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Encyclopedia > Disputes in English grammar
English grammar series

English grammar The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Grammar is the study of rules governing the use of language. ... English grammar is a body of rules specifying how meanings are created in English. ...

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Disputed English grammar denotes disagreement about whether given constructions constitute correct English. Verbs in the English language are a lexically and morphologically distinct part of speech which describes an action, an event, or a state. ... In English, verbs are conjugated for tense, aspect, mood, and voice, and in some cases to agree with their subjects in person and number. ... English has a large number of irregular verbs. ... In the English language, a modal auxiliary verb is an auxiliary verb (or helping verb) that can modify the grammatical mood (or mode) of a verb. ... In English as in many other languages, the passive voice is the form of a transitive verb whose grammatical subject serves as the patient, receiving the action of the verb. ... The English language once had an extensive declension system similar to modern German or Icelandic. ... The English personal pronouns are classified as follows: First person refers to the speaker(s). ... Note: This page or section contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. ... A compound is a word composed of more than one free morphemes. ... An honorific is something that is attached to the name but is not normally used elsewhere, e. ... This article is focused mainly on usage of English relative clauses. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ...

Such disagreements are often quite impassioned. Even when there is no dispute that a construction is incorrect, English speakers sometimes experience anger on encountering grammatical errors.[1][2]



There are a great many long-standing cases of disputed English grammar (some summarized below), each with its own peculiarities; nonetheless, those on each side of disputes use, and historically have used, many of the same arguments to justify their positions. Common arguments include the following:

  • Because the rules of grammar are largely conventional, constructions seen as older and better established are often seen as superior; by contrast, those seen as recent innovations (see Neologism) are often criticized, usually because they are originally associated with speakers who are uneducated or unfamiliar with the traditional rules.
  • Use by widely respected authors often lends credibility to a construction (but not always; for example, not if an author is perceived as intentionally writing in a non-standard style, such as an eye dialect). Conversely, in a dispute between two competing constructions, an author's use of one construction may be perceived as a point against the other.
  • In cases involving the syntax to be used with specific words (e.g., the preposition that is to be used after a given adjective), the etymology of the word might be seen as supporting one construction over another. (See List of English words with disputed usage.)
  • Since English has no central language authority, common usage is often seen as defining correctness: Many people feel that if a usage is sufficiently common, it is by definition correct.
  • Often speakers will argue that a certain usage is inherently more logical than another, or that it is more consistent with other (undisputed) usages.
  • Since the purpose of language is communication (see Gricean maxims), the more widely and easily a construction is understood, the more likely a speaker is to accept and defend it.
  • Constructions that can produce ambiguities in some circumstances are sometimes seen as best avoided in all circumstances.
  • Perceived hypercorrections — the avoidance of a usage that the speaker thinks is incorrect but that the hearer does not — are nearly always viewed negatively, and often seen as pretentious.

That said, speakers frequently do not consider it necessary to justify their positions on a usage, taking a priori that a given usage is correct or incorrect. Such arguments are often complicated by speakers' reliance on false ideas on linguistic matters, such as the impression that an expression is newer than it really is.[3] A neologism (from Greek νεολογισμός νέος [neos] = new; λόγος [logos] = word) is a word, term, or phrase which has been recently created (coined) — often to apply to new concepts, to synthesize pre-existing concepts, or to make older terminology sound more contemporary. ... Eye dialect is a common name for the writers practice of using nonstandard (or incorrect) spellings to indicate nonstandard pronunciation in dialogue. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with adposition. ... An adjective is a part of speech that modifies a noun or a pronoun, usually by describing it or making its meaning more specific. ... Not to be confused with Entomology, the study of insects. ... Some English words are often used in ways that are contentious among writers on usage and other prescriptivists. ... The philosopher Paul Grice proposed four conversational maxims that arise from the pragmatics of natural language. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ...

Prescription and description

One very common clash is between prescriptivist approaches, which seek to prescribe how English should be spoken, and descriptivist approaches, which seek to describe how English is spoken. An extreme prescriptivist might maintain that even if every sentence of actual English used a construction, that construction could still be incorrect; and conversely, an extreme descriptivist might maintain that any English sentence that is ever uttered is part of the English language and hence by definition correct.[4] In practice, however, speakers lie between these two extremes, believing that since English changes with time and is governed in large measure by convention, a construction must be considered correct once it is universal, but also that a given sentence can be "incorrect" in that it violates the conventions of English. Descriptive linguistics is the work of analyzing and describing how language is actually spoken now (or how it was actually spoken in the past), by any group of people. ... In linguistics, prescription is the laying down or prescribing of normative rules for the use of a language, or the making of recommendations for effective language usage. ...

Different forms of English

One complicating factor is that there are many different forms of English, often with different conventions; what is plainly grammatical in one form may be plainly ungrammatical in another.

English internationally

English is spoken worldwide, but the English of one country is not always the English of another; for example, in addition to the differences in accent, spelling, and vocabulary, there are many points of grammar where American dialects and British ones differ. Ordinarily, speakers will accept many national dialects as "correct," but may deem only one to be correct in a given setting, in the same way that an English-speaker might regard French as correct without considering it as correct English. Nonetheless, disputes can sometimes arise; for example, in India it is a matter of some debate whether American, British, or Indian English is the best form for use in India.[5] In linguistics, an accent is a pronunciation characteristic of a particular group of people relative to another group. ... Proper spelling is the writing of a word or words with all necessary letters and diacritics present in an accepted, conventional order. ... A vocabulary is a set of words known to a person or other entity, or that are part of a specific language. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

Regional dialects and ethnolects

In contrast to their general high level of tolerance for the dialects of other English-speaking countries, American English speakers often express disdain for features of certain regional dialects, such as Southern American English's use of y'all as the second-person plural personal pronoun. (Such disdain is not restricted to points of grammar; speakers often criticize regional accents and vocabulary as well.) Image File history File links Gnome-globe. ... The Southern United States Red states show the core of the American South. ... Water tower in Florence, Kentucky featuring the word yall. ...

Similarly, perhaps misunderstanding the nature of African-American Vernacular English (Ebonics), many Americans do not view it as a legitimate language form, viewing it as lazy English, as slang, or as inherently ungrammatical.[6] However, while it obviously makes no sense to say that a given dialect is ungrammatical, it can be said that many features of Ebonics are not grammatical in Standard English (and vice versa). African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), also called Ebonics, Black English, or Black English Vernacular (BEV) is a dialect of American English. ... Standard English is a controversial term used to denote a form of written and spoken English that is thought to be normative for educated users. ...

In both cases, arguments must center on questions of what constitutes Standard English; for example, since fairly divergent dialects from many different countries are widely accepted as Standard English, it is not always clear why certain regional dialects, some very similar to their standard counterparts, are not.


Different constructions are acceptable in different registers of English; for example, a given construction will often be seen as too formal or too informal for a given situation. In linguistics, a register is a subset of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. ...

Speakers do not always distinguish between "correct" English and the English of formal registers; for example, they might say that a given construction is incorrect, and unacceptable in formal writing, but acceptable in ordinary writing or in everyday speech. Alternatively, they might say that a given construction is correct, and acceptable in ordinary writing or in everyday speech, but that it is too informal for some uses. Whereas linguists will often describe a construction as being correct in a certain register but not in another, English speakers as a whole tend to view "correct English" as a single entity — either viewing informal registers as allowing deviations from correctness, or viewing formal registers as imposing additional syntactic constraints beyond mere correctness, or both.


  1. ^ http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002625.html
  2. ^ http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002897.html
  3. ^ http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/10/09/losing_our_illusions/
  4. ^ http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001843.html
  5. ^ http://www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/post/india/hohenthal/9.2.html
  6. ^ http://www.stanford.edu/~rickford/papers/EbonicsInMyBackyard.html

See also

The following are articles about various disputed usages:

Other relevant articles include: The double copula, also known as the double is, is the usage in the English language of two successive copulas when only one is necessary. ... In English grammar, generic you or indefinite you is the use of the pronoun you to refer to an unspecified person. ... Preposition stranding, sometimes called P-stranding, is the syntactic construction in which a preposition appears without an object. ... Singular they, sometimes called epicene they, is the usage in the English language of the gender-neutral third-person plural pronoun they and its inflected forms — they, them, their, theirs, themselves (or themself) — to refer to a single person, often of indeterminate sex, as for example in: Have you ever... A split infinitive is a grammatical construction in the English language where a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, occurs between the marker to and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb. ... Gender-neutral language (gender-generic, gender-inclusive, non-sexist, or sex-neutral language) is language that attempts to refer neither to males nor females when discussing an abstract or hypothetical person whose sex cannot otherwise be determined. ...

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