Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The difference

It's a matter of prepositions. Forgotten what they are? Take a look at the Parts of Speech page.

This illustration, from Wikipedia Commons, depicts a ball which is, from Right to Left: above, below, inside, outside, behind, on, beside, under and between a box or boxes. So far, so straightforward but it's harder to depicts some of those pesky little words like "to" and "from," which are a bit more abstract.

So what preposition should follow the adjective "different"? Should? If you read last week's Grammar Grandma post on "the rules" of grammar, you might be imagining I'm going to tell you what you should say and write. No.

I'm going to tell you what the Standard English form is and it is "different from." This is because one thing "differs from" another, not "to" or "than" it. And yet these forms are more and more popular in speech and writing.

"Different to," I can just about understand because a comparison is being made - though "compared with" vs. "compared to" is a another disputed grammatical construction!

But how to account for the now ubiquitous "different than"? I suppose it runs thus: you can have bigger than or taller than or older than so why not different than?

Why not, indeed? I can only tell you that I'd never do it, in speech or writing. And I don't think you's say one thing"differs than" or "differs to"another.

You can't go wrong
with "different from."

Monday, 18 May 2020

The Rules

You may have noticed in my last post that I used the word "should." This brings up the vexed question of who decides what a grammar rule is and when it should be relaxed or changed.

F.G.Sykes et. al.

We all obey rules, otherwise cars would crash into each other far more often than they do! We stop for red lights, drive on the left of the road (in the UK) and signal when we are about to turn. Most people do these things without arguing about them and may make other drivers very angry when they don't.

Of course the consequences of disobeying rules of the road are much more dangerous than anything you say or write!

You will hear some people say there are no "rules" in language, just conventions. Nevertheless they follow most of these conventions or their speech and writing would be gibberish.

The main thing is that these rules or conventions have been formed with Standard British English in mind, not dialects or creoles or patois. They relate to formal written English and, to a lesser extent, formal written English. You can't decide to flout or bend them but it's easier to do this when you know what they are and can demonstrate your mastery of them.

It's difficult to find illustrations of grammar!

Most linguists take "grammar" to be made up of "morphology" and "syntax." Don't be put off by these words. Morphology is the form of a word, which in English is not usually variable. It changes far more in inflected languages like Italian or German. In English "the" is always "the," regardless of the gender or number of the word that follows. But we do have a few different forms for verbs:


for example.

Syntax is the way in which words are organised to give meaning in a sentence. You know instinctively that
'reading easy is' is not the right order, unless you are Yoda.

So for one aspect there is not much to learn and for the other you know most of it already.

Grammar is easier than you realise.

Monday, 11 May 2020

The King and I

This is a "common mistake" post. The kind of thing that gets pedants and language snobs like me screaming at the radio. You've all heard it. Gordon Brown did it, Prince Harry did it. Everyone on Made in Chelsea does it. And these are all people who have had the most expensive education money can buy. They will say something along these lines:

"My parents brought my brother and I up to tell the truth." No. It should be "My parents brought my brother and me up to tell the truth." Why? Because both "my brother" and "I" are objects of the verb "bring up." English doesn't have many objective forms (the "accusative" in an inflected language) but it does have them for pronouns, where "I" is the subject form (nominative) and "me" is the object form (accusative).

How to avoid ever making this mistake: Take the other person out of the sentence: "My parents brought I up to tell the truth." Does that sound right to you in Standard English (leaving dialect forms out of it)? Then change it to "me" and put the brother back in the sentence.

I have seen many published books with this mistake in them, which could get me on to the subject of editors. One to keep for another day.

I've named this post because my mother once said excitedly to me, "the king and I are on at the Essoldo!" That's a different kind of mistake, one of number, which we can talk about another day.

Question: Why would it be OK to say "I saw the King and I at the Essoldo" but not "She saw the king and I in the procession"?

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Change of name, change of purpose

This is no longer the Book Maven blog but Grammar Grandma. However the Book Maven archive is still available by date.