WHAT IS GOOD ENGLISH?
English is our language. The degree to how correct it is depends on the situation in which it’s used and the level of education of the user. Educators are more likely to want perfection in their use of English, but laborers get by just fine communicating in less perfect English. When many people speak of correct English, they’re referring to the Queen’s English–that spoken in Britain.
Unfortunately, American English and British English are practically two different languages. While they share many of the same grammatical rules, the usage of those rules differs dramatically. British English is much more formal in its usage. On the other hand, American English is decidedly informal, and it’s getting more informal as time goes on.
WRITTEN ENGLISH VS. SPOKEN ENGLISH
It used to be that written English had a more formal tone than spoken English. Today, we’re writing in an informal, conversational tone. But that doesn’t mean that the rules of grammar need to be thrown out. What it does mean is that writing in English today is becoming less complicated.
Grammatical rules, once learned, must often be broken by a good writer for emphasis. While spoken English depends on voice inflections, written English doesn’t have that luxury, so contemporary writers often break simple grammatical rules to compensate. But before you can break the rules, you have to learn them.
THE LEVELS OF USAGE
There are four basic levels of usage: formal, informal, casual, and colloquial. Formal grammatical usage is now delegated to governmental laws and proclamations. Informal usage governs almost all general writing–articles, short stories, novels, letters, reports, memos, etc. Casual usage can be found in letters or E-mails to friends. And colloquial usage depends on a particular region of the country. This last level can be a problem for any writer who writes for a wider audience and should be avoided.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD USAGE
Writing and its usage of grammar are getting simpler. Today’s writer need only have a solid basic understanding of English grammar to communicate. Compare writing of the early 20th century with that done today and you’ll find a much more formal and complicated use of grammar. But it’s important for all writers to use good grammar, even if it’s just basic. While a poor use of grammar reflects badly on the writer, a good use makes his or her message come through loud and clear. When reading anyone’s work , you should be more interested in how he or she gets their message across to you, the reader, than in how intelligent they are by judging their use of English grammar.
Good grammar isn’t merely grammar which is free from unconventionalities, or even immoralities. It’s the triumph of the communication process, the use of words which create in the reader's mind the thing as the writer conceived it.
We all use grammar whenever we speak or write. Grammar is the system by which a language works. When we want to describe the way a language works, we talk about its grammar. If you grew up speaking English, you learned the basics of grammar at an early age. And by the time you could put together sentences, you had learned some very complicated grammar.
Later in school you studied grammar as a subject, as a way of describing what happens to language when you use it. In this sense, grammar is in the same class as physics. Both are concerned with systems that are governed by principles. Physics describes how light, sound, electricity, and other kinds of energy and matter work. Grammar describes how language works. It categorizes words by function (naming, asserting, modifying, and so forth) and part of speech (noun, verb, or other descriptive terms that enable us to talk about words in sentences) and explains how users of language put single words together into meaningful groups.
A series of words such as door, brown, the, and, old is just a series of isolated English words. Each word makes sense by itself, but they aren't obviously related to one another. But combine them into a meaningful order-- "the old brown door"–and they make sense. English uses several devices--word order, function words, and inflections--for putting words into such combinations.
As in many languages, grammatical meaning in English is largely determined by word order. Sky blue and blue sky mean different things. In the former, sky describes blue. In the second, blue describes the sky.
Look at these examples:
The thief called the lawyer a liar.
The lawyer called the thief a liar.
The liar called the lawyer a thief.
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