Grammar for teachers a guide to american english for native and non-native speakers
Grammar for Teachers
Andrea DeCapuaGrammar for TeachersA Guide to American English for Nativeand Non-Native Speakers
AuthorAndrea DeCapua, Ed.D.College of New RochelleNew Rochelle, NY email@example.comISBN: 978-0-387-76331-6 e-ISBN: 978-0-387-76332-3Library of Congress Control Number: 2007937636 c 2008 Springer Science+Business Media, LLCAll rights reserved. This work may not be translated or copied in whole or in part without the writtenpermission of the publisher (Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, 233 Spring Street, New York,NY 10013, USA), except for brief excerpts in connection with reviews or scholarly analysis. Use inconnection with any form of information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software,or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed is forbidden.The use in this publication of trade names, trademarks, service marks, and similar terms, even if they arenot identiﬁed as such, is not to be taken as an expression of opinion as to whether or not they are subject toproprietary rights.Printed on acid-free paper9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1springer.com
PrefaceGrammar for Teachers: A Guide to American English for Native and Non-NativeSpeakers is a result of my frustrations over many years of teaching graduate-levelstructure courses and not being able to ﬁnd an appropriate grammar text for thepre- and in-service teachers enrolled in these classes. The students in these courseshave represented a variety of teaching backgrounds: ESL and EFL teachers, nativeand non-native speakers of English, and mainstream content-area teachers with ESLstudents in their classes, to name a few. Some of these students have had a strongknowledge of English grammar, but often have difﬁculties in applying their knowl-edge to real-life discourse. Other students’ exposure has been limited to lessons in“correctness,” and are generally unaware of which language features are central toteaching ESL/EFL learners. Some students are resistant to taking this course, butare required to do so, whether to satisfy speciﬁc degree requirements, for state orprofessional certiﬁcation, or for other reasons. A few students have had some lin-guistics, many not. The challenge has been ﬁnding a way to convey the essentials ofAmerican English grammar clearly, to engage students actively in their own learningand understanding of grammar as applicable to ESL/EFL learners, and to motivatethem to undertake perceptive analyses of grammatical elements and structures, andof ESL/EFL learner needs and difﬁculties. The overall aim of Grammar for Teachers is to make grammar accessible andcomprehensible. The text assumes no prior knowledge and can be used with activeand prospective teachers who have little or no background in grammar, linguis-tics, foreign languages, or other related ﬁelds. It is also intended for those userswhose exposure to English grammar has been primarily limited to prescriptive rulesof what speakers should say and write with little or no consideration of the con-cerns and problems ESL/EFL learners face in learning and using English. The textencourages users to develop a solid understanding of the use and function of thegrammatical structures in American English so that they may better appreciate thelanguage difﬁculties of ESL/EFL learners. The underlying premise is that teachersof ESL/EFL learners need to understand how English works from a practical, everyday approach of “What does the learner need to know in order to produce X.” Whenteachers understand the grammar of American English and the problems and needsof ESL/EFL learner, they are in a better position to teach and explain elements ofgrammar. v
vi Preface The text reviews essential grammar structures clearly and concisely, while avoid-ing jargon or technical terms. The text approaches grammar from a descriptive ratherthan a prescriptive approach and focuses on the structures of grammar of greatestimportance to ESL/EFL learners. Grammar for Teachers encourages users to tapinto their own, generally subconscious, knowledge of the grammar of English andmake it a conscious knowledge that they can apply to their own varied teachingsettings. The text strives to make the study of grammar interesting and relevantby presenting grammar in context and by using authentic material from a varietyof sources. Discussions of areas of potential difﬁculties for ESL/EFL learners areincluded throughout the text. Grammar for Teachers also explores differences informs accepted in formal versus casual or informal writing and speaking based onthe types of questions and concerns learners are likely to have. In each chapter, users of the text work through numerous Discovery Activitiesthat encourage them to explore for themselves different elements of grammar andto consider how these elements work together to form meaningful discourse. Addi-tional Practical Activities at the end of each chapter provide more practice on struc-tures presented in that chapter. Included in the Practice Activities are samples ofrelevant learner errors and error analysis exercises. These exercises expose usersto authentic ESL/EFL learner discourse at different levels of proﬁciency and frommany different native languages, and afford them opportunities to practice focusingon speciﬁc errors at any given moment.
AcknowledgmentsI especially thank the students at New York University, The College of NewRochelle, New York and Long Island University, Purchase Campus who used vari-ous drafts of the text over the years and provided feedback. Special thanks are dueto Helaine Marshall, at Long Island University, Purchase, New York Campus andWill Smathers, New York University who piloted earlier versions of the text. Theircomments, insights and suggestions were invaluable. Thanks also to Judy Hausman,Susannah Healy, Betsy Reitbauer, Cheryl Serrano, and Walter Oerlemann for theirhelp and encouragement. vii
Chapter 1What is Grammar?Introduction When I think of grammar, I think of word usage – which, of course, everyone butchers. I despise grammar. I ﬁnd the rules trite and boring. Grammar (and its enforcers) need to loosen up and enjoy life more! Grammar makes my stomach churn.These comments will strike a chord with many users of this textbook. The termgrammar does not bring pleasant memories to the minds of many people. The termgrammar frequently brings to mind tedious lessons with endless drills, repetition,and other generally mindless practice, focused on mostly obscure rules of how peo-ple are supposed to write and speak. For native speakers of any given language,grammar often represents to them the great “mystery” of language, known only tolanguage specialists or those of older generations, the ones who really know what is“right”. Many feel that “grammar” is something that they were never taught and thatfeel they therefore “don’t know.” Grammar is also often linked to both explicit andimplicit criticisms of people’s use or “misuse” of language, which may have createda sense of resentment or frustration with the notion of grammar.Grammar as a Set of RulesThe idea that grammar is a set of rules, often seen as arbitrary or unrealistic, is onlyone narrow view of grammar. Such a view is based on the belief that:r grammar must be explicitly taught;r grammar is absolute and ﬁxed, a target or goal that speakers need attain in order to be “good” speakers or writers of the language;r grammar is inherently difﬁcult and confusing, its mysteries only apparent to teachers, language mavens, or linguists.A. DeCapua, Grammar for Teachers, 1C Springer 2008
2 1 What is Grammar? Discovery Activity 1: Making Decisions on Grammaticality Look at the sentences below. a. In your opinion, label each sentence as G for grammatical, N for ungram- matical, and ? for “not sure” or “don’t know”. b. For those sentences you labeled as N, identify the element or elements that you think are ungrammatical and explain why you think they are ungram- matical. c. For those sentences you labeled as ?, if you can, discuss why you are unsure. 1. She had less problems with the move to a new school than she thought she would. 2. She lays in bed all day whenever she gets a migraine headache. 3. My sister Alice, who is older than me, still lives at home. 4. Everyone needs to buy their books before the ﬁrst day of class.Discussion: Discovery Activity 1In all of these sentences there is a difference between casual English and formalEnglish. In formal English, particularly when written, there are rules that speakersare taught that must be followed in order for sentences to be considered “correct.”In the ﬁrst sentence, few should be used only with nouns we can count, such asapples, pens, or days while less should be used with nouns we can’t count, suchas math, water, or beauty. According to this rule, the sentence should be She hadfewer problems with the move to the new school than she thought she would (seeChapter 3). In the next sentence, there is a formal grammar rule distinguishing between lieand lay. Lie is a verb that is not followed by an object, while lay is a verb that isfollowed by an object. Compare these two sentences: Cats lie on beds lie = resting or sleeping Cats lay mice on beds. lay = putAnother way to differentiate these two similar verbs is to describe lay as an actionverb and lie as a non-action verb. According to the rule that tells us that liedoesn’t take an object but lay does, Sentence (2) needs to be rewritten in formalEnglish as: She lies in bed all day long whenever she has a migraine headache.
Grammar as a Set of Rules 3Adding to the confusion between lie and lay is the fact that the past tense form oflie is lay. (The past tense of lie is lay). As the distinction is becoming less and lesscommon, even “serious” publications interchange the two forms, which illustrateshow language, and what is considered acceptable, gradually changes: Goldmann and Wermusch detected the dried-up river bed of this branch, which had dis- charged into the sea west of the present-day city of Barth. The two concluded that large parts of Vineta must lay buried in the silt of the lagoon north of Barth. [Bryasac, S. (2003 July/August). Atlantis of the Baltic. Archeology, 64.]In Sentence (3) there is a grammar rule that dictates I needs to be used here, not mebecause than compares two nouns in subject position as in: My sister Alice, who is older than I, still lives at home.Nevertheless, for many users of English, I after than sounds stilted or affected inspoken English and in informal written contexts, such as e-mail or personal corre-spondence. In Sentence (4) Everyone needs to buy their books before the ﬁrst day of class,the discussion of which pronoun to use is a subject of controversy. Traditionalgrammarians for centuries have argued that the singular male pronoun is the gram-matically correct form because words such as anyone or anybody are singular,even though they refer to plural concepts. The choice of the male pronoun hiswas based on the assumption that the male pronoun encompassed reference tofemales. While such an argument may be true of Latin and other languages such as Span-ish or German, there is no basis for this in English. In Spanish, all nouns are eithermasculine or feminine. In the case of Latin or German, all nouns are masculine,feminine, or neuter. The plural form, when reference is made to both sexes, is themale plural form in all of these languages. English, in contrast, does not classify its nouns according to gender, except ina few instances where they clearly refer to a speciﬁc sex such as girl or father. Inaddition, English plural nouns are gender neutral (we, our, ours, you, your, yours,they, their, theirs), unless the antecedent (preceding noun or noun phrase) speciﬁ-cally indicates gender. The use of “his” after such pronouns as anyone or everybody is an artiﬁcialconstruct of traditional grammarians, derived from early English grammarians whowrote the ﬁrst grammars based on “logical” Latin. Guided by the “logic” of Latin,they concluded that since -one and -body are singular and since a male pronounshould encompass reference to all persons, his was the “logical” or “correct”choice. Although grammarians have insisted that speakers use “his” for centuries, thetendency has been to use the plural pronoun form their and to avoid any referenceto gender. In fact, in the last several decades, it has become generally unacceptablein American English to use the singular male pronoun after such words as each,everyone, somebody.
4 1 What is Grammar? Following the rise of the feminist movement and the changes in the status ofwomen in society, some modern grammarians, in response to the gender controversyhave begun recommending the use of he or she, while others urge using plural nounsand pronouns in order to avoid the problem. Instead of Everyone needs his book, thesentence can be reworded as “all students need their books.” Another strategy is theuse of “a” instead of “his” as in: Everyone needs a book.What was the Purpose of this Discovery Activity and discussion?Language and ChangeThis brief activity and discussion highlight the differences between how peopleactually express themselves and how language experts say they should. Moreover,even among so-called language experts there is not uniform agreement as to what is“correct” or acceptable. One reason for such controversy is the nature of language:It is a living, ﬂuid entity that changes in response to changes in society. Societal changes are reﬂected in language. For example, the change in women’sstatus is reﬂected in changes in acceptable pronoun reference, as illustrated in Sen-tence (4) of Discovery Activity 1. Societal changes can also be seen in the new wordsadopted into the language. Think of the enormous number of new words related tocomputers and the Internet that have entered languages around the world. Languagechanges reﬂect the greater changes of a society. Frequently, changes in grammatical use or even new word adoption are consid-ered “degeneration” or “degradation” of the language with calls to avoid sloppi-ness and carelessness in language. George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farmwrote: A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. [Orwell, G. (1966/1953). Politics and the English language. In: A collection of essays (p. 156). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Also available on line at: http://www.privateline.com/ Orwell/orwell.html]In some countries there are even ofﬁcial language academies charged with maintain-ing the “purity” and “integrity” of the language. In France, for instance, L’Acad´ mie efrancaise has been the arbiter of the French language for several centuries. Upset ¸by the increasingly Anglicization of French (i.e. the adoption of English wordsinto French, particularly in the sciences and technology), the French governmentpassed a law in the mid-1990s essentially outlawing the adoption of foreign wordsinto French and requiring instead the use of newly-created or adapted Frenchwords. Yet even with such an academy dictating proper usage, the French languagespoken at the beginning of the 20th century is different from that spoken atthe beginning of the 21st. A language that does not change does not have any
Language and Change 5living native speakers, as in the case of Latin or Sanskrit. Thus many arguethat changes in language are an indicator of the viability and vitality, of thatlanguage. While American English has no equivalent academy acting as “protector of thelanguage,” it does have manuals of style, language mavens, and others weighingin on the grammaticality of a form or the acceptability of new words and usage.However, since there is no single ofﬁcial arbiter of American English, there is oftendisagreement among “experts,” particularly in areas that many regard as involvingthe ﬁner or “more obscure” points of grammar. Discovery Activity 2 will help expand our discussion of grammaticality. Discovery Activity 2: More Decisions on Grammaticality Look at the sentences below. a. Based on your opinion, label each sentence as G for grammatical, N for non-grammatical, and ? for “not sure” or “don’t know”. b. For those sentences you labeled as N, identify the element or elements that you think are ungrammatical and explain why you think they are ungram- matical. c. For those sentences you labeled as ?, if you can, discuss why you are unsure. 1. Jackie says she don’t know if they can come. 2. I’m not going to do nothing about that missing part. 3. We sure don’t have any problems with the phone company. 4. Shoppers are used to standing on long lines at this store.Discussion: Discovery Activity 2Before you look at the discussion, think about your initial reactions to each of thesefour sentences. Were any of your reactions different from your reactions to the sen-tences in Discovery Activity 1? If so, how and why? If you are a non-native speakerof English, ask a native speaker to complete this activity. Compare your responses.If they are different, think about why this might be so. For many native speakers of American English, Sentences (1) and (2) representforms of non-standard English are considered markers of low socioeconomic and/ormarginalized social status. In other words, these are stigmatized language formsthat are recognizable to the general population as “incorrect” American English, inboth spoken and written forms. This is in contrast to the examples in Discovery
6 1 What is Grammar?Activity 1, where even highly educated speakers produce such sentences, except inthe most formal contexts. Sentences (3) and (4), on the other hand, represent regional variations in theUnited States that speakers from other parts of the country ﬁnd unusual or curious.Outside the New York City metropolitan area, most people stand in line and not online. Outside most of the south, most speakers do not use sure don’t. Neither Sen-tence (3) nor Sentence (4), however, carries the stigmatizing effect that Sentences(1) and (2) do. Discovery Activity 2 illustrates some further differences in the concept of “gram-mar.” On the one hand, there is something most users of a language recognize as a“standard.” They may not be able to articulate all the rules and usages, but they canrecognize what is and is not acceptable and can generally point to the reason why.For example, standard language users may not know the rule, “Use third person –sin singular present tense verbs,” but they do know that “he or she” uses “doesn’t”and not “don’t.” The difference between the sentences in Discovery Activity 1 andDiscovery Activity 2 is that those in 2 are clearly recognized by the majority of usersas “incorrect” English. Teachers of ESL/EFL learners need to recognize that learners of English oftenproduce sentences such as (1) and (2), not necessarily because they are speak-ers of non-standard English, but because they have not yet mastered the stan-dard forms. Even if students have been consistently introduced to and practicedthe standard forms, it generally takes a signiﬁcant period of time to master theseforms.Linguists and GrammarLinguists have a very different approach to the notion of grammar. From the lin-guist’s point of view, grammar is not a collection of rules, often obscure, arcane, andoften illogical, that must be taught, but rather a set of blueprints that guide speakersin producing comprehensible and predictable language. Every language, includingits dialects or variants, is systematic and orderly. Languages and their variationsare rule-governed structures, and are therefore “grammatical.” In other words, alllanguages consist of patterns, or “grammars,” that make sense of the features of agiven language that include the arbitrary symbols, sounds, and words that make upthat language. Consider the following string of words. How many sentences can you come upwith using these words and only these words? the, came, girl, baskets, home, withMost native speakers, using only their intuitive knowledge of grammar, will comeup with this sentence: The girl came home with baskets.
Language is Rule-Governed 7Some native speakers may come up with this variation: The girl with baskets came home.What they do is use grammar to put this seemingly random string of words intoa comprehensible sentence. Any other combination of words would producesentences that would sound strange to English speakers because they would notbe grammatical; i.e. ﬁt the blueprint of how words are combined in English to makesentences. While this is true for native speakers, ESL/EFL learners need to learn explicitlywhich words ﬁt together in a string according to the rules or patterns of English. Forthem, their intuitive knowledge is valid for their own native language, which usespatterns different from, and often contrary to, English.Language is Rule-GovernedWhat does “rule-governed” mean?This interpretation or deﬁnition of grammar is what is meant when linguists say lan-guages are rule-governed, systematic, and organized or grammatical. Children, aspart of the process of acquiring their native language, learn without formal instruc-tion what belongs with what in order to form coherent, intelligible, and meaningfulsentences. They learn the grammar of their language and with this grammar they cancreate an unlimited number of new and original sentences. Even when the sentenceelements are new and unique, ones that native speakers have never before seen, theycan use and adapt them according to the patterns of their language. Consider this excerpt from Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll: Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!The poem is famous for consisting of nonsense words mixed in with normal Englishwords. What makes the poem so vivid and effective in many respects is the abilityof the author to evoke images based on the grammatical knowledge of the native orhighly proﬁcient non-native speaker. Jabberwock for instance, is preceded by the, aword, called a deﬁnite article, that in English precedes a noun. Both that clue andthe fact that Jabberwock is capitalized, tell us that this nonsense word is a noun,speciﬁcally a proper noun or a name noun similar to Chicago or Italy. Now let’s look at the word Jubjub. Like Jabberwock, this word is capitalized andpreceded by the. However, we know intuitively that Jubjub does not have the samesentence function as Jabberwock. Why is this so? After Jubjub we see the word bird. This is a word that we call a noun, specif-ically a noun that names a thing; in this case a thing that ﬂies, has wings, and abeak. From the position of the word Jubjub before this noun bird, we know that
8 1 What is Grammar?Jubjub is describing something about bird. Since Jubjub is written with a capital J ,we can guess that it is telling us speciﬁcally what kind of bird is being referredto. In other words, Jubjub is functioning as an adjective before the noun bird.Because of its sentence position, Jubjub has a function similar to Siberian as inSiberian tiger. Similarly, we can guess that frumious is another descriptive word, describ-ing something about the proper noun Bandersnatch. The sentence position offrumious before Bandersnatch is one clue. A different type of clue telling us some-thing about frumious is the ending –ous. This is an ending that is found in otherwords that describe nouns, such as famous, gorgeous, voluptuous, egregious, andpretentious. Native and highly proﬁcient non-native speakers of English can understand andappreciate this poem without ever before having seen such words as Jabberwocky orfrumious, and without necessarily knowing what the terms noun or adjective meanbecause they know the grammar of English. The rules they are using to understandthis poem are below their level of awareness. Few speakers, whether native or highlyproﬁcient non-native speakers, are conscious of which “grammar” rules they areapplying or using to understand this poem. Since languages differ in the types and applications of rules, however, ESL/EFLlearners need to learn the new patterns of the language they are studying. Theyneed to begin by becoming aware that there are differences in how languages arepatterned, and then work toward the goal of being able to subconsciously producethe new language without explicit reference to rules. In Discovery Activity 3 you will have the chance to see how much you knowabout English grammar. Discovery Activity 3: Follow-Up: Jabberwocky Excerpts Here are more excerpts from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Using the previous analysis as a starting point: 1. What conclusions can you draw about the italicized words? 2. Explain why you reached the conclusions you did. And, as in ufﬁsh thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of ﬂame, Came whifﬂing through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came! One two! One two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! [Carroll, L. (1871). Through the looking glass and what alice found there. Available on line at: http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/ jabberwocky.html]
Language is Rule-Governed 9Discussion: Discovery Activity 3You may not have been able to explain exactly why you came to the conclusionsyou did regarding the different highlighted words in this activity; nevertheless, youwere probably able to give some description as to the functions of the words. Thisability is part of your knowledge of the underlying patterns, or grammar, of English. Based on sentence position and endings, you probably concluded that ufﬁsh, tul-gey, and vorpal are descriptive words (adjectives) describing the nouns followingthem. –ish, -y, and –al are common adjective endings. In Chapter 2 we will examineword endings in more detail. -ish -y -al waspish smelly logical smallish rainy biographical standofﬁsh crazy nautical greenish jumpy educational Although snicker-snack is not recognizable as an adverb based on word ending,its sentence position identiﬁes it as such. It comes after the verb went and is describ-ing something about the verb. We can also say that the alliteration of the sounds ofthe word easily bring to mind a sound such as a sword might make.Language as a Set of Rules versus Language as Rule-GovernedDiscovery Activity 3 demonstrates that there are two very different conceptions ofgrammar. There is one school of thought that views grammar as a collection of rulesthat must be learned in order to use language “correctly.” Users of language who donot adhere to the rules are using an “inferior” or “sloppy” form of the language.The correct rules must often be learned and practiced, and may at times be contraryto what even educated native speakers use in formal language contexts. This is theprescriptive school of grammar. There is another school that sees grammar as a blueprint of language. As ablueprint of language, grammar guides speakers in how to string together symbols,sounds, and words to make coherent, meaningful sentences. This type of grammarknowledge is intuitive and reﬂects the innate ability of speakers to learn and usetheir native language. Children, for instance, do not memorize rules as they learn tospeak; what they actually learn are the rules or patterns governing their language.Grammar is what allows language users to create and understand an unlimited num-ber of new and original sentences. Furthermore, no language has only one grammar;each language has subsets of grammar, which are generally referred to as dialects.These subsets are often considered substandard forms, yet they are also just as rule-governed as the standard variety. This is the descriptive school of thought. A morein-depth look at the two different schools of thought follows.
10 1 What is Grammar?Prescriptive versus Descriptive GrammarWhat are some examples of the differences between prescriptive and descriptivegrammar?Prescriptive GrammarA key distinction between how linguists view grammar and how others do is thedistinction between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar isthe grammar taught in school, discussed in newspaper and magazine columns onlanguage, or mandated by language academies such as those found in Spain orFrance. Prescriptive grammar attempts to tell people how they should say something,what words they should use, when they need to make a speciﬁc choice, and why theyshould do so—even if the rule itself goes against speakers’ natural inclinations. Attimes, prescriptive grammar rules are overextended to the point that speakers hyper-correct, that is, they apply the grammatical rules in situations where they shouldnot. Take, for instance, the use of the pronouns I and me. For many years Englishteachers in the United States railed against the incorrect use of me, the object pro-noun, in subject position as in: (1) Me and John are going to the store. or John and me are going to the store (2) Me and Sue had lunch. or Sue and me had lunch. There is a prescriptive grammar rule in English specifying that pronouns in sub-ject position must be subject pronouns (I, you, we, he, she, it, they). According to thisrule, speakers’ use of me in (1) and (2) is incorrect because me is actually the ﬁrstperson object pronoun. In addition, the subject pronoun I should follow any othernoun subject or subject pronoun. Thus, from a prescriptive point of view, Sentences(1) and (2) must be: (1a) John and I are going to the store. (2a) Sue and I had lunch.In the last several decades, many native speakers, attempting to avoid the incorrectuse of me tend to hypercorrect the use of me by substituting I , even in cases whereme is called for because it is in object position. Consider the following samples ofactual speech:
Prescriptive versus Descriptive Grammar 11 (3) They couldn’t have raised all the necessary funding without input from John and I, even coming in at the last minute as we did.John and I are objects of the preposition from. The prescriptive grammar rulerequires the use of me and not I . (4) He really shouldn’t have been put into that class, but between you and I, the principal didn’t have any other choice.You and I are the objects of the preposition between and again, as in Sentence (3),and me rather than I must be used. (5) The driver gave the boys and I good directions on how to ﬁnd the back entrance to the restaurant.The boys and I are the objects of the verb give. As in Sentences (3) and (4), me isthe correct choice and not I . What we see in Sentences (1) through (5) is a difference in prescriptive grammarrules and descriptive grammar rules. Prescriptive rules (sometimes referred to asusage rules) are those rules that explain what users of a language are supposed todo. These are often the rules that:r are explicitly taught and learned in formal school settings.r often require conscious effort to remember and apply.r are often learned incompletely or insufﬁciently, leading to hypercorrection as in Examples (3), (4), and (5).Change is vital to a living language. As the substitution of I for me in theobject position becomes increasingly widespread, it may well become anaccepted language form in the future, except perhaps for the most formal ofcontexts.Who versus whomHow is the difference between who and whom related to prescriptive grammarversus descriptive grammar? An example of a change that has become more widespread and accepted is theloss of the distinction between who and whom. Most native speakers of English donot make this distinction consistently. A prescriptive grammar rule maintains thatwhom is the object form of who as in: (6) The author, whom I met last year, signed several copies of the text. (7) For Whom the Bell Tolls was written in 1940 by Earnest Hemingway.In Sentence (6), whom is the object of the verb met. In Sentence (7), it is the objectof the preposition for. For many, if not most speakers of American English, the rules governing theuse of whom seem bothersome, and require attention and effort as the form is
12 1 What is Grammar?generally not used in informal speech and is essentially reserved for formal editedwriting. In spoken and written English, native speakers commonly produce suchsentences as: (8) Who did you see last night at the movies? (9) The person who you really need to talk to is not here right now.From the perspective of prescriptive grammar, the correct form in Sentences (8) and(9) is whom, not who. In both sentences whom is functioning as an object and not asa subject. In Sentence (8), who is the object of the verb see and in Sentence (9), whois the object of you really need to talk to. Thus, from a prescriptive perspective, these sentences should be: (8a) Whom did you see last night at the movies? (9a) The person to whom you really need to talk is not here right now.The distinction between who and whom is a prescriptive grammar rule requir-ing conscious attention and effort which is often incompletely applied. Thus,language users, in an effort to use “correct” grammar produce sentences such as: (10) (waitress to customer): Whom ordered the steak rare? (11) The references of all applicants whom will be walking clients’ dogs will be checked.In both sentences, the correct form is who, not whom. In Sentence (10), Who it isthe subject of the verb ordered. In Sentence (11), it is the subject of will be walking. Learners of English who have begun their study of the language in their homecountries are often more aware of the difference in use between who and whombecause their instruction has been more prescriptive. Also, since their exposure isfrequently limited to classroom instruction, they may have had less exposure to moreinformal forms of English.How much emphasis needs to be placed on the distinction between who and whomin the ESL/EFL classroom?There are several factors to consider in answering this question. For example, are thestudents preparing to take certain exams that test knowledge of prescriptive rules?If the answer is yes, then the ESL/EFL teachers must place more emphasis on thisdistinction than if the answer is no. Additionally, how much does not observing this distinction between who andwhom interfere with understanding? Since native speakers routinely do not observethis distinction, the answer is very little. As we will see in later chapters, thereare more serious learning issues that do interfere with comprehension on whichESL/EFL teachers need to focus.
Prescriptive versus Descriptive Grammar 13Descriptive GrammarDescriptive grammar rules, in contrast to prescriptive rules, describe how adultnative speakers actually use their language. From this perspective, grammar is whatorganizes language into meaningful, systematic patterns. These rules are inherentto each language and are generally not conscious rules. However, they are readilyobservable for those interested in looking. Descriptive grammar, unlike prescriptivegrammar, does not say, “this is right” or “this is wrong.” Some people think that descriptive grammar means saying that everything is rightand nothing is wrong. What we must consider is the purpose for which a speaker isusing language. If a person is at a white-collar job interview or sending in a collegeapplication, using stigmatized language forms is inappropriate. On the other hand,if the person is among a group of peers, using a different variety of language ispart of in-group acceptance and identity. This is not to say that there should beno grammar rulebooks, manuals of style, or standards of usage; on the contrary,there is a need for standards, especially in formal language contexts and when weare teaching English to non-native speakers. What ESL/EFL teachers must do isdevelop an awareness, especially as learners become more proﬁcient, that there arevariations of prescriptive grammar rules, some of which are more acceptable incertain contexts than others.Why do I as an ESL/EFL teacher need to know the difference between prescriptiveand descriptive grammar?ESL/EFL teachers need to understand what learners need to know in order tolearn English. The needs of these learners are very different from those of nativespeakers. Native speakers and textbooks geared to them focus on prescriptivegrammar. ESL/EFL learners, on the other hand, need to learn structures andforms that native speakers know as part of their innate knowledge of English.The vast majority of what ESL/EFL learners need to learn is descriptive grammar.ESL/EFL teachers must also consider why students are learning the language,which errors are more serious than others, and on which aspects of grammar tofocus. In this text we will be focusing on the grammatical rules and grammat-ical structures that ESL/EFL learners need to learn in order to communicate inEnglish.Why do I need to know grammar?For teachers of ESL/EFL learners, a knowledge of how English works is essen-tial. Teachers need to be able to talk about how sentences are constructed,about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences, and aboutthe functions of these words and word groups within sentences and in largercontexts. With this knowledge, teachers can help their students understand the languageand know what their students need to learn in order to acquire it. Without knowingthe essential components, as well as the complexities of the language in question, it
14 1 What is Grammar?is difﬁcult to understand what learners actually need to know in order to learn thenew language.What do you mean by the “complexities of language?”The next two Discovery Activities introduce a few of the structures and forms thatwe will discuss in greater detail throughout the book. These are examples of the“complexities” that native speakers know intuitively, yet that ESL/EFL learners needto learn explicitly. After you have ﬁnished Discovery Activity 4, check your answerswith those found at the end of the chapter in the section labeled “Answer Key.” Discovery Activity 4: Verbs Look at the following sentences. a. Find the verbs and underline them. b. How would you explain these verbs in these sentences to a learner of English? 1. Many people don’t like meat. 2. Do you drive to New York? 3. She’s lived in the country since last year. 4. I’m about to buy a new car. 5. The ﬂight is leaving in the next 20 minutes. After you have checked your answers to Discovery Activity 4, try DiscoveryActivity 5. Think about how you would explain the italicized words to an ESL/EFLstudent. Discuss your answers with your classmates; then compare your responseswith those found in the Answer Key. This will then conclude our introduction togrammar. Discovery Activity 5: Other Parts of Speech Look at the following sentences. How would you explain the italicized words in these sentences to a learner of English? 1. The child painted a big, beautiful, wooden box. but not: The child painted a wooden beautiful big box. 2. The pencil I have doesn’t have an eraser. 3. That is a stone fence. 4. Mary drove fast but stopped quickly at the red light.
Summary 15Summary Linguists versus GrammariansA linguist’s deﬁnition of grammar is A grammarian’s deﬁnition of grammar isr a system or the “blueprints” for creating r the written rules governing when to use which language forms or structuresr the shared rules (patterns) in native r something you follow in order to use the lan- speakers’ minds that allow them to gen- guage correctly erate unique utterances; native speakers’ shared mental rulesr there are different grammars shared by r that one particular variety of grammar is con- different groups of speakers; because all sidered the “standard” languages and variations are systematic in their generation of utterances; all gram- mars are viewed as validr descriptive r prescriptiveA linguist’s purpose in examining grammar A grammarian’s purpose in examining gram-is to mar is tor understand the mental or subconscious r focus on discrete items and speciﬁc rules of rules shared by different groups of native use (“usage rules”). speakers. These rules are learned as part r determine what word, phrase or construction of the process of growing up as a native is or is not correct according to a particular speaker of a given language.r describe the system and blueprints. usage or style book, or person (usually self- appointed “language mavens” or “languager gurus”). understand the shared elements (rules) that make variations still belong to one lan- r determine grammar “rules” which must often guage versus another different language; be taught. These rules often exist on a con- i.e. what makes English not German or tinuum of acceptability because language Chinese. changes and some usage or style books, orr learn which variations are used by which language gurus are more reluctant to accept change than others.r groups and in which situations. understand which variations are less- r debate what must be used when and why acceptable or stigmatized in which situa- based on what a particular usage or style book, tions and why. or person determines is correct.r learn which changes are taking place and why. Standard American Englishr is that which most style and usage books and speakers recognize as “correct.” There is no language academy or formal government institution decreeing or legislating “correctness” for American English.r exists on a continuum of “correctness.” Not all style and usage books, and not all “language gurus” agree on what is “correct” because language changes. Some grammarians are slower to accept change than others.
16 1 What is Grammar?(continued) Standard American Englishr Only languages that no longer have native speakers do not change. These are referred to as “dead” languages. Examples of this are Latin and Sanskrit.r The English that is taught to non-native speakers is recognized as Standard English because the grammar, for the most part, reﬂects formally educated native speakers’ shared rules.Practice ActivitiesActivity 1: New WordsMany new words have entered the English language in the last decade. Can you ﬁndat least 5 and discuss how they entered the language and whether they are consideredstandard or slang words. For example, Internet and to boot up have recently enteredthe English language to describe computer use. As another example, the popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings has mademuggle a commonly accepted term designating ordinary people without specialmagical powers. Although there was such a word in the English language prior to thepublication of the ﬁrst Harry Potter book, it was an obscure term with very differentmeanings. The new and popular meaning of muggle has come about through literarymeans.Activity 2: Language Intuition1. Look at the following list of nonsense words and English words. On a separate sheet of paper, create 5 original sentences using only these words but all of these words in each sentence. mishiffen a drinking keg gwisers some were stoshly frionized2. Ask at least 2 other people to make up 1–2 sentences using these words. r They must use all of the words in each sentence. r When they ﬁnish writing the sentences, ask them if they can tell you why they wrote the sentences as they did.3. Compare your sentences with those you collected from your informants. r How many sentences were the same? r How many were different? r Were there any sentences that surprised you or that you found unusual? Why or why not?4. Bring your sentences, the sentences your informants wrote, and their comments to class. Compare these with those other classmates gathered.
Practice Activities 175. What insights did you gain into the idea of “language as a system” or “language as a set of blueprints?”Activity 3: NounsLook at the following sentence. Some mishiffen gwisers were stoshly drinking a frionized keg.a. Which two words refer to things (nouns)?b. What clues are there to help you decide which words refer to things (nouns)?c. Which words do you think are describing the things (nouns) in this sentence?Activity 4: Prescriptive Grammar1. On a separate sheet of paper, write 5–10 sentences you consider to be “incorrect” grammar, for example, using ain’t instead of isn’t as in She ain’t on time. a. Share this list with at least 3 other native or near-native speakers of English. b. Ask them to tell you which sentences they ﬁnd incorrect and why. c. Bring the results to class, discuss how your informants’ evaluations compared to your own, and why.2. Compare your list and those of your classmates. r Do they list errors different than errors such as Sentences (a), (b), and (c) below made by ESL/EFL learners Discuss why or why not. a. She no like pancakes. b. She go when? c. She move to farm last year.Activity 5: Gender and Pronoun ReferencesWrite a reﬂective essay on the following situation. Use the questions below to guideyour thoughts. As a teacher you have conscientiously taught the use of the singular male pos-sessive pronoun in such sentences as Everyone needs to bring his book to classtomorrow or Anyone who wants his grades can come to my ofﬁce on Friday. Severalstudents come to you with the situations below:r Student A was watching a movie. The student notices that everyone in the movie said such phrases as Someone has to share their room or no one goes out without paying their parents and asks you why they are using these forms.