Posts Tagged: grammar

Grammar As You Like It

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Everybody has that one friend who insists they know good grammar. They’re probably wrong—Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker insists strict rules just don’t matter because language is fluid. Mother Jones explains the grammatically anti-authoritarian position:

…language is never set in stone; rather, it is a tool that is constantly evolving and changing, continually adding new words and undoing old rules and assumptions.

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The Decline of Punctuation?!…

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We live in a heyday of punctuation. “Call this what you will—exclamatory excess, punctuation inflation, the result of the Internet’s limitless expanse—it is everywhere,” writes Megan Garber at the Atlantic. But perhaps not for long—with the rise of image-based expression like emoji and gifs, we are finding new ways to express ourselves, and we’re leaving exclamation points and question marks out of it.

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Go Ahead, Break Some Grammar Rules

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It’s actually the opposite. Most people break grammar rules so they can be more precise.

For Full Stop, Catie Disabato writes about prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar, and why “bad” grammar can be a good thing.

Her data points include Burger King ads, John Dryden’s seventeenth-century grammar campaigns, and use of the word “because” as a preposition.

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When Grammar Becomes Dangerous

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Those who are careful about their grammar run the risk of seeming pretentious. Strict adherence to grammar rules is sometimes written off as stuffy and elitist. There is a greater danger, however, in falling into the trap of being careless with language, or so Fiona Maazel writes in a piece called “Commercial Grammar.”

Imprecision allows you to say one thing when you really mean another…

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When Good Grammar Is Actually Bad

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Adverbs acting as manner adjuncts “do not occur between whether and infinitival to,” you guys. Duh.

Or, in other words, you can’t say, “…decide whether unconditionally to attend the Geneva talks.” Instead, you should say, “…decide whether to unconditionally attend the Geneva talks,” because that “rule” about split infinitives doesn’t actually exist.

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No More Room for “Whom”

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Via The Millions, an Atlantic blog post on the death of “America’s least favorite pronoun”: the dreaded “whom.”

It always feels like society is crumbling when big linguistic changes occur, but as Megan Garber points out, even notorious grammar stickler William Safire advised rewriting sentences to avoid using the objective-case equivalent of “who.”

If “whom” really did die out, traditionalists would mourn, but at least they wouldn’t have to deal with people overcorrecting in an attempt to sound formal.

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On “Proper” English and Objective Legislation

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It’s no secret that English is a constantly shifting, malleable, many-headed beast of a language, yet, much of the time, writers and speakers insist emphatically on obeying its many ostensibly rigid rules.

At The New York Times, linguist John McWhorter writes about the myth of “proper” English:

“We are taught that a proper language makes perfect logical sense, and that allowing changes willy-nilly threatens chaos.”

In the article, McWhorter argues that changes in the English language are akin to shifts in fashion: they have real, tangible effects, but should not be used in any way to infer the “intelligence or moral worth” of a speaker or writer.

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Make-or-Break

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Constance Hale’s New York Times series of writing lessons continues with wisdom on verbs.

“Verbs kick-start sentences: Without them, words would simply cluster together in suspended animation. We often call them action words, but verbs also can carry sentiments (love, fear, lust, disgust), hint at cognition (realize, know, recognize), bend ideas together (falsify, prove, hypothesize), assert possession (own, have) and conjure existence itself (is, are).”

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Goodbye Oxford Comma

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A University of Oxford Style Guide has decided to go minimalist on all the grammarians and drop the oxford comma. They’re making big decisions over there. Watch out:

‘“As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’.

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Ari Messer: The Last Book I Loved, Ablutions

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Why is the second person such a natural and addictive tense–perhaps the only honest one–when writing about drug abuse and a foggy recovery?

For years, you haven’t been able to stop asking this question. Reading Patrick deWitt’s Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, you are asking it again, vocally (a real dinner-party silencer), by mistake or with motivations hidden from even yourself.

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A Phrase to Watch: ‘Openly Gay’

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“We should take care with this phrase, which is useful in certain limited contexts but unnecessary and potentially offensive in others.

For starters, of course, we note someone’s sexual orientation only when it is pertinent and the pertinence is clear to the reader.

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