What is grammar?

Is it ‘wrong’ to say ‘There IS a man, a dog and three cats’?

This writer is saying that, even though this is what some native speakers would say, ‘according to grammar’, it is wrong, since the noun phrase that comes after ‘There is’ is plural in number.

The writer is making 3 assumptions: (A) grammar rules are always logical, hence ‘plural noun > plural verb’; (B) it is grammar that dictates what is the right thing for people to say; (C) we should speak the way we write. But …

First, grammar rules are not always logical. Why do we say ‘I’m right, aren’t I?’, when we say ‘He’s right, isn’t he’? Why can we say both ‘If I were you’ and ‘If I was you’? Why is ‘I allowed him to do it’ acceptable but not ‘I let him to do it’?

Second, ‘according to grammar’, but what is grammar? Whose grammar? Who decides what is correct grammar and what is not?

Third, why must we speak the way we write? If a lot of native speakers say ‘There is’ followed by plural nouns in speech, why can’t we accept it?

For me, the harder decision to make is whether we can use or accept this structure in more formal situations. Should examinations include this kind of question and what would be the acceptable answers? Should teachers reject it if it appears in a student composition which is a diary entry?

Finally, let’s remember that many sentences we consider 100% grammatical today, would have been totally ‘ungrammatical’ 300 years ago.

Not that we don’t need to bother about grammar any more, but it’s time we examined (not ‘examine’) a more fundamental question: What is grammar?

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One thought on “What is grammar?

  1. It seems the writer is trying to uphold the approach of prescriptive grammar. If language is for the purpose of communication, should different approaches of grammar be equally good and acceptable?

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