Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

August 5, 2009

The correct grammar that students use but native speakers don’t!

Having spent years learning and practising English grammar, making sure tense usage is correct, spellings are right and pronunciation is as near as it can be, it must be a little dispiriting to arrive in an English speaking country to find that native speakers seem to break a lot of those carefully learnt rules!

I have no doubt that it is the same for all languages but the dilemma now is whether to abandon what has been learnt and follow what you hear or stick to your English language study guns!

I think it is fair to say that native speakers rarely make mistakes when speaking (writing can be a different matter) but can be prone to slips of the tongue and errors. Being a native speaker, they can get away with much more than a non-native so do be careful when trying to adopt any non-standard versions of grammar, pronunciation etc.. that you hear.

Below are six examples of the kind of ‘non-standard’ language usage that you might hear (or see), an explanation of why it is used and some tips on whether to use it or not.

less vs fewer

This is a particular bugbear of mine but, alas, the word ‘fewer’ seems to be disappearing from English in favour of  ‘less’. You will hear less people all the time and it has become quite acceptable. Personally I wouldn’t get into the bad habit of using it as it would be bad written style and should you use it in any English language examination it would most likely be marked as incorrect.

I was/were sat

We were (or even was sat) sat at the bus stop when we saw the accident. My inclination is that this is regional and also uneducated usage. It is not correct standard English but you will hear it used fairly frequently. In regions of the UK where it is commonly used it is acceptable but would not be correct when written. As a non-native speaker it would probably come across as bad English. (Unless you were in a position where you needed  to accommodate to a group.)

could/would of

This is usually written and is wrong. The correct form is could’ve/would’ve but it would appear that the user is confusing ‘ve for of. They would sound very similar when spoken and in some areas (especially northern England) the ‘ve is actually pronounced of.

me and him are going ….

This is very commonly heard and there is sometimes much confusion among English speakers about the use of subject and object pronouns. You may also hear ‘This is from John and I’  instead of John and me. Although quite common it is not considered to be good English.

your/you’re

Like could of, your and you’re seem to get mixed up increasingly. I suspect it is as a result of text messaging where the two can be interchangeable (this is my theory!) and so now it is very common to see your written everywhere instead of you’re. At present it remains incorrect but watch this space you’re could quite possibly become extinct!

it’s/its

The confusion between its and it’s (it is the apostrophe!) has been around for a time and certainly in the UK we have had a bad case of apostropheitis for several years. People are placing apostrophe’s all over the place! A little care will cure this particular usage. A very good book by Lynn Truss called Eats, Shoots and Leaves  gives some excellent insights into our ham-fisted use of punctuation in the UK.

For more on apostrophes have a look at this article. Vanishing apostrophes

To test yourself, have a go at this exercise on Gapfillers.

A final reminder – a native speaker can get away with murdering the language albeit with objections. For a language learner it is not so easy.

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1 Comment »

  1. Yes, sadly speakers of English break the “rules” plenty of times, and my personal annoyances are “me and John,” and the similar (especially here in Australia) “us Aussies,” bringing on the familiar grating of “John and I” and “WE Aussies.”

    I suppose we can also add to this list, “the competition is HOTTING up” (heating), then get started on the gross Americanizations (yes, that Z is deliberate) such as “incentivise” (my answer to the Two Guns question, “have I incentivised you enough?” actually goes, “what you’ve done is given me INCENTIVE ENOUGH to go what you want”)

    Mind you, considering that at the same time in the same language, we pronounce Rapport (a French import) without the silent T, but pronounce quixotic (as pertaining to the behaviour of Don Quixote, and a Spanish import with a silent X) with the X.

    Enough of my rant, thanks for pulling we native English speakers up on our faults.

    Comment by TM — January 24, 2014 @ 10:37 am | Reply


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