Tag Archives: grammar

Why does grammar matter?

Why does grammar matter?

After 20 years of teaching academic writing to both native speakers and English language learners, I can attest that at some point, just about everyone asks me why, or even whether, grammar matters. There is more than one way to define grammar. Linguists – the people who study language – define “grammar” as a description […] … learn more→

Should we modify the rules of agreement of the past participle?

Should we modify the rules of agreement of the past participle?

As you begin reading this article, you may be wondering how a mere mortal dares to ask a question like the title. Because you think that the evolution of the rules governing the use of French is the sole responsibility of immortals sheltered under the dome of the French Academy. But, as the Academy rightly […] … learn more→

Why grammar mistakes in a short email could make some people judge you

Why grammar mistakes in a short email could make some people judge you

I’m a cognitive psychologist who studies language comprehension. If I see an ad for a vacation rental that says “Your going to Hollywood!” it really bugs me. But my collaborator, Robin Queen, a sociolinguist, who studies how language use varies across social groups, is not annoyed by those errors at all. We were curious: what […] … learn more→

Legal and illegal commas

One of the commenters on “Dumb Copy Editing Survives” last week said something that worried me. My topic was the contrast between sentences of the sort seen in [1a] and [1b] (I prefix [1b] with an asterisk to indicate that it is ungrammatical): [1] a. We are none of us native or purebred. b.*We are, […] … learn more→

The decline of grammar education

Mention an interest in grammar education to most people and they will assume you are concerned about incorrect use of English. What concerns me, by contrast, is the incompetence of those who pontificate about it and set quizzes on it. Google fetches more than 300,000 hits for the term \”grammar quiz\”; yet if quizzes on […] … learn more→

Grammar: The Movie

It’s got an all-star cast: Steven Pinker of Harvard, John McWhorter of Columbia, Geoffrey Nunberg of Berkeley, Noam Chomsky of MIT, Adele Goldberg of Princeton, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, Brad Hoover of Grammarly, Bryan Garner of A Dictionary of American Usage, and dozens of other marquee attractions, including (way down in the credits) yours truly. […] … learn more→

Verb agreement and hurdling

It isn’t easy to admit being wrong in front of thousands of readers, but Ben Yagoda took it on the chin. He had written a sentence containing this clause (which I mark with the asterisk that linguists use to signal an ungrammatical string of words): *The meaning of words inevitably and perennially change. I found […] … learn more→

The (melo)drama of English grammar

I’ve been browsing through 19th-century grammar books. Yes, on purpose. On my desk is an 1846 copy of The Principles of English Grammar; Comprising the Substance of the Most Approved English Grammars Extant, With Copious Exercises in Parsing and Syntax; and an Appendix of Various and Useful Matter, a popular text by the Rev. Peter […] … learn more→

Fun City

When a friend in his thirties came up to me at a party the other day and said, “I have a question about fun,” I knew he wasn’t going to ask about whether the word could be used as an adjective. That would be like asking if iced tea could be used as a beverage. […] … learn more→