language has so many words that doesn't follow the rules of grammar, etc. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar LOVERME
9th Nov 2010 (#)

very nice

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author avatar Melissa Dawn
9th Nov 2010 (#)

Incredible article Jerry. I didn't know about the 27 dialects. As a British subject in Canada writing for often a primarily American audience, I often battle the poor old letter 'u' and its placement. Long live the U i say!

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author avatar Jerry Walch
9th Nov 2010 (#)

Good morning Melissa. The British spellings using the "U" as "Labour or Colour" doesn't bother me but you would be surprised at how many Americans are put off by it. Most spell checkers, unless you set it up for UK English will highlight it as a misspelling. I know more than a few American print editors that would send an article back for a rewrite if the writer used that poor old "U". My wife, a retired schoolteacher, considers herself to be a citizen of the world, so she accepts the "U" as well.

Thanks for the comment.

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author avatar TheMovieScene
9th Nov 2010 (#)

I find this really interesting because as someone whose first language is English I had the rules of grammar drummed into me at school, although over time I forgot many and had to relearn them when I started writing. But then I noticed that there is a huge difference between writing for traditional press and for online publication whether that is right or wrong. Simple things like never starting a sentence with AND or have two consecutive sentences starting with the same word are still upheld in traditional print but are ignored when it comes to online writing.

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author avatar Jerry Walch
9th Nov 2010 (#)

Well, I'm getting ready to start dinner but I wanted to respond to a few comments first.. MovieScene, there are some online publications/publishing sites that follow the same rules as print publications. Professional sites, the Work for Hire sites, sites like Demand Studios and Experts123 follow the rules of proper grammar. Demand Studios and Experts 123 also require their writers to follow the Associated Press Style Book.. Demand Studios' editors all have extensive backgrounds as print publication editors. Sites that aren't WFH sites, sites that pay on page view aren't as picky about grammar because they aren't marketing the writers material to their clients.
When I was an copy editor for Factoidz we were instructed to look mainly for plagiarism, to fine tune the title for SEO purposes and to not worry too much about grammar and the such. Most of us did though because we wanted to help the writers become better writers and because what we received for editing was a small percentage of what the writer made on his or her articles. Many of the writers appreciated our help in improving their article, but just as many were very unprofessional and complained to the site if we as much as changed a single comma. Those complaints eventually led to hm redesigning the site, eliminating all the CEs and channel moderators.

I think that many site are more interested in quantity then quality to because they make their money on how many visitor clicks on one of their sponsors ads and then buys something.

Have a nice evening.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
9th Nov 2010 (#)

Quite a stir you've made, my friend! Nice job!

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author avatar Jerry Walch
9th Nov 2010 (#)

Thank you , my friend.

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author avatar Retired
9th Nov 2010 (#)

as English is NOT my first language, this is helpful, I shall get teh element of style. I am just learning about commas, and what they really mean!

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author avatar Jerry Walch
9th Nov 2010 (#)

I'm planning on doing more articles on the subject, Rebecca

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author avatar Retired
10th Nov 2010 (#)

yeppie! oh you have made my day!

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author avatar Jerry Walch
10th Nov 2010 (#)

And you, Rebecca, have made my morning. It's just going for 5 a.m. up here on Walch's Mountain.

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author avatar Denise O
16th Nov 2010 (#)

Shoot Jerry, add southern on top of it all...
bless their darn hearts! LOL
Great job young man!
I just love being able to read your work again.
Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar GV Rama Rao
27th Jan 2012 (#)

An interesting piece. You may like to read my posts, "A different midnight knock" and "A Strange Menace" on this subject of grammar. I'm an ESL type, and I keep two books "The Elements of Style" and " The Chicago Manual of Style" always next to me.

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