The great science section in The Guardian is broadly conceived, sometimes including articles about math and linguistics in addition to the fields that more commonly fall under the category of “science.” Recently an article with the title “Ten grammar rules you can forget” caught my eye. While it doesn’t sound like science at all, I was hopeful.
My hope was partially rewarded. Yes, the article is primarily about “grammar rules” in the popular sense, not in the sense used in linguistics. (In linguistics, grammar rules are an objective description of the syntax and morphology of a language, not a prescription for how one should write and speak.) The author, David Marsh, does provide some useful evidence against the rules he wants you to forget, though he’s still basically prescriptive. He also adds some even-more-useful observations about the different registers of English; what’s acceptable in informal writing, like this blog, might not be acceptable in formal writing, like a research paper. And he has some lovely phrasing describing the “ten things people worry about too much”:
- to infinitive and beyond
- the things one has to put up with
- don’t get into a bad mood about the subjunctive
- negative, captain
- between my souvenirs
- bored of Tunbridge Wells
- don’t fear the gerund
- and another thing…
- none sense
- try and try again
Mason is right about all of these, although I think the inclusion of #6 and #10 is a little peculiar. Perhaps it’s a British thing.
Unfortunately Mason finishes with “five things people should worry about more.” After carefully staying away from the peevers’ irrationalities, he falls into their traps by worrying about who/whom, that/which, and compare to/with. But he redeems himself in the end by giving an appropriate analysis of the last two of these “five things”: plural verbs with collective singular nouns, and lay/lie. You’ll have to read the article to see the details.