Saturday, February 26, 2011

Random thoughts on National Grammar Day and Joan Osborne's One of Us

Is National Grammar Day a good thing?

March 4 is National Grammar Day in the United States. Not being American and therefore not having experienced it first hand, I don't know if that's a good thing or not. If it's used as an opportunity to explore the way grammar works, and how what we regard as acceptable grammar changes over time, that's great.
But if it's just another excuse to trot out all the old half-baked grammar shibboleths, to be endlessly repeated on forums and notice boards by oh-so-clever adolescents, I'm not so sure.
And my doubts seem to be shared by Gabe Doyle at the linguistics blog, Motivated Grammar, where he lists some of the perfectly acceptable grammatical forms which are considered by some to be 'bad grammar'. (There was one of them in that last sentence, by the way). It includes one of my favourites - singular they - one of the most useful, and I would argue, elegant constructions around. See links below.
Second conditional exercise - Joan Osborne's One of Us

Update - There is now a post with the full song available here

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why I think Snow Patrol got it spot on

There is a lot of chatter in forums etc about the chorus to Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars - whether or not it is grammatical (many people seem to think not), whether or not it is confusing, is it some weird Scottishism (where that idea came from, God knows).
Even the illustrious Grammarphobia had their say, and sticking my neck out, I think they got it wrong. Strangely enough, I think this is where foreign students might have a better idea of what's going on than many native speakers.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Modals plus - talking about ability (can, could, be able to etc.)

This lesson includes:
  • talking about ability in the present and future.
  • talking about general ability in the past and ability on specific occasions in the past.
  • the different uses of can, could and be able to
  • the difference between could never and never could
  • using the verbs manage and succeed for past ability

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Getting versatile

In a recent post about causative verbs I talked about these constructions:
get somebody to do something
get something done
The verb get is one of the most versatile little words in the English language. Master this one and you'll be speaking like a native! No lesson this time, just some exercises to remind you of get's uses and to test your knowledge. For detailed information use the dictionary links below.
  • Different meanings of get
  • Phrasal verbs with get
  • Causative verb get
  • Passive-like get
  • Expressions - get caught ...
  • Reflexive-like get
  • Some idioms with get

Sunday, February 13, 2011

WhomWatch #1

Fairly recently I had a go at websites that make a big song and dance about people misusing apostrophes. But it's not only apostrophes, there are peevebloggers who moan about the 'misuse' or overuse of certain words (eg literally), the misuse of inverted commas (quotation marks) or the invasion of business buzzwords. And these websites are very popular. So in the spirit of 'Why should the devil have all the good tunes', I'm launching WhomWatch, an occasional blog within a blog.
Now I couldn't care less if people want to use the word whom in their conversation. If they want to sound a bit old-fashioned and slightly quaint, that's their business.
But I do object to so-called experts telling all and sundry that we must always use whom instead of who when it is the object of a clause. Why? Because in real life hardly anybody does. Here are some extracts from Swan, my usage bible:
Whom is not often used in informal English. We prefer to use who as an object, especially in questions. We use whom in a more formal style and we must use whom after prepositions.
And he gives these examples:
Who did they arrest? (Whom did they arrest? - formal)
Who did you go with? (With whom did you go? - very formal)
And I would add that in informal English (in other words, normal spoken English) we try and avoid the preposition problem by putting the preposition at the end of the sentence, as in his example - Who did you go with?. And we almost never use whom for a direct object (in other word without a preposition).
But that doesn't stop people telling us we should. Hence the need for WhomWatch, watching the prescriptivists. The name, by the way, is a reference to a popular 1970s British science-fiction TV series called Doomwatch, which used to scare the shit out of me. I hope WhomWatch will be a little less scary.

Mostly causatives - a look at have, get, make, let and lots more

The term causative verb is not used very much in EFL teaching. The term doesn't even appear in the index of Swan, the grammar bible of TEFL, although Murphy does have causative have (have something done). But it does starts to appear when you get to certificate exam levels, when it refers almost exclusively to that same 'have something done' construction. I thought there must be more to it than that, and started to investigate - what, for example constitutes a causative verb, how many of them are there? It was easier said than done!

Practise (mostly) causative verbs with these quizzes / exercises.

  1. Causative verbs - basic sentence structure
  2. The three exceptions - have, let and make
  3. The verb that likes to swing both ways - help
  4. Two special verbs - get and have
  5. The construction - have something done
  6. Certain verbs that can also take the ...-ing form without an object.
  7. Verbs of permission - let, allow and permit
  8. Verbs of compulsion - tell, order, make and force
  9. The construction - something needs doing
  10. Non-causative use


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More on conditionals - third and mixed

In a recent post I looked at conditionals being used in popular songs. This mainly involved 1st and 2nd Conditionals, so I thought it might be a good idea to brush up on 3rd and Mixed Conditionals.

  • Explore the grammar by doing a few exercises
  • Practise with 3rd Conditional quizzes / exercises
  • Practise with Mixed Conditional quizzes / exercises