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My Grammar And I - The Orthers Dun Good

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20.01.2010

Advantages:
Friendly style makes grammar a lot less stuffy .

Disadvantages:
Some structure not too easy on the eye .

Recommendable Yes:

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How easy was it to read / get information fromRelatively easy

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FEASTING WITH TIGERS

My puzzling heading reflects the risk you take when talking about English grammar on a web-site primarily given over to the written word in English.

Yes, I've had the lect.....gentle reminder on my use of 'less' when I meant 'fewer'. E.g. Less cars - wrong. Less traffic, fewer cars - right.

I've even used, on occasions, the wrong form of 'its', or 'it's' (more as a failure to read what I've written than anything else and 'cos Spillchucker didn't notice it either).

In the best traditions of Star Trek, I'm quite likely to periodically split the odd infinitive or two, all without boldly going anywhere.

I've also heard the rule "I before E except after C" - "That's weird ", thought I, not noticing that my canoe was about to go over weir. Of course, it might not be a rule at all, it could just be Devonian etiquette (me before you except when leaving Church).

In a wurld wear weir orl cort up in a slough ov txtspk, and sadly, my wife, a English (!) teacher is one of its biggest proponents, it's now maybe time to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and rescue English be4 it bekums Inglish, innit m8?

Incorrect English isn't confined to slang or vernacular. You don't have to listen long before even a BBC announcer uses a phrase like 'various different'. Well, they'd hardly be 'various and identical' would they? I bet the buggers use 'less' when they mean 'fewer' too!

It was when I picked up a friend's library book entitled 'My Grammar and I (Or Should That be "Me"?)' that I decided to buy myself a copy.

Admittedly, English is enough of a minefield of inconsistent spellings without having to worry about grammar - consider the pronunciation of the letters 'ough' in 'enough'. Even though you're sitting under the bough of shady tree whilst you think it through, the very thought is enough to make you cough or hiccough.

DINNER IN THE DINER, NOTHING COULD BE FINER.....

...than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina. And speaking of America, most of us on this side of the Atlantic are aware of the previous US initiative to simplify spellings, such as colo(u)r and harbo(u)r, and over the years there's been a general trend to remove double consonants where they mean nothing, like 'our' cancelling becoming 'their' canceling*. Even as I type, my Spellchecker is having kittens!

*Now you see, I'd argue that the latter should be pronounced kansee-ling, just as latter and later, or dinner and diner are pronounced with a marked difference.

I know we like to think of English as particularly difficult, almost as a badge of national pride, but consider this. There are hardly any irregular plurals, with notable exceptions like mice, lice etc. There's only one gender, no 'le' or 'la', no 'der', 'die' or 'das', and only one 'you' form of each verb, unless thou still useth 'thou', beknighted knave! The fact that English stuck with the polite form (you) rather than the informal (thou) says more about us, and whilst striking a blow for simplicity, isn't necessarily a pat on the back.

Unlike French, you wouldn't always know if you were using a subjunctive verb even if it bit you on the arse, as in 'I always make a point of avoiding my neighbour's dog before it can bite me on the arse'. So what? The 'it can' bit is spelled like the ordinary present tense even though it's present-subjunctive. Not in French it isn't, 'il peut' becomes 'il puisse'!

So you see, English is not that bad; it's just not as regular as say, Spanish, where there are literally only two rules for the spelling of plurals, i.e. if it ends in a vowel, stick an S on the end, and if it ends in a consonant, use ES instead.

ABOUT... WAIT FOR IT, WAIT FOR IT......TURN!

Before this opinion becomes a synopsis of Bill Bryson's 'Mother Tongue' let's get back to "My Grammar and I", which is subtitled (old school ways to sharpen your English).

You've got to smile at the inside front cover, complete with "A gift for_______from__________". Why not tell it like it is?

"I bought XYZ this because XYZ's English is crap."

Having now read this book from cover to cover, I challenge anyone not to find something they didn't already know, or at least knew but had forgotten. Having never been much of a letter or diary writer; the skills to put pen to paper or finger(s) to keyboard were largely lost on me till ten years ago, when I started this 'opinion lark'. It had therefore been some 30-odd years since I'd learned any grammar, at least in English. In the mean time, I'd turned my attention to the languages of wine-producing nations.

The book has a pleasant and sometimes jocular style to it. To illustrate a point, it will deliberately make the very mistake that it's trying to prevent. For example, on a page titled 'Grammar Rules (To Avoid), it lists:-

1) Verbs has to agree with their subjects,
2) Remember to never split an infinitive,
3) Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary

I really must pay more heed to 3), and I've already trawled this opinion for any I think could be deleted - including this bit. Strangely enough, the book could take a leaf out of its own.....errrr....book, as even the list of contents is peppered with brackets. You see, I do know what parentheses are! For example, we are told that on page 108, we'll find a chapter entitled 'He's Behind You! (or Prepositions)' and the whole feel of those early pages I found a trifle off-putting and not easy on the eye, like someone who just discovered inserting 'aka' and ROFL into practically every sentence.

I love rule 10) - Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague!

MEET A MEMBER OF THE LOST GENERATION

The book makes a very valid point, which is like a curtain being lifted for me. In the early 60s, i.e. when I was in the first couple of years at what was ironically called a Grammar School, those who ought to have known better decreed that grammar was holding back our creative juices, and so, to this day, I've never had any formal education when it comes down to the analysis of the English language. Sure I knew what verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives were, and I even got grade A in my GCE O-Level. However most of what I know about the structure of English is down to learning foreign languages, where strangely enough it was 'OK' to talk tenses and adjectival clauses, and applying that backwards to my English.

So now there's a whole swathe of the population that through no fault of its own, knows very little about grammar, unless it takes the trouble to be self-taught.

GRAMMAR CAN BE FUN

I once saw a book of this title in the primary school library, but was rather annoyed to find that it didn't say GRANMAR* when I got it home. However, this new book really does make it fun, and I congratulate the authors on a fine job in that respect.

*I can hear my English teacher now. "You must read what's there, boy!"

There's a whole section dedicated to that linguistic catastrophe, the apostrophe. I would like to take them to task slightly here. Yes, we should all know that 'it's' is an abbreviation for 'it is', but I do feel that they are wrong to insist that this is all it is, because it is frequently used to represent 'it has' too, as in "it's got bigger".

The misplaced or omitted hyphen gets a look-in, and is therefore good for a laugh.

Not quoted in the book but my home-grown favourite is:-

"Gentlemen! Attract the birds this winter by sticking a fat pecker out of the window!" Ahem, I think that should be a fat-pecker.

On a more genteel note, the book ventures the following example. "She went through it with a fine tooth-comb". Useful for those 'furry teeth moments', like after eating rhubarb no doubt.

Of course, even a grammatically correct sentence can still drop you in it, and politicians, bless 'em, are by no means immune, especially when not reading from a script. As 'Two Jags' Prescott once said, "The Green Belt was a Labour initiative, and we intend to build upon it". Whoops-a-daisy.

STRUCTURE

The book is largely broken down into logical chunks, and subdivided into bite-sizes.

The major sections are:-

1.) Spelling and Confusables
2.) Parts Of Speech
3.) Sentence Structure
4.) Punctuation
5.) Odds & Sods

In each section, you'll find asides labelled:-

Smart Alec - These tend to be snippets of information, for example, did you know that one tenth of English words are not pronounced the way they are spelled? Maybe that should read "Did you no that wun tenth of Inglish wurds are not pronownsed the way thay are spelled?"

See Me After Class - Oh well I remember! These tend to be the laying down of basic rules, and the clearing up of common errors, like 'Try and get it right is wrong - it's try TO get it right'.

Swot's Corner - As you can imagine, the interjections contained within this section are somewhat more verbose and aimed at 'anoraks'. One quite lengthy example gives the background to Mr. Webster (he of dictionary fame) and his part in US spelling reforms.

It would be easy to go on quoting example after example from this book, but I'm not going to.

Suffice it to say, that I'm glad I bought it, and it's going to sit right next to my big dictionary so I can reach for it whenever I get stuck. The authors have created a reference or text book that feels like a good read in its own right. At least it will help with my written English. For the spoken version, let's just say that the old adage 'Engage brain before speaking' should be used more often.

However, lest we take it all too seriously, I would like to end with my possibly my favourite quote from the book.

"One person's unbreakable rule is another's insufferable pedantry"


Oh yes, and don't forget - a preposition is not the kind of word to finish a sentence with!

BOOK DETAILS

ISBN - 978-1-84317-310-6
RRP - £9.99
Publisher - Michael O'Mara Books Ltd
Web presence – www.mombooks.com
Authors – Caroline Taggart and J.A. Windes.
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Comments about this review »

tallulahbang 28.02.2010 22:14

Pedantry is good, in this instance. Imagine trying to teach a language as tricksome and capricious as English to special needs kids when their own schools insist on using Linguistic Phonics. Grr. xx

plipplopfromdooyoo 25.01.2010 00:53

Splendid.

RICHADA 22.01.2010 01:17

Sorry Chris, this should have been an E, but in my mad dash to catch uphere they are long gone today! As for your wonderfully off-centre review subject, Mrs R would be fascinated, as language is one of her great passions in life. R.

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For anyone who has ever had a problem with dangling modifiers and split infinitives, or for those who have no idea ...

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EAN 9781843173106
Type Non-Fiction
Genre Reference

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