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Grammar against use – The New Indian Express

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Most recently, a national conference on “Innovations in English Teaching Pedagogy” sparked a heated debate on whether English teachers should focus more on grammar or usage. Several other issues were also raised during the discussion, such as whether it is possible to violate grammatical rules, which contributes to the style of the writer, whether the style implies a violation of grammatical rules, etc.

What is the difference between grammar and usage? Grammar, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is a set of rules for how words are used in a language. The definition of “grammar” in the Free Dictionary is how words are used, classified and structured together to form coherent written or oral communication. Usage is how a single word is used in a language, and “there are no rules or logical explanations for their behavior – it’s just the way we speak.”

There are many grammar rules in English. If a sentence is grammatically correct, we say it is good grammar, and if it is incorrect, we say it is bad grammar. Are the following suggestions examples of good or bad grammar?

– If a student wants to meet with the principal, he must inform the class teacher. (using “they” and “them” as gender-neutral singular pronouns)
– If I were a prince, I would marry her. (use of “was” instead of “were” in the subordinate mode)
– I would like to personally thank the keynote speakers for raising the issue. (infinitive separation)
– That’s what she aimed at. (sentence ends with a preposition)
– And there are no teachers to help? (use of double failures in a sentence)

Grammarians who strictly follow the old grammar rules will say that the above sentences are examples of bad grammar, but descriptive grammars that attach more importance to the meaning of a sentence than its form, and that closely monitor and accept changes in language, say that sentences are examples of good grammar.

In modern English, both in speech and in writing, it is customary to use gender-neutral pronouns. I have discussed this in many of my columns over the last decade. The verb is subordinate when it expresses a condition that is not factual, as in this sentence: “If I were prime minister, I would not glorify war.” Prescription grammars insist on the use of the phrases “If I Were”, “If He Were”, etc. Thus, teachers should focus more on “descriptive grammar” than on “prescriptive grammar”.

Dr. Albert P’Ryan is an ELT resource and a professor of English. He can be contacted at rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

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