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Should We Make Sure Everything We Say Is Grammatically Super-correct? My Opinion on Correct English!

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Here’s how to improve your English listening skills when listening to my video: put the headphones on, playback the video and write it all down while listening to it!

Video Transcript Below:

Hi guys, it’s Robby here from EnglishHarmony.com and welcome back to my video blog!

In today’s video we’re going to discuss the correctness of the English language.

And the fact of the matter is that there’s so many things that we say in our English conversations that would be considered as incorrect if we went by the textbook English grammar rules. And if you paid particular attention to the last sentence – I said something incorrectly!

I said “there’s so many things” whereas in reality I should have said “there are so many things” because the noun “things” obviously is in plural in this case so the verb “to be” should have been conjugated to reflect that, I should have said “there are so many things”.

And this is just one of those examples where something that’s incorrect, it has been accepted in the general public and everyone speaks like that and there’s nothing wrong with it.

So it begs the question and as a matter of fact this particular phrase “it begs the question – to beg a question” has also been criticized as being incorrect English, right? In reality we should say “it raises a question”. But this phrase “it begs a question” is also used by everyone. And I would say that it actually makes it correct.

I Believe Correctness is Determined by the People Who Speak English!

Just think about it, if 90% of the entire English speaking population uses a particular phrase or a particular means of expression, doesn’t that make it correct? Because at the end of the day what is the English language?

I would define the English language as means of communication used by a specific group of people, right? And this particular group of people is enormous. It spans the entire world. It’s millions upon millions of people so the English language belongs to the people. It’s the people who use the language!

And if the people decide somehow – well, obviously there’s no single institution that would make that decision. There hasn’t been an election to decide whether the phrase “it begs the question” is correct or not but you get the drift, right? If the people just use it and nobody has any issues with it, why not make it acceptable?

Yes, if we dig deep into the origins of the saying it might not make sense because that’s what it is, right? “To beg the question” doesn’t kind of make any logical sense. And the way we use it we actually mean to say it raises the question. But just because everyone says it that way, uses that way I think that changes it, you know and make it correct because everyone knows what that phrase means.

It’s not as if you’d walk up to someone on the street and tell them “it begs a question” and they’d be like – “why are you saying that? It makes no sense!” Nobody would say that. Everyone would understand what you’re saying therefore I think it’s correct.

And as a matter of fact, there’s a whole array of sayings that I’ve been using my whole life simply because I’ve been mimicking other native English speakers. I heard them used left, right and center and then at some stage down the line I found out that they’re actually incorrect.

I’ve Been Mimicking Native Speakers and Now It Turns Out Some of It is Wrong?!

For instance the typical saying “near miss”, right? If an accident almost occurred you say “it’s a near miss”. If you think about it – it doesn’t make sense because if the accident didn’t happen then it’s not a near miss, it’s a near hit because the hit would be the accident, right? And then if it didn’t happen by an inch then it’s a near hit. A near miss would be the actual accident happening, right? But people just say the phrase “near miss” to describe a near hit and everyone uses it that way and that’s what makes it proper, right? That’s what makes it correct at least in my book!

And let me give you some more examples. For example “fit as a fiddle”, right? I always knew that people say it and I’ve said it myself, “fit as a fiddle” – to describe a person who is very fit.

And now that I did some research online before recording this video I just looked up some phrases that people have been using wrong, right? That are incorrect going by the standard, rigid English grammar and linguistic rules I would imagine, right? Turns out that “fit as a fiddle” is wrong – “in good health” is what we should be saying, right?

So there you go, there’s so many expressions that I thought were… I didn’t even think about it – I just knew what way people use them and I’ve been using them myself, right? And then turns out they’re wrong!

No – They’re Not Wrong! That’s Real Life English!

But this is the very argument, my friends. I don’t think they’re wrong just because some higher authority – I even don’t know who they are, some academicians sitting in high seats, top universities in America and in England, all of a sudden they decide what’s wrong and what’s not wrong.

Well, I suppose to a certain degree we have to oblige by those rules because if there was no authority determining what’s wrong and what’s right and what type of English be taught in schools then the standard would degrade very rapidly. It would deteriorate in no time and then all of a sudden in a couple of decades down the line maybe each and every single region would start speaking completely differently if people were allowed to speak the way they want and wouldn’t be teaching their young proper English rules, that would probably – what would start happening.

So I suppose we need some unified standards and all that. But what I’m saying is these standards are maybe a little bit too rigid. Especially those academicians are very unwilling to change their attitudes I would imagine because they’re sticking to the rules I would imagine and that’s what makes them say these things that people are saying this or that particular thing incorrectly while at the same time everyone knows that for decades it’s been accepted as normal part of English, right?

So that’s just my 5 cents guys. Tell me what you think about it in the comments below and chat to you soon, my friends. Thanks for watching this video! Don’t forget to like it and don’t forget to subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already done so and see you around!

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • No problem Juhapekka, I just thought I’d ask you but it’s alright if it’s not possible now! Speaking of the Finnish partitive – yeap, I can clearly imagine how someone would be struggling with a very specific grammar case if they were trying to learn it as part of a structured approached where everything would have to conform to specific rules. Context is the king! 😉

  • Juhapekka

    I’m glad that I can contribute something to your blog. And speaking of Finnish cases just a little bit more, the partitive is even better example in some sense because no linguist has been able to come up with a set of rules that would allow a foreigner to use the partitive case without making mistakes. The partitive case is almost a surefire way to spot a Finnish speaking foreigner because I have read that there are quite a few Finnish speaking foreigners whose grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation and even an accent are flawless, but they still make mistakes with the partitive. So, in the case of the Finnish partitive, contextual learning is the one and only way to learn it if a learner want to master it.

    And when it comes to your suggestion, thanks for asking me, but I’m not sure if I’m up for it. But at least we can put it on the back burner.

    And even if I were up for it, arranging a Skype interview isn’t possible with my computer right now because my computer malfunctioned some time ago and certain functions and devices don’t work anymore including Skype and camcorder and sound recorder, for example. Sometimes the speakers and my internet connection have problems, too, and I have to try a few tricks to get them working. It seems that my computer can’t be fixed fully and I’ll have that technical issue until I buy a new computer.

  • Hi Juhapekka,

    Your example of the new Finnish grammar rules is the perfect illustration of how meaningless grammar studies are, and I couldn’t be happier that you’re on the right track with the contextual learning and that you’ve done away with the terrible habit of analyzing your speech when speaking!

    Hope you’re going to stick around for the months and years to come and I’m looking forward to reading more of your superb comments!

    Thanks so much Juhapekka!

    Robby

    P.S.

    How about we did a Skype interview about all these matters for the blog audience to enjoy? You’re such a massive contributor to my blog and I would just love to do something like that! If you’re up for it – just get in touch with me here: http://englishharmony.com/contact-me/

  • Juhapekka

    Hi Robby,

    It’s been a while again and it’s nice to be back!

    Speaking of grammar analysis, I have noticed over and over again that it serves no practical purpose, indeed. By and large, I don’t do it at all and actually many illogical phrases you used in your video sounded perfectly natural for me. For example, the phrase “it begs a question” sounded completely natural for me and I even wondered why it has been criticized as being incorrect English. I have probably learned it contextually and that’s why it sounded natural. Nowadays I am much more used to take every phrase for what it is, but sometimes I still tend to analyze. It’s really hard to break that habit completely and to take every single phrase as it is because about ten years long traditional English studies have taken their toll on me. Ten years spent with traditional studies is a long time and I have been using the right method only two or three years or so. But anyway, I have progressed quite well because over three years ago I analyzed pretty much everything and it interfered with my speech all the time and now I analyze only sometimes and when I analyze, I don’t usually do it while speaking. Perhaps I have learned to separate analysis and my speaking process in my mind and that’s why analysis isn’t as harmful to my speech as it was before. Having said that, my goal is to get rid of analysis altogether and to embrace the contextual learning method completely and I’m going to stick with your method no matter what. I can only wonder how long it would have taken from me to realize what I really have to do in order to improve my English if I hadn’t heard the right advice from you.

    When it comes to my comparison, one of my points was that grammar rules and any grammar descriptions are too complex that we could use them while speaking and it’s also difficult to come up with rules that don’t have any exceptions. And as my comparison between grammar and natural laws tried to illustrate, grammar rules are inaccurate and artificial. In addition to that, they are even misleading and confusing. I noticed it again when I was reading a new Finnish grammar book some time ago. Finnish linguists had come up with new rules for 15 Finnish cases. For example, one of the changes is slight in some sense, but it’s a big enough that foreign Finnish learners will get even more confused with Finnish cases. I don’t remember exactly how the new rules differed from the old rules, but it was something like the following: What was the Finnish accusative case before is now the nominative or the genitive and whether it’s the nominative or the genitive depends on a few other rules and if this isn’t enough, the book also said that under certain linguistic circumstances those rules don’t apply and the Finnish accusative is still Finnish accusative and so on and so forth. As an additional twist, I also happened to read that some other linguists don’t agree with those new Finnish grammar terms, but they don’t agree with the old grammar terms, either. Could it get any more confusing? As a native Finnish speaker, I can only imagine how confusing it is to foreign Finnish learners! I just told this to illustrate how right you are in the blog post/video, which you linked, in saying that learning specific grammar terms is meaningless. It’s really meaningless if even linguists don’t agree with each other which grammar terms a learner should use. I’m sure that there are similar examples in the English grammar books, too, but I can’t really say because I haven’t bothered to use English grammar books that much. I wouldn’t read Finnish or English grammar books at all, but in my university, some unavoidable courses, which are included in my curriculum, require to read a few grammar books.

    Your example of a falling apple was a very vivid example to show how mad it is to learn grammar rules and to try to understand grammar descriptions.

  • Hi Juhapekka,

    It’s so nice to have you back!

    Now, as for the first part of your comment – I actually published a video about it a while back, you may want to check it out here: http://englishharmony.com/dont-study-english-grammar/ – and what it’s all about is – you don’t have to study the grammar terms and try and figure out what this or that particular word means in a sentence in terms of its syntax etc. – it serves no practical purpose. So yes, in a way it’s like comparing catching a falling apple with learning the Newton’s law hoping that it would help you catch the apple!
    As for the construct “all but” – I totally agree with the answer in the sense that it’s to be used when something is very close to a particular state. So in your example “the war is all but lost” it does mean that the war is pretty much lost and it’s only a matter of time before it’s actually lost.
    Personally I would use the word “but” in a similar way in phrases such as “I’ve no other option but to…” (the only option I have is to…) or “…to name but a few” (to name a few out of many), and I’ve never heard anyone use it in the context of “he’s all but tired”, but generally speaking I would not say or use something that would confuse me! “He’s all but tired” doesn’t sound good to my ears because I have to admit it’s a bit confusing (is he tired or is he not tired – just like you’re saying in the comment!) so I’d just not use it, simple as! 😉
    Bottom line – just like you said, don’t analyze anything, take every expression, phrase or speech pattern for what it is and don’t question why something is said a certain way!
    Cheers,
    Robby

  • Juhapekka

    I think that the whole should I study grammar or not-issue is partly a misconception. What I mean by that is that the word “grammar” can mean two different things: 1) Natural, real grammar or 2) linguists’ grammar, which is only a description of the natural, real grammar. We can draw parallels between grammar and scientific law: A scientific law is just the description of a real, natural law. For example, Newton’s law of universal gravitation and its more accurate version Einstein’s law of universal gravitation are just the descriptions of the real, natural law of universal gravitation. And as I said, the exact same reasoning applies to the relation between a natural, real grammar and linguists’ grammar. The problem is that many people don’t believe that the only way to learn real grammar is to memorize naturally occurring speech patterns. It’s the only way because it may be impossible for linguists to come up with the perfectly accurate description of a grammar. I’m not saying that linguists’ descriptions of a grammar are totally useless because sometimes they are very handy, but only as a reference. However, by and large we should learn grammar naturally by memorizing naturally occurring speech patterns and not by memorizing linguists’ descriptions, which are, of course, only descriptions.

    What do you think, Robby? How valid is my comparison between grammar and natural laws?

    But anyway, there are still a few English idioms I tend to confuse like “all but”: “He’s all but tired”. Is he very energetic and not tired at all because he’s everything but/except tired? However, when I looked it up by a simple google search, it could mean he is tired or even very tired? According to http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/all+but it would mean “He is almost tired, practically tired or quite tired”. Confusing, but it’s an example of the expressions that don’t necessarily make any logical sense. I also found a great explanation about it on the Reddit-forum. I copy-paste the explanation below:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/etymology/comments/30l1mt/when_did_all_but_stop_meaning_everything_except/

    Q: ‘In a sentence like “the war was all but lost”, this is apparently supposed to mean “the war was practically lost”. But of course “all but” literally means “everything except”, so “the war was all but lost” literally means “the war was everything except lost”. So in particular, the war was won. But apparently that’s not what the sentence is supposed to mean. When did the phrase “all but” reverse meaning to become nonsensical and nonliteral? Has it always been this way?’

    A: ‘It’s meant to be read as “the war was almost completely lost”. So you wouldn’t say “the war was lost” because it wasn’t technically lost yet, but you’d say “the war was all but lost” as in the war could he described by all words akin to “lost” except “lost” itself, since it technically wasn’t lost yet. It’s an interesting and somewhat poetic construct, but it still makes literal sense.’

    So, perhaps “all but” still makes literal and logical sense!!??

    But obviously, there is no need to figure out whether a particular idiom or expression makes logical sense or not if we don’t want to challenge ourselves intellectually. We can just take every expression as it is, as native speakers use it without analyzing anything.