Some dialects of English have a feature known as the “double negative”. In these dialects, a negative sentence can contain more than one negative word. For example, a speaker of such a dialect might say “I didn’t see nobody” to express that nobody was seen.
Double negatives are widely perceived to be bad grammar, and virtually all traditional grammar books contain a section condemning them. The same reason is given every time: Continue reading
I’ve written before about how spelling mistakes are not grammar mistakes, and gave an example of how you could test this. In the case of your/you’re confusion, no one ever tries to extract an auxiliary out of your. So even people who write “You’re parents are home” would never attempt to make a question like “Are you parents are home?”. People fundamentally know the difference between the possessive and the contraction, and it’s really just a simple spelling mistake.
Anyway, I think it’s time to revisit this issue, after reading a quiz on the Telegraph: How much of a grammar pedant are you?. (edit: this link now seems to be dead. Sorry!) I’m not a grammar pedant, but I am a picky linguist, and I don’t like this quiz. It’s supposed to be about grammar, but not all the questions are actually on that topic. They are mostly about spelling, punctuation, or writing style. First, I’ll give a quick overview of grammar vs. writing, and then I’ll tackle the quiz specifically.
One serious problem with the available books on English grammar is that there are so many written by unqualified people. Take this one for instance: A grammar book for you and I…oops me!. The author is a lawyer. He has no special education related to grammar or language analysis. What makes him think he can write a book on the subject? And more to the point, why do people buy things like this? Could I write a book on law and get taken seriously? I should hope not. Why on earth would anyone expect a lawyer to know anything about grammar analysis?
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:
I just came across this book How to Use Parts of Speech. I’ve been meaning to write about the many problems with the traditional method for defining parts of speech, and seeing this book just tipped me over the edge. Sorry J.L. Smith. It’s nothing personal, nearly every grammar book gets this wrong. You just happened to be there today. Continue reading
I was looking for something grammar related on google books, when I came across Comma Sutra, by Laurie Rozakis. I read the first chapter and was pretty shocked by some of the content. This is no amateur either. She has a PhD in English, she’s written 100 books including some of the Dummies and Idiot’s guides, and she’s on faculty at Farmingdale State Collge.
So while I can’t speak for the quality of her teaching or writing on other subjects, I’ve got more than a few things to say about her explanations of grammar and language.