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Grammarly and other grammar aids

 
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This thread was split off from this thread, and since it's about grammar, and not about trying to find answers, I moved it to it's own thread.

This is a thread for discussing grammarly, other grammar programs, and how to learn grammar.
 
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r ranson wrote: I found this great spellcheck called ... Grammarly which doesn't auto correct my words into nonsense.  But even a brilliant programme like that



Grammarly is NOT a brilliant program. It frequently tries to sell grammar rules that were never actually rules of English grammar. Here is a brilliant expose of Grammarly.

Fifty Shades of Bad Grammar Advice

http://www.arrantpedantry.com/tag/grammarly/
 
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I find grammarly is congruent with my style guide - Oxford.

There are many settings I can choose depending on the style of writing I'm working on. This makes a huge difference as to how the programme behaves. I don't use American style guides or setting as I find them inconsistent and I'm writing for an international audience which is closer to British English than American Written English.

 
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r ranson wrote:I find grammarly is congruent with my style guide - Oxford.



That isn't necessarily a good thing. It may well point to Oxford advancing many of the same old grammar "rules"/canards as Grammarly.
 
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Deb Rebel wrote:I couldn't diagram a sentence to save my life but I learned the verb tenses (lay, lie, lying, laid, etc) and how to spell.



Most of the "rules" that people "learn" about English grammar are not rules, they never were rules. This is why most everyone who "couldn't diagram a sentence to save my life" all know/know of these particular "rules" because they are the only ones that are ever discussed.

Some examples of these faux rules are split infinitive, never end a sentence with a preposition, that/which, 'can'/may for permission, less versus fewer, and one of my favorites, the idea that the passive is blah/blah or blah blah blah.

Here is a good discussion of the entire royal mess that education makes of English grammar, right on up into high academia. [EDIT: forgot to add link]

http://www.arrantpedantry.com/2013/11/18/12-mistakes-nearly-everyone-who-writes-about-grammar-mistakes-makes/

Lay vs. Lie: Usage Guide
Verb (1)

lay has been used intransitively in the sense of "lie"  lay down for a quick nap since the 14th century. The practice was unremarked until around 1770; attempts to correct it have been a fixture of schoolbooks ever since. Generations of teachers and critics have succeeded in taming most literary and learned writing, but intransitive lay persists in familiar speech and is a bit more common in general prose than one might suspect. Much of the problem lies in the confusing similarity of the principal parts of the two words. Another influence may be a folk belief that lie is for people and lay is for things. Some commentators are ready to abandon the distinction, suggesting that lay is on the rise socially. But if it does rise to respectability, it is sure to do so slowly: many people have invested effort in learning to keep lie and lay distinct. Remember that even though many people do use lay for lie, others will judge you unfavorably if you do.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lie#usage-1
 
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Terry Byrne wrote:

r ranson wrote:I find grammarly is congruent with my style guide - Oxford.



That isn't necessarily a good thing. It may well point to Oxford advancing many of the same old grammar "rules"/canards as Grammarly.



With style, I find it's more important to be consistent than to be 'modern'.

I did a lot of research into choosing a style guide recently.  I wanted a style guide that was universal on the international scene, not just in America.  American style guides are popular in the US for obvious reasons, but as time goes on, there appears to be a greater divide between American English and the rest of the English Speaking world.

English is a living, breathing language and there's no one 'right' or one 'wrong' way to use it.  It's growing, changing, shrinking, and morphing every time we use it.  That's why being consistent within a work is more important than being 'right' because as the article you liked to says, the right way to write something in English is constantly changing.  

It's also why I like Grammarly because I can customize the recommendations based on the kind of writing I am working on. If I'm writing a business email with technical jargon, I change the settings to reflect that and the recommendations reflect that.  If I'm writing a blog post, I change the settings.  I'm asking Grammarly to make style recommendations, but it's up to me to approve or reject them.  
 
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r ranson wrote:

Terry Byrne wrote:

r ranson wrote:I find grammarly is congruent with my style guide - Oxford.



That isn't necessarily a good thing. It may well point to Oxford advancing many of the same old grammar "rules"/canards as Grammarly.



With style, I find it's more important to be consistent than to be 'modern'.



I don't understand what your last sentence could possibly mean. Grammarly corrects things that are not errors in the English language. It does this because it/many people are wedded to old pieces of nonsense about English grammar, aka prescriptions, which have never been rules of the English language. When Grammarly gets these basic rules/things so miserably wrong, what confidence can/should anyone have in its other advice?

Prof Pullum nutshells it. I know that there is a strong tendency to like/love the things we buy, possess, make, ... but ... .

You can click on a link to see the Dilbert cartoon at the link to the LL discussion.



A virus that fixes your grammar
December 8, 2017 @ 5:16 am · Filed by Geoffrey K. Pullum

In today's Dilbert strip, Dilbert is confused by why the company mission statement looks so different, and Alice diagnoses what's happened: the Elbonian virus that has been corrupting the company's computer systems has fixed all the grammar and punctuation errors it formerly contained.

That'll be the day. Right now, computational linguists with an unlimited budget (and unlimited help from Elbonian programmers) would be unable to develop a trustworthy program that could proactively fix grammar and punctuation errors in written English prose. We simply don't know enough. The "grammar checking" programs built into word processors like Microsoft Word are dire, even risible, catching only a limited list of shibboleths and being wrong about many of them. Flagging split infinitives, passives, and random colloquialisms as if they were all errors is not much help to you, especially when many sequences are flagged falsely. Following all of Word's suggestions for changes would creat gibberish. Free-standing tools like Grammarly are similarly hopeless. They merely read and note possible "errors", leaving you to make corrections. They couldn't possibly be modified into programs that would proactively correct your prose.

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=35710


 
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With style, I find it's more important to be consistent than to be 'modern'.


I don't understand what your last sentence could possibly mean.



Grammar and style are fresh in my mind because I spent a lot of last 16 months asking a lot of people about these two things.  I've also read everything my local library has to say about it.  My conclusions aren't necessarily 'right' because the conclusions are that there is no one right way to write.  

I started out talking to publishing houses, or more specifically, their representatives.  I wanted to know their approach to style and grammar.  How come some books use one style and other style guides.  How come some publishings houses follow the same style guide for all their books.  Then I started talking to editors about how they edit and what they want in an author and how they choose a style to edit by.  Fascinating stuff.  I also talked to authors of books I like.  Printers.  My librarian.  Random people, I met at coffee houses.  Magazine editors.  I sought out people in Canada, US, Britain, Japan (I learned a lot about how translation is affected by style guides there), New Zealand, and anywhere else I could find.  

I noticed that different style guides contradict each other.  Not only that, some of them contradict themselves.  So I asked questions about this too.  So I asked everyone I could as to which of these style guides was "right"?  

The answer was divided into two groups: one group felt that one specific style guide was 'right' and all the rest were wrong.  And the other group, who felt that there were many right ways to write but the thing that really confuses the reader is if we are inconsistent in our style.  The general mantra is that within the work (book, brochure, blog, whatever the 'work' is), the style needs to be consistent or the reader gets confused.  

As a side note: there was a correlation between these groups as to how much of their income they make from publishing books.  The people who had not made any money from producing books (printing, editing, publishing and writing) were in the first group - the more their income was dependent on books, the more they fit into the second group.

Most people won't notice little things, like inconsistent use of the Oxford comma but many will notice inconsistent capitalization of book titles.  Changing the style of lists and bullet points definitly throws people off.  And think about the phrase 'next tuesday' and how much the meaning of this phrase changes depending on what part of the world you are in.  Does 'next tuesday' mean tomorrow, or is tomorrow "this Tuesday?"  And what about 'tuesday week'?  (and another example of inconstant style - the question mark inside and outside the quotations in the last two sentences, not to mention inconsistent quotation marks.  Depending on the style guide, the quotes go on the outside or on the inside the punctuation and the type of quotes to use for that situation also depends on the punctuation. )

That's what it means by the style is consistent within the work.  

As for 'modern' - what is modern?  What's modern in the US is not what's modern in Canada.  It's not what's modern in New Zealand.

That isn't necessarily a good thing. It may well point to Oxford advancing many of the same old grammar "rules"/canards as Grammarly.



This implies that being 'old' or not-modern is a bad thing.  

I'm suggesting that what one person might consider 'old' is actually current and in daily use for many people in the world.

A variation on The Oxford Style Manual (consisting an updated version of New Hart's Rules and New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors) seems to be the most used style of the people I talked to who work in the publishing industry outside the US.  Inside the US, they seem to favour the Chicago Manual.  

Grammarly is internally consistent with the suggestions it makes, has settings that are easily changed for the style of writing, and works with me.  It's possible the author of that article doesn't like Grammarly because 1) they didn't know how to change the settings and 2) the author is used to working with American style guides and not writing for the global market.  Although looking at that article again, it looks like they wrote the article without actually trying the program...
 
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r ranson wrote:Grammarly is internally consistent with the suggestions it makes, has settings that are easily changed for the style of writing, and works with me.  It's possible the author of that article doesn't like Grammarly because 1) they didn't know how to change the settings and 2) the author is used to working with American style guides and not writing for the global market.  Although looking at that article again, it looks like they wrote the article without actually trying the program...



The author doesn't like Grammarly for the reasons he laid out. It simply is not possible to correct grammar with a computer program. The place where these style manuals are at with respect to grammar is back in the 18th century, still trying to advance grammar rules that are not today, never were, part of the English language.

The author is one of the authors of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

"When computer programs can actively spot and correct such unintended syntactic slips and fix them correctly without human supervision so that they have a sense that coheres with the discourse context, the world will be a very different place." - Geoffrey Pullum

I might give Grammarly a wee try, I believe they offer such an opportunity. Really put them to the test.
 
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r ranson wrote:
This implies that being 'old' or not-modern is a bad thing.  

I'm suggesting that what one person might consider 'old' is actually current and in daily use for many people in the world.




My point, really my sole point, is that what you will find from Grammarly is just that, old prescriptions, aka, false rules of the English language. For some examples, read the paragraph, about seven down from the start, beginning with "Someone who has been making even more radical peacemaking ... " of

https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2016/06/29/farmers-and-cowmen-in-the-language-wars/





 
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Terry Byrne wrote: It simply is not possible to correct grammar with a computer program.



You found the key to it all.

Grammarly isn't correcting grammar; it's pointing out suggestions and ideas.  It's the person who approves or rejects the suggestions.  The person has to have enough knowledge and confidence to accept or reject the recommendations.  

If it were auto-correcting, I would have a problem with it.  

When I'm editing a document with Grammarly, I go with about 65% of their suggestions and ignore the rest. Any other program I've tried, I accept less than 5% of the proposals.

It's also the only program (and I've tried a lot!) that won't shut down because "this document contains no known language.  Please click this obsolete link to upload the dictionary of your choice".  Most correction software can't read dyslexia.

I'm not saying Grammarly for everyone.

I am saying that it is difficult to judge something if one hasn't given it a good try first.  And what doesn't work for one person may work for thousands of others.  That's one of the things I frequently address in my writing and my book - the harm that happens when we parrot opinion without trying these things for ourselves.  I see the harm of it every day.  So many people believe neigh sayers and refuse to try new things because 'it's not correct', 'it's too difficult' or, 'it's antiquated'.  Instead of giving new things a go, they get back on the couch and turn on the TV.  I'm not okay with this.  

So yes, please encourage people to learn new things like how to assess grammar.  Give people solutions.  After all, that's why permies is here: sharing solutions.  

 
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I very much appreciate grammar aids, even a simple one like Microsoft Word (which is all I've ever had). This sort of aids are useful for me, because they point out things that I might have missed. Sure, a lot of the time they are wrong. But, the few times that they are correct, I very much appreciate it. Often, they catch mistakes that I hadn't realized I'd made (like when I try to rearrange a sentence, but forget to rearrange all of it, and it comes out jumbled).

But, I definitely think that any grammar program should go hand-in-hand with a good knowledge of basic grammar rules. That way, one can discern when they want to break a rule. Like this. (That's a sentance fragment! *GASP!* But, when used correctly, it adds emphasis). Or, I write one sentence and then I write another. But, I don't combine them with the comma they need, because the sentence is short. I really appreciated my grammar book that I got in college--it went into the times in which one might chose to break the grammar rules. Knowing the rules, and when to break them, is really helpful for me! And, having a grammar program there to point out those "breaks," helps me to be intentional in my writing.
 
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r ranson wrote:

English is a living, breathing language and there's no one 'right' or one 'wrong' way to use it.  It's growing, changing, shrinking, and morphing every time we use it.  That's why being consistent within a work is more important than being 'right' because as the article you liked to says, the right way to write something in English is constantly changing.  



This is kind of where I take my style of grammar from. I use punctuation and grammar to the extent that I would use it when I speak, which I guess is I how I maintain some level of consistency. It may not be "proper," or match any style guides, but it gives my writing its own unique taste and flavor. Understandably, writing guides aid in maintaining consistency, too.

Another thing that I think helps with grammar, at least for me, is to read as much and as often as I can. I think that, by reading, I will pick up grammar styles intuitively.

On grammar aids, I appreciate the suggestions I get from Microsoft Word, because sometimes the way I phrase things come out a bit off, and it helps to have a gentle reminder that I could rephrase things to be more coherent and understandable.
 
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Dave Burton wrote:

r ranson wrote:

English is a living, breathing language and there's no one 'right' or one 'wrong' way to use it.  It's growing, changing, shrinking, and morphing every time we use it.  That's why being consistent within a work is more important than being 'right' because as the article you liked to says, the right way to write something in English is constantly changing.  



This is kind of where I take my style of grammar from. I use punctuation and grammar to the extent that I would use it when I speak, which I guess is I how I maintain some level of consistency. It may not be "proper," or match any style guides, but it gives my writing its own unique taste and flavor. Understandably, writing guides aid in maintaining consistency, too.



I was impressed with how many professionals said exactly this kind of thing.  I was especially surprised since it's the antithesis of what I was taught at Uni.  

The style guides, I'm told by people in the publishing industry, are there to give us a framework for consistency.  It doesn't matter which style guide we choose, so long as we don't confuse the readers with mixed-up formatting.  There's no one way to write and writing is simply a different way of speaking.  It was suggested more than once, that the best writing sounds like speaking.  Only better.  

They also recommend that the best style guide is the one the author or publishing house has written - or edited - to fit the author's voice.  (the ones I talked to use a lot of audio words to describe writing)
 
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r ranson wrote:You found the key to it all.



Would you feel comfortable posting an unedited piece of yours and then one that Grammarly has suggested changes for?

r ranson wrote:Grammarly isn't correcting grammar; it's pointing out suggestions and ideas.  It's the person who approves or rejects the suggestions.  The person has to have enough knowledge and confidence to accept or reject the recommendations.  If it were auto-correcting, I would have a problem with it.



Does the program point out suggestions and ideas on points of grammar?

[Thinking still on the other points that were raised.]
 
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Terry Byrne wrote:Does the program point out suggestions and ideas on points of grammar?



It depends on what settings you choose.

 
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I have been doing some further research and Grammarly does indeed do grammar corrections.

And also surprisingly, in a pleasant way, they have made some advances in rectifying the grammar rules formulated in the 18th century. Though their advice on, for example, the passive is still not at all helpful, in the sense that they try to "teach" things they are incapable of teaching, like how to form the passive and when to use the passive. Little children by the age of five know all this grammar intuitively and they know how and when to use various grammatical structures. Adults too know the grammar of their dialect but they, children and adults don't KNOW ABOUT the grammar of their dialect.

This is why the prescriptions have lasted so long and there are still people who will consciously describe these as rules of English. But these aren't rules of English. We know they aren't rules because people, when using their language naturally, don't follow these rules. The very people who describe these as rules don't actually follow them in their own language use. Corpus studies, using collected texts of actual speech and that of people's written texts show that the rules developed in the 18th century are not followed.



 
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r ranson wrote:

Terry Byrne wrote:Does the program point out suggestions and ideas on points of grammar?



It depends on what settings you choose.



Would you feel comfortable posting an unedited piece of yours and then one that Grammarly has suggested changes for? Or to make this totally user neutral, something written by someone not IDed and then Grammarly suggested edits.
 
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This is one of the great fables we all learn growing up. As children, we don't learn grammar in the manner we all tend to think of as 'learning'. Think long and hard about this for some time  - how is it possible that we as children learn this immeasurably difficult thing, grammar, and then deploy it for the rest of our lives with almost no errors. Sure, we make slip ups but we know they are slip ups and most often self correct.

The CGEL, some 1800 pages describing the rules of English, well over a hundred years of combined study by all the contributors, and a five year old child knows the vast majority of those rules. Did our/their parents teach us/them? Do any of us know, consciously, all these incredibly complex rules, the ones that linguists, ... spend their lives trying to understand?

 
Nicole Alderman
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Terry Byrne wrote:

r ranson wrote:

Terry Byrne wrote:Does the program point out suggestions and ideas on points of grammar?



It depends on what settings you choose.



Would you feel comfortable posting an unedited piece of yours and then one that Grammarly has suggested changes for? Or to make this totally user neutral, something written by someone not IDed and then Grammarly suggested edits.



I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that most people that have dyslexia, would not want their unedited writing aired publicly.

I, myself, have no problem with grammar, but spelling is something I often get very wrong...and I generally try to fix it up so I don't feel even more miserable about the fact that I can't spell well, despite years of working on it.
 
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Terry Byrne wrote:

Nicole Alderman wrote:... and how to learn grammar.



This is one of the great fables we all learn growing up. As children, we don't learn grammar in the manner we all tend to think of as 'learning'. Think long and hard about this for some time  - how is it possible that we as children learn this immeasurably difficult thing, grammar, and then deploy it for the rest of our lives with almost no errors. Sure, we make slip ups but we know they are slip ups and most often self correct.

The CGEL, some 1800 pages describing the rules of English, well over a hundred years of combined study by all the contributors, and a five year old child knows the vast majority of those rules. Did our/their parents teach us/them? Do any of us know, consciously, all these incredibly complex rules, the ones that linguists, ... spend their lives trying to understand?



Spoken grammar and written grammar and two very different things, at least in my experience. I taught in elementary schools. Children who could speak very well, could NOT write well. It's hard to learn what pauses require a comma and which ones a period, and which ones require something different--or require nothing at all!

On need only to find the writings of teenagers texting and posting on facebook to see that written grammar does not, indeed, come naturally to all.

I recall teachers trying to instill grammar principles into my brain in elementary school, Jr high and even high school. I read a TON of books. And, even still, it wasn't until I got to college and got my own spiffy grammar guide that the rules finally clicked. I still can't remember the words for certain things (past participle? sentence fragment? adjective?), but I learned how to used and apply and break the rules.

Another thing I found IMMENSELY useful for learning grammar was to learn a second language. I finally learned what in the world a verb and a noun were and how we arrange our sentances verses how they're arranged in other languages.

I will not discount the fact that written grammar may very well come second nature to some people--just as spelling comes second nature to my husband. But, I can honestly say that I really did need to learn the rules of written grammar.
 
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r ranson wrote:

Grammar and style are fresh in my mind because I spent a lot of last 16 months asking a lot of people about these two things.  I've also read everything my local library has to say about it.  My conclusions aren't necessarily 'right' because the conclusions are that there is no one right way to write.



Completely true, so one has to wonder why these style guides differ with each other and even with their own guide. The other thing to remember is that style and grammar are very different things.

r ranson wrote:I started out talking to publishing houses, or more specifically, their representatives.  I wanted to know their approach to style and grammar.  ...



The following hopefully will highlight my point above that style and grammar are two very different things.  

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is an unparalleled resource for those engaged in publishing, particularly of academic material. But the Press decided to farm out the topic of grammar and usage, and the writer they selected was Bryan A. Garner, a former associate editor of the Texas Law Review who now teaches at Southern Methodist University School of Law and has written several popular books on usage and style. His chapter is unfortunately full of repetitions of stupidities of the past tradition in English grammar — more of them than you could shake a stick at.

Presenting a representative sample would take a long time. Suffice it to say that on on page 177 he appears to claim that progressive clauses are always active (making clauses like Our premises are being renovated impossible); on page 179 he states that English verbs have seven inflected forms, including a present subjunctive, a past subjunctive, and an imperative (utter nonsense); on page 187 he reveals that (although he agrees, like every other grammarian, that the misnamed "split infinitive" is grammatical) he thinks that the adverb is "splitting the verb" in this construction (it isn't; it's between two separate words); on page 188 he describes word sequences like with reference to as "phrasal prepositions" (they aren't); and so it goes on and on. (I'm not asking you to just accept my word that these are analytical mistakes. Full argumentation on these points, and alternative analyses that make sense, can be found in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, a work that was available in published form a full year before the Preface was added to the 15th edition of CMS. A few days of revision would have sufficed to remove the blunders from Garner's chapter.)

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001869.html




r ranson wrote:Most people won't notice little things, like inconsistent use of the Oxford comma but many will notice inconsistent capitalization of book titles.  Changing the style of lists and bullet points definitly throws people off.  And think about the phrase 'next tuesday' and how much the meaning of this phrase changes depending on what part of the world you are in.  Does 'next tuesday' mean tomorrow, or is tomorrow "this Tuesday?"  And what about 'tuesday week'?  (and another example of inconstant style - the question mark inside and outside the quotations in the last two sentences, not to mention inconsistent quotation marks.  Depending on the style guide, the quotes go on the outside or on the inside the punctuation and the type of quotes to use for that situation also depends on the punctuation. )



Your first sentence nails it. If we were to run every post ever made here, we would see wide variation in style usages. All these inconsistencies make little difference to how well we understand.


 
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This is one of the great fables we all learn growing up. As children, we don't learn grammar in the manner we all tend to think of as 'learning'. Think long and hard about this for some time  - how is it possible that we as children learn this immeasurably difficult thing, grammar, and then deploy it for the rest of our lives with almost no errors. Sure, we make slip ups but we know they are slip ups and most often self correct.

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language [CGEL], some 1800 pages describing the rules of English, well over a hundred years of combined study by all the contributors, and a three year old child knows the vast majority of those rules. Did our/their parents teach us/them? Do any of us know, in a conscious manner, all these incredibly complex rules, the ones that linguists, ... spend their lives trying to understand?

The answer is of course a resounding NO. Again, think about it. We can all deploy every bit of grammar available within the English language but so few of us can describe accurately, if at all, the names of even simple parts of speech.

We are all the equivalent of brain surgeons when it comes to deploying the grammar of English, yes, even three year olds. We just all lack the conscious part of knowing grammar rules.  

The reason that speech is natural to us all while writing is not is because writing is an artificial construct of language. Other than for those who have certain handicaps, speech comes easily and naturally. This is truly amazing when one considers just how complex the grammars of ALL languages are.

For anyone interested, the following article explains it all.

Grammar Puss

https://homepages.wmich.edu/~hillenbr/204/GrammarPuss.pdf

 
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r ranson wrote:I was impressed with how many professionals said exactly this kind of thing.  I was especially surprised since it's the antithesis of what I was taught at Uni.  



Would you please expand on what these things you were taught at Uni were?
 
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Terry Byrne wrote:

r ranson wrote:I was impressed with how many professionals said exactly this kind of thing.  I was especially surprised since it's the antithesis of what I was taught at Uni.  



Would you please expand on what these things you were taught at Uni were?



Almost verbatim, what you said above.  My old English and Writing teachers would pepper your posts with gold stars and A-triple-plus.

What they teach in university was incongruent with real-world experience.  

My dyslexia gives me the advantage of believing I don't know the right way to write.  I don't have prescriptive (like Grammarly) or descriptive (like a style guide or dictionary) grammar or spelling in my head.  I don't know enough about language to know the right or wrong, modern or antiquated, way of writing.  I know that I don't know tuppence.  So I seek out people that do know this stuff and I evaluate their opinion with the following:  Do I understand what they are saying? Is it valid?  Is it sound?  Then I weigh this information against their annual income that is derived from manipulating language and their standing in the publishing community.  

The best thing I learned at Uni was how to ask questions and how to listen to the answer (what is being said?); how to evaluate the answer (is it valid?); and to disbelieve that answer until I've gone out into the real world and discovered how this idea interacts with reality (is it sound?).  

What I don't think my professors expected was for me to apply this same lesson to their teachings.


 
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Little comment here, Taught grammar? Never happened to me and i have a masters degree, I don't think anyone ever in any of the years I spent at school ever attempted to teach grammar rules. perhaps with basic writing skills age 5 but nothing past that and certainly nothing naming any of the conventions as it were. Since learning a second language I have found that my English grammar level has seriously dropped. Sure I know know the names for all the stupid bits of a sentence, but it really doesn't help they all come out in more of a muddle than before!

As an avid reader I find that I don't notice most grammar mistakes or even spelling mistakes, I automatically correct them in my head when I read. If I read out-loud I even say what should (according to me of course) be there rather than what is there. My school (junior) told me that I would learn grammar and spelling by reading well by 12 I had read the lord of the rings and I didn't slow down, but I did not learn any spelling! For some of us it doesn't come from reading and if spelling didn't I doubt grammar would. My Mother would always correct me on Can/May etc etc and funnily when I came over here they didn't think there was a difference in English but there is, certainly in certain circles. Going to a drinks party in my home village and saying Can I have... would get you talked about as uncouth. Because as my mother always says; "Of course you can, but you may not."
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote: My Mother would always correct me on Can/May etc etc and funnily when I came over here they didn't think there was a difference in English but there is, certainly in certain circles. Going to a drinks party in my home village and saying Can I have... would get you talked about as uncouth. Because as my mother always says; "Of course you can, but you may not."



When you read that <can> is the most commonly used modal verb when asking for permission,eg. <Can I borrow your pen?> and <could> is even used much much much more than <may> and this <can> for permission has been used by native speakers for generations, and it is in the dictionary, how can one consider it uncouth/wrong/not of the English language?

M-W:
2 : have permission to —used interchangeably with may
You can go now if you like.
 
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r ranson wrote:What they teach in university was incongruent with real-world experience.  



Professor S Pinker explains why.

To whom I say: Maven, shmaven! Kibitzers and nudniks is more like it. For here are the remarkable facts. Most of the prescriptive rules of the language mavens are bits of folklore that originated for screwball reasons several hundred years ago. For as long as they have existed, speakers have flouted them, spawning identical plaints about the imminent decline of the language century after century.The rules conform neither to logic nor to tradition, and if they were ever followed they would force writers into fuzzy, clumsy, incomprehensible prose, in which certain thoughts are not expressible at all.Indeed, most of the "ignorant errors" these rules are supposed to correct display an elegant logic and an acute sensitivity to the grammatical texture of the language, to which the mavens are oblivious.

The scandal of the language mavens began in the eighteenth century. The London dialect had become an important world language, and scholars began to criticize it as they would any institution, in part to question the authority of the aristocracy. Latin was considered the language of enlightenment and was offered as an ideal of precision and logic to which English should aspire. The period also saw unprecedented social mobility, and anyone who wanted to distinguish himself as cultivated had to master the best version of English. These trends created a demand for handbooks and style manuals, which were soon shaped by market forces: the manuals tried to outdo one another by including greater numbers of increasingly fastidious rules that no refined person could afford to ignore. Most of the hobgoblins of prescriptive grammar (don't split infinitives, don't end a sentence with a preposition) can be traced back to these eighteenth-century fads.

https://newrepublic.com/article/77732/grammar-puss-steven-pinker-language-william-safire
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Little comment here, Taught grammar? Never happened to me and i have a masters degree, I don't think anyone ever in any of the years I spent at school ever attempted to teach grammar rules. perhaps with basic writing skills age 5 but nothing past that and certainly nothing naming any of the conventions as it were.



This might depend on where you went to school. I remember getting grammar lessons throughout middle and high school, plus one required college class on technical writing. I'm still a little miffed that one of my teachers would subtract marks on writing assignments for using grammar constructions that he hadn't taught yet, even if I used them "correctly". And I definitely would get marked down for starting sentences with 'and' or 'but'.
 
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Meg Mitchell wrote:This might depend on where you went to school. I remember getting grammar lessons throughout middle and high school, plus one required college class on technical writing.  And I definitely would get marked down for starting sentences with 'and' or 'but'.



I would suggest that the grammar prescriptions, which all of us have been exposed to in school/college/univ/grandma/... are not actually rules of English grammar.

"Most of the hobgoblins of prescriptive grammar (don't split infinitives, don't end a sentence with a preposition) can be traced back to these eighteenth-century fads." --- S Pinker

One can add the "Don't start a sentence with <and> or <but> to that list.

Meg Mitchell wrote:I'm still a little miffed that one of my teachers would subtract marks on writing assignments for using grammar constructions that he hadn't taught yet, even if I used them "correctly".



Does it strike anyone as odd that teachers were trying to teach us about the grammar of the English language, the very grammar we all knew by age five?

Linguists call these "rules" zombie rules. Here's a brief discussion about these zombie rules, [Language Log] one being the very one presently under discussion.

But that passage in Swaim's memoir brilliantly epitomizes what Geoff Pullum has called the "nervous cluelessness" of many educated Anglophones  in matters of usage. Like Sanford, they dimly recall something about not starting — or was it ending? — a sentence with a preposition — or was in a conjunction? They aren't entirely sure what prepositions and conjunctions are, anyhow, and they have no idea why you shouldn't start or end sentences with them, but they're pretty sure there's some rule like that, and "you can't break rules".

In this case, Mr. Sanford has jumbled up two zombie rules. There's the rule forbidding initial conjunctions, which (contrary to Swaim's assertion) is not an "old rule" but rather a recent invention, condemned by essentially all usage experts as contrary to the laws of God and man. And there's the rule against phrase-final prepositions, which is a recent (ignorant and confused) generalization of a prohibition against stranded prepositions in relative clauses, itself invented more or less out of thin air by John Dryden in 1672 as a way to promote his own writing in contrast to those undereducated old Elizabethans.

https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=20511

 
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The can/may issue is a matter of status.

Can is vernacular - used by the masses.
May is used by people with an education.  Even today, education usually requires certain financial standing.

Spoken language use is associated with status and groups we belong to.  However, English society was a ranked society until about mid 19th century when it became more distinctively a class system.  A ranked society means that each individual knows where they are in the pecking order.  It also allows for greater social mobility than many of the other feudal systems in Europe.  In England, during the middle ages, a family could go from serf to aristocracy in about three generations and the other way in about five.  One of the ways to move up in the world is to ape one's betters.  To speak the language of the educated.  

Education in the 20th Century was designed with this social mobility in mind.  If we can act and speak with the manners of the elite, then we have a greater chance of getting a good job and being a success in this world.  To that end, let us teach the students to use 'may'.  


Of course, the can/may issue is hugely regional.  If we are going to use descriptive grammar, then I suspect 'can' is more common in the USA and possibly parts of Canada.  But 'may' seems to be more common in most of the rest of the English speaking world - which is huge!

But that is spoken English.  The written word has different needs if it is to be understood.  
 
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Terry Byrne wrote:

r ranson wrote:What they teach in university was incongruent with real-world experience.  



Professor S Pinker explains why.

To whom I say: Maven, shmaven! Kibitzers and nudniks is more like it. For here are the remarkable facts. Most of the prescriptive rules of the language mavens are bits of folklore that originated for screwball reasons several hundred years ago. For as long as they have existed, speakers have flouted them, spawning identical plaints about the imminent decline of the language century after century.The rules conform neither to logic nor to tradition, and if they were ever followed they would force writers into fuzzy, clumsy, incomprehensible prose, in which certain thoughts are not expressible at all.Indeed, most of the "ignorant errors" these rules are supposed to correct display an elegant logic and an acute sensitivity to the grammatical texture of the language, to which the mavens are oblivious.

The scandal of the language mavens began in the eighteenth century. The London dialect had become an important world language, and scholars began to criticize it as they would any institution, in part to question the authority of the aristocracy. Latin was considered the language of enlightenment and was offered as an ideal of precision and logic to which English should aspire. The period also saw unprecedented social mobility, and anyone who wanted to distinguish himself as cultivated had to master the best version of English. These trends created a demand for handbooks and style manuals, which were soon shaped by market forces: the manuals tried to outdo one another by including greater numbers of increasingly fastidious rules that no refined person could afford to ignore. Most of the hobgoblins of prescriptive grammar (don't split infinitives, don't end a sentence with a preposition) can be traced back to these eighteenth-century fads.

https://newrepublic.com/article/77732/grammar-puss-steven-pinker-language-william-safire



I'm not really seeing what you are saying here.

Are you agreeing with me that the things they teach in the university encourage prescriptive grammar - aka, the observation of language?  That is what they taught me.  


I must say, I cringe to read that quote.  Orwell would churn in his grave if he saw that.  It could be written in simpler language and be more powerful for it.  As it is written here, the choice of language closes the door to most of the English reading population in favour of the erudite (Wittgenstein would be pleased!).

Here are George Orwell's prescriptions for writing English:

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.



The more I work with and talk to people in the publishing industry, the more value I discover in perscriptive aids.  Style guides improve consistency within the work and provide a guide patterns and rhythms of language that make a work readable to the largest possible audience.  Otherwise, we exclude potential readers.  This is fine in accademia - in fact, encouraged.  However, outside the ivory tower, there is a strong desire to reach the widest audience possible.  
 
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r ranson wrote:I'm not really seeing what you are saying here.

Are you agreeing with me that the things they teach in the university encourage prescriptive grammar - aka, the observation of language?  That is what they taught me.  



Actually, Steven Pinker said it, not me. But I agree fully with him. The use of prescriptive grammar isn't "the observation of language", it is the exact opposite of that. As Professor Pinker notes, these "rules" were established in the 18th century by folks who were not language scientists. They weren't followed by native speakers before that time nor have they been followed since.

I ask, with great respect to all, How can a "rule" of the English language be considered a real rule of the language when these "rules" had never been followed before the time they were invented, the 18th century or after, to this day?

But that passage in Swaim's memoir brilliantly epitomizes what Geoff Pullum has called the "nervous cluelessness" of many educated Anglophones  in matters of usage. Like Sanford, they dimly recall something about not starting — or was it ending? — a sentence with a preposition — or was in a conjunction? They aren't entirely sure what prepositions and conjunctions are, anyhow, and they have no idea why you shouldn't start or end sentences with them, but they're pretty sure there's some rule like that, and "you can't break rules".

https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=20511




Geoff Pullum is one of the authors of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. This mighty tome spends some time debunking the prescriptive ideas. The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, another landmark study, uses the English language itself, writing and speaking of all users of the English language to also show that these prescriptions are not followed by language users. My copy of the latter is not with me at present so I can't quote the portion that describes how the 'may'of permission is hardly used at all. The 'can' of permission is far and away the most commonly used marker for asking permission. Why don't the people who think this is a rule ever comment on the use of 'could' for permission?

Now remember, this isn't me that has formulated these ideas, it comes from language scientists, the people who study language and how people, native speakers, that is, actually use the English language.


r ranson wrote:I must say, I cringe to read that quote.



Why? It is a simple description of historical fact.

r ranson wrote:Orwell would churn in his grave if he saw that.  It could be written in simpler language and be more powerful for it.  As it is written here, the choice of language closes the door to most of the English reading population in favour of the erudite (Wittgenstein would be pleased!).

Here are George Orwell's prescriptions for writing English:

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.



The more I work with and talk to people in the publishing industry, the more value I discover in perscriptive aids.  Style guides improve consistency within the work and provide a guide patterns and rhythms of language that make a work readable to the largest possible audience.  Otherwise, we exclude potential readers.  This is fine in accademia - in fact, encouraged.  However, outside the ivory tower, there is a strong desire to reach the widest audience possible.  



Your last sentence nails it. People, using their language and their grammar rules, daily break these 18th century prescriptions. They can't help it because our internal grammar parsers know exactly what grammatical entity to choose. We fumble for the right piece of vocabulary more than we fumble for the grammar.

George Orwell was a masterful writer but he was not a grammarian or a linguist. You have used the grammatical passive thrice above, in this last entry you have written. Why? Because your innate/internal grammar parser knows when to use the grammar necessary to the situation. If we were to parse one of Orwell's novels we would find the passive used a lot. Most people can't consciously tell you what a passive is. But even little children know exactly when and where to use, or not use the passive.

I agree that what was written by Professor Pinker is not that easy to get one's mind wrapped around. Language is THEE most complex thing that we humans do. Language scientists study how people use grammar and they are frequently aghast and agape at its complexity. Even the grammatical usage of young children.

But the problem is not Pinker's choice of words, it's simply that he is describing something that is exceedingly complex - the grammar of languages.

Again, at least consider, that these prescriptive rules were simply invented in the 18th century. These invented rules didn't describe [descriptivism] how people had been using the language up to that time when someone, Dryden, ... invented a new rule nor have they been able to stop people from continuing to use them up to today. The simple fact of the matter is, English speakers have never followed these made up rules in their natural everyday use of language. Studies of people using the language, [extensive studies] including the language of the prescriptivists themselves, shows that people can't follow these artificial rules. Why? They are not now, nor were they ever, actual rules of English grammar.

See also, "Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar Is Wrong"

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/most-of-what-you-think-you-know-about-grammar-is-wrong-4047445/

They don't go into as much detail as Prof Pinker but they help to hammer home the idea that these rules were made up 18th century rules.
 
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I ask, with great respect to all, How can a "rule" of the English language be considered a real rule of the language when these "rules" had never been followed before the time they were invented, the 18th century or after, to this day?



I think I see where you're coming from:  You appear to suggest that prescriptive grammar sets itself up as the universal truth.  There is no room for anything that disagrees with it.  One must obey the rules that prescriptive grammar lays out for our use.

It may be that way in University; it isn't in the real world of publishing.  

Style guides and grammatical aids are guides for keeping the work internally consistent.  They also help in keeping the style of writing consistent with what people expect to see.  

However, there are many different style guides, and most publishing houses create a style guide to reflect their subject.

In my research, I haven't found a single person in the publishing industry that thought prescriptive grammar described rules of how to use the language.  A style guide is in the name - a guide.  Grammatical guides are also guides.  

The 'rules' are guidelines we choose to follow depending on our goal.  If our goal is to teach our children to improve their lot in life, we teach them to use an educated (and yes, that tends to be an antiquated) style.  If our goal is to write for a population that lives in a small town in Suffolk, then we write English like this: "Abyd, and lat us werken thriftily."

The intended audience influences which style we choose to follow.  

If prescriptive grammarians once claimed there are universal rules to written English, I doubt any would do so now.  That's not the point of grammatical aids like Grammarly - that's why a good grammar and spelling aid comes with options.  When I start a document in Grammarly, it asks me what my intentions are and who my audience is.  Grammarly customizes the suggestions to fit my goals.

It also offers suggestions — not rules.
 
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