Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Speak Good English Movement's new grammar book.

The Straits Times wrote yesterday about a new grammar book published by the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) and I promptly obtained one for myself. Here it is:

I have shown in more than 80 posts in this blog why the SGEM is totally ignorant of the basic rules of English grammar. Some of the articles in my blog examine and castigate the Movement's grammar book published some ten years ago. Here is their previous book on grammar in two volumes:

The first question anyone would ask is whether the SGEM has improved on its old grammar book. As I have explained in many posts in this blog, the old book (in two volumes) is easily the worst book ever written. It has grammatical errors and flawed guidelines given on almost every single page of the two volumes. How bad this book is can be seen in a sample of its many outrageous errors and this is one example I have often quoted in this blog: the Movement states in this book that 'Alan and George works as a team' (singular verb 'works') is grammatically acceptable. Has the Movement changed for the better after ten years and has it redeemed itself?

Anyone who has made a mistake as serious as publishing a book that says that 'Alan and George works as a team' is grammatically acceptable would, given the first opportunity, apologise for the error and affirm categorically the basic grammar rule that two or more nouns joined by and normally require a plural verb. This is elementary and any Primary 1 child knows this.

But the Movement seems to want to perpetuate this disgraceful error even in its new Grammar Rules. In the chapter 'Subject-Verb Agreement', it gives its own rule when the plural verb is required in a coordination with and. This is what it says:

When two or more plural subjects are connected by and, the verb is plural.
E.g. The officers and his men were patrolling the area.
Domestic cats and dogs need adequate care and attention.
I will ignore 'his' in the example which is probably a typographical error. But the SGEM's rule is puzzling to anyone who is familiar with English grammar. No book on English grammar and usage restricts this rule to only plural subjects. The plurality of the subject is absolutely unnecessary for this rule to operate. It does not matter if the subjects that are connected by and are each plural or singular or contain a mixture of both plural and singular. Barring exceptions (which are a separate matter), the verb should always be plural whether it is 'The boy and the girl love ice-cream' or 'The boys and girls love ice-cream' or 'The boys and the girl love ice-cream'. The SGEM probably still thinks after all these years that 'Alan and George works as a team' is grammatically correct.

A look at the standard books on grammar will assure any reader that the SGEM must have made up its own rule and this requirement for plurality in the subjects joined by and contradicts standard English rules. Here are excerpts from some books and well-known grammarians:

The Oxford Guide to English Grammar simply says, 'Two or more phrases linked by and take a plural verb', and gives the example of two singular subjects 'Wheat and maize are exported'.

Leech says, 'Where the subject consists of two or more items joined by AND, the subject itself is plural, and is followed by a plural verb', and gives singular subjects as an example: 'My husband and I both have a job'.

Under the heading 'Two nouns joined by and', Robert Allen writes, 'These normally form a plural subject and require a plural verb.' The example given is of singular subjects: 'Speed and accuracy are what is needed.'

The most authoritative Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language says the same thing but it makes the whole thing even clearer: Under 'Coordination with and', it says 'A plural verb is used even if each conjoin is singular' and gives this as an example: 'Tom and Alice are now ready'.

I really hope the Speak Good English Movement will finally accept what I have been saying and acknowledge that they are wrong in insisting that each subject must be plural before a plural verb follows. They must abjure this illiterate construction (Alan and George works as a team) once and for all.

Elsewhere in the new Grammar Rules, the SGEM makes outrageous mistakes that prove the truth of what I have been saying in this blog - that the SGEM is ignorant of even basic grammar rules. On page 14, it defines a 'pronoun' as 'a word that replaces a noun or noun phrase that has already been mentioned in a text or conversation'. That is incorrect and I have never seen a single grammar that gives such a ludicrous definition of a 'pronoun'. The noun or noun phrase need not have been mentioned in a text or conversation for the pronoun to be used. This definition reveals a complete ignorance of what a pronoun is. It is is what I would expect to hear from a toddler whose colouring book says, 'Tom is a boy. He likes to read'. This may induce the child to think that a noun previously mentioned is a prerequisite before a pronoun may be used. But we adults know that a pronoun is not only 'he' or 'she'.  'All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth' is perfectly correct and it can be the start of a novel, an essay or a song even though the noun that the pronoun 'all' represents has not been mentioned before.

There are many other errors in the book including the SGEM's lapse into Singlish without their knowing it. Elsewhere, one can easily point out the numerous grammatical errors made by the SGEM when they explain something or when they give an example. Their sentences generally smack of illiteracy and shoddiness.  But I will ignore all this and I will also ignore the last two chapters on 'Grammar Gaffes' and 'Common Errors in Singapore' which deal with blunders no educated Singaporean ever makes. I will only mention one more major error.

On page 20, the SGEM attempts to define a 'possessive pronoun'. This is what it says: 'Unlike personal pronouns, these [possessive pronouns] usually stand alone and do not have to precede a noun.' I was flummoxed when I first read this. Everyone knows that personal pronouns do stand alone and don't have to precede a noun. And then, it became clear to me. The SGEM must have looked at other grammar sources and because of their abysmal ignorance of English grammar, they misunderstood what they read and produced this absurdity in their new grammar book.

What the SGEM fails to understand is that there are different ways to classify a word and grammarians often vary their terminology. As I explained in an earlier blog post, a language student may be confused when one grammarian calls 'marginal modals' 'marginal auxiliaries' and semi-auxiliaries' 'semi-modals'. But when someone who does not have a good understanding of grammar reads different sources in an attempt to write his own grammar book, it's only natural that he will mix up the terminology without realising it. Even when he proofreads the book, he probably doesn't really understand what he's reading and simply assumes it's correct.

Having defined a 'possessive pronoun' as one that stands alone and does not precede a noun, the SGEM goes on to give an example of a possessive pronoun on the same page 20: 'The cat is looking for its master' and the SGEM declares that 'its' is a possessive pronoun. The same inconsistency is seen on page 27 in 'your restaurant'. There are other examples of this inconsistency that I can give.

The countless grammatical errors in this new grammar book, the occasional lapses into Singlish by the SGEM which they are clearly unaware of and the shocking inconsistency in its use of grammatical terminology give me no choice but to conclude that the SGEM's new grammar book, Grammar Rules, is a hotchpotch of different sources brought together, altered and edited by a confused panel that knows nothing about English grammar.

NOTE: The Speak Good English Movement's New Grammar Book PART 2 is now published. While the current article (Part 1) deals with errors in the chapters 'Subject-Verb Agreement' and 'Pronouns', Part 2 is all about the SGEM's errors in 'Tenses' in its new grammar book.            -25 March 2017

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