Monthly Archives: September 2012

Tarzan and Jane’s Guide to Grammar

This is an unusual one. It’s a grammar book, but it’s written in a narrative style. And just look at that cover.

To give you a flavour of the book, here’s a little passage:

“You see, a noun is a word that – ”
Just then my body froze because a truly enormous, hairy spider was crawling up the table leg. I let out a scream that must have been heard for miles around. Tarzan was momentarily startled, but when he spotted the creature he grabbed a knife and slit the thing in half. Then he carried both halves outside.
When he came back in and sat down I seemed to be breathing normally again, so I continued, “Basically a noun is a word that names something. It can name a person, place, an idea, or an action”.

Continue reading



Filed under Book Review, Linguistics

Spelling is not grammar

One of the things that really bugs me about the “grammar police” type is their inability to distinguish grammar from spelling. I am sick of reading “grammar” posts on your vs. you’re. It is not a grammar mistake – it’s just a spelling mistake. Native English speakers absolutely know the difference. I am 100% sure that the mental grammar of an English speaker, the only grammar that really matters, distinguishes the lexical items your and you’re, even if the speaker doesn’t always know how to spell them.
Continue reading


Filed under Linguistics

Not a question?

Another post inspired by QI. In this episode, Stephen Fry asks the question “Why do the columns of the Parthenon look straight?” (youtube clip is here.)

And the answer turns out to be:

“Because they are straight”

One of the other guests goes bananas about this. “That’s not a question!” he complains. The whole scene is actually pretty funny, with Fry crumbling under the pressure. But it’s a valid point. Is that really a question? Probably most people feel that something is at least a little wrong with it.
Continue reading


Filed under Linguistics

The shape of sentences

Sometimes on this blog I do sentence diagrams, and they always have a tree-like structure to them like this:

I don’t just label all the parts of speech like this:

I thought it might be interesting to talk about why that’s done. Why draw upper and lower levels? Why can’t sentences be “flat”?
Continue reading


Filed under Linguistics

Review of “Grammar Crammer”

Comma Sutra had some mistakes and poor arguments, but this book really takes it up a notch. The Grammar Crammer has some jaw-droppingly crazy material. I’ve organized this as replies to particular quotes from the book. Some of this book is available on google books, if you want to have a look at the larger context of any quote.

The basic problem with the book is that the authors haven’t got the slightest clue what linguistics is. And this has an effect on everything else in the book, because they’ve never learned how make and support arguments about language. They instead adopt the classic prescriptive approach, which is just to make stuff up. They also misuse a number of technical terms that anyone doing grammar should know (like “person”). The confusion about linguistics, and generally about how to study language, comes up only three pages in:
Continue reading


Filed under Book Review, Prescriptive