As you might know, I like to review grammar books. For this post, I decided to look at the grammar advice offered by university Writing Centres. Virtually all universities have something like this. It’s a place for students who are struggling with assignments such as essays and reports. Generally they’re aimed at first language speakers, but some have ESL support as well.
One thing I found was that a number of writing centres offer little or no grammar advice. Instead, their focus is on topics like how to structure essays, how to write for different academic disciplines, how to do a bibliography, and so on. Some offered almost no online advice at all, and their website was mainly a contact page for students looking for in-person help. This is perfectly acceptable, of course, since that’s what the writing centre is for.
Some, however, offered guides on grammar, and these the ones I’m reviewing here. I picked three universities for this post, and focussed on only one or two issues in each case. This is to keep the post a readable length, and to avoid repeating myself too much. Many of the issues that I’ll discuss were not unique to a single university, and I could easily have picked a different three (although the website design for the University of Calgary is something special).
This issue comes up all the time on grammar blogs and in grammar books: which form of a pronoun should go into conjoined subjects? For example, I want to know which of these to choose:
- Kimberly and I defended the fort.
- Kimberly and me defended the fort.
I noticed a few references to this book recently on Twitter, so I had to check it out. The “Gwynne” in the title is a Mr. Nevile Martin Gwynne. He is apparently somewhat well-known already for writing in the Sunday Times, and because he teaches children Latin through Skype. He also has a website over at http://www.nmgwynne.net.
This review focusses mainly on the preface and first two chapters of Gwynne’s Grammar, because that’s where he lays out his philosophy of language, and that is the interesting part. The second part of the book is basically just a reprinting of Elements of Style. Part three has appendices. 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.
This is something that I’m sure a lot of people have noticed: there is trend toward using the word “literally” in a sentence where the speaker is not actually being literal. For instance:
“There were literally a million people at Dave’s party” (when not even 50 people showed up)
“I literally dropped dead from shock” (when of course that didn’t happen)
This new use of the word really seems to irritate people, and “literally” has even appeared on lists of “words to ban in 2015” (e.g. TIME and TYT) Of course, those aren’t literally attempts to ban the word (ha!), but this is definitely an indication of how annoyed people are.
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?