Grammar is a contact sport. — Best Business English


Howlers or Fowlers?

Polemicist Rod Liddle flexed his muscles on 15 May in his Sunday Times column against the grammar hooligans who beat up the English language with their misuse / overuse of words or phrases. In last Sunday’s letters page the paper headlined readers’ responses under the heading ‘Grammar as a contact sport’.

The problem is that grammar glitches are not a contact sport, but accrue gradually over the years, so that what was once misuse becomes adopted into the system. Sometimes new uses of words and grammar benefit English – and languages are always evolving.
Liddle’s ire was directed first at how people misuse pronouns: ‘myself’ instead of ‘me’. Readers added ‘reach out’ (for contact), pan-fried (for fried), and those who reply to the question

‘How are you’ with ‘I’m good’.

What gets my goat is the now prevalent use of a double past tense instead of the past continuous – “I was sat (I was sitting) in front of the TV when the doorbell rang” and “I was stood in the queue awaiting my turn” (I was standing). However, I am beginning to resign myself to the new incorrect grammar as I find even national treasures like Clare Balding are guilty. In the proper past tense the action has finished, whereas the past continuous means that it was happening until it was interrupted.

Some grammar pedants still protest at the use of the split infinitive – “to boldly go”. Often this improves the rhythm of a sentence and has been acceptable for nearly a century to grammar expert Fowlers Modern English Usage.

Get that frequently revised book if you want to find challenges to the traditional (often Victorian-minded) grammar ogres. Modern English Usage also endorses the use of ‘And’ or ‘But’ to start a sentence, because they are conjunctions.

Otherwise I rarely rise to the bait when I hear or read a grammatical infelicity. My view is that the writer’s main job is to communicate so that she can be easily understood. Of course, the writer needs to be aware of her target audience.

Don’t let the grammar shadows darken your writing…

By the way, I was taught that there are 6 past tenses in English(which are listed in Google).
But the British Council lists only the 4: Simple Past, Past Continuous (that’s what I’m griping about), Past Perfect and Past Perfect Continuous.


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