When people ask me questions about English they mostly just want to know how to say something, and those questions are easy. I just tell them: Like this. Sometimes they ask “Why?” and those questions are much harder. The answers can include roots and rules and exceptions to rules, but many times the answer to those questions is: Because. Because that’s the way we say it.
There are many rules. There are many rules people disagree about. There are many times when we don’t follow the rules. This makes learning English hard. It also makes explaining English hard! It means, sometimes, you should disagree with the teacher and argue about what is the correct answer and why.
So let’s fight! I’ll give you some examples of how I have corrected people’s English.
Can you find all the mistakes?
Can you explain what the errors are?
Can you explain your corrections?
Most importantly, can you find and fix the things I don’t see and the mistakes I make. Can you Beat the Teacher?
WHAT KIND OF ANSWERS ARE THESE?
These are my answers. They come from what I know about English: from the people who taught me, the books I read, the people I argue with, and the new ways I have had to think about English when trying to answer students’ questions. I am American and right there you will find lots of funny little differences between American English and British English. I hope my answers are answers that you and I can understand. Sometimes I read books about English and I find answers that I don’t really understand. They are too complicated. It helps me to keep things simple, I hope I can do that for you.
RULES, RULES, RULES
The rules in English are not always the same. They are not the same in England and America. They will not be the same tomorrow as they are today. When people change the way they speak they begin creating a new rule. People may stop following the old rule. When teachers and people who write about English grammar start changing the way they speak, and especially the way they write, we really will have a new rule. Not everybody likes this and we argue with each other about what is correct. Sometimes when we argue like this we cannot find an exact answer and we just keep disagreeing. Always when we argue like this we have a better understanding of English. It makes our brains and our language stronger and more beautiful. Listen to a drumming circle sometime or watch people dancing. There is a rhythm. There are rules. At first everyone might be doing the same thing but pretty soon people start mixing things up. They follow but don’t obey the rhythm. In English we do have to know the rules even if we are going to break them. While we have to keep within the rules for everything to make sense, breaking them beautifully changes everything.
Let’s not think about what the rules prohibit. Let’s think about all the things they make possible.
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