The TEE view on the English language - Part 5
This is a much-revised and rewritten text that was originally published in the website's companion book, Typical Errors in English, and may be used for a possible second edition of the book.
In part 4 I went back to the question, 'what is Standard English?', and the ideas that lead into Typical Errors In English. Now, in the fifth and final part, I discuss the fact that native speakers don't always speak in 'Standard English', more opinions on the language, being a reformed pedant and the correct way to make a British cup of tea...
In writing the book and putting together this website, I’ve combined both the pedagogical and descriptive approaches as most errors here focus on spoken English and the various problems that emerge when compared to the written form.
In fact, from feedback received after the first edition, I came to realise that the previous book was a little too prescriptive in places – I’d unwittingly taken a pedantic approach. But in my defence (which is a rather weak defence, I’m afraid, and no High Court Language Judge would accept my plea otherwise), I was trying to emphasise the fact that many of these mistakes would not be accepted in written English. However, I don’t think I had made that very clear, so this is one area that I’ve hopefully cleared up for any future second edition.
You’ll find that there are often many variations when it comes to grammatical choice, for example, in speaking and writing. It’s also useful to learn of such differences should you choose to visit the UK or any English-speaking country. But you should also be aware that to the language learner there are more than a few Brits – particularly those from the cities – that appear to be making several mistakes when both speaking and writing, when all the course books that you’ve studied in the English classroom have told you what is considered to be ‘correct’. In fact, they’re not necessarily wrong – they’re just speaking another variation of the English language, a local dialect, which is used and widely understood within the community they come from. It’s just that it isn’t Standard English.
In Typical Errors In English I’ve also included examples where native speakers, academics and language pedants disagree on what is correct. I’ve noted why there are these differences in opinion and have suggested what might be considered as the correct answer, and would be the answer most likely expected in any written test on your English. My comments are based on the available and accepted knowledge that we have on the language.
Often the explanations given are based on the context of the error: for example, we do not usually say I am going to home as we do not add a preposition before home, but to home can be used in a different perspective (see the entry for this in Unit 5 of the book). So if you have seen or heard examples where certain structures that I’ve claimed are incorrect, this is usually because these phrases are being used differently. (I have mentioned what many of these differences could be in a number of entries, but I’ve probably not covered all the possibilities.) Indeed, the job of the book and site is to report on how certain words, structures and grammar patterns are used today in British English, even if there may be disagreement (which I’ve tried to report and explain why). As I’ve already mentioned, this site is only intended to be a guide.
In the end it’s up to the student, but it is important to remember that when preparing for any English exam, you have to be consistent with which English to use (American or British), and not to use (or accidentally slip into) colloquial language.
As a rule for TEE, the mistakes featured are those that I’ve heard many times rather than just the once. If there is a word, phrase or grammar error that I’ve not heard regularly, then it’s not included. (This does not mean to say, of course, that such examples won’t be included in any future updates of TEE.) However, I have broken this rule once or twice because there are examples that may unintentionally trap the English language student, potentially leading to significant mistakes in speaking and writing.
Now I’ve attempted to put TEE together in a register that would be understood at an intermediate level of English (in European terms, B1). I’ve also chosen to write in an informal style as I believe that so many grammar books take themselves too seriously. So you’ll not only learn, but also smile and perhaps laugh at a grammar guide that can be enjoyed by the casual learner. Occasionally unavoidable grammar terms are used, but these are listed in an easy-to-understand (I hope) glossary both at the end of the book, and in even more detail in this website (called Not4GrammarBores). And talking of using contractions, just to perhaps annoy those prescriptive grammar zealots, pedants, know-it-alls, whatever you might like to call them, I’ve more than likely begun a few sentences and paragraphs with and, and even splitting infinitives… Oh, shall I go back and check? No. I’ve got all I need.
TEE does not go into too much detail on how much grammar structures work, so if you wish to investigate more into the workings of articles, conditionals, phrasal verbs and many of the other complexities of English grammar, there are, as I mentioned earlier, lots of books with several pages on the subject. Many of them have been used here to check facts and are referenced in the book's bibliography.
Finally, I should mention that, in my role as a reformed pedant, I will implement one major change in any future edition of the book in that I’ve now chosen to freely use contractions to give the book more of a conversational register. This makes it easier to read and read out. Plus, if even Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, who wrote also A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar say it’s all right (pages 3/4 in their introduction), then it’s all right with me!
If you do have any further suggestions, or there is anything you believe needs correcting or requires further explanation in the book or this lovely website, then do feel free to write to me.
Right, that’s it – now sit down, relax and enjoy the fun, and learn a lot along the way, and maybe even try some of the exercises that are at the end of each unit to check if you understand the problems.
Now I’m going to enjoy yet another lovely cup of English tea, with milk. But no sugar. Or lemon.
PS (to introduce something else that I feel needs to be expressed after I have finished writing)
Culture note and a few English tea-making rules. When making English tea, remember that one tea-bag is for one cup, not a pot for many people. We English (and maybe a few Welsh, Scots, and Irish people do, too) like a strong cup of tea. But a strong cup of tea can taste a little bitter. That is when we add a drop of milk. Note that when serving this tea in England, we only add a drop of milk (literally speaking: 2–5% milk, 95–98% tea). It is not the Bavarian style with half a cup of milk added to half a cup of tea.
So strictly speaking, our English tea with milk is not Bawarka!