Thursday, February 23, 2012

Survey: Grammar Faux Pas or Language Change?

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

I’ve written a couple of pieces for “Teacher Talk” dealing with my observations on how more and more educated English speakers seem to be using the language these days. For the most part, I avoided judging what I listed; I just wanted to point things out and have you think seriously about whether or not the discrete points I focused on should be taught or at least mentioned to students at the appropriate level and time.

What I’d like to do now is offer a little survey to find out what you guys think about 15 items I’m going to list. Please read over each of the following sentences that are reproduced verbatim from what I observed educated English speakers saying on numerous occasions. Then decide whether each sentence sounds acceptable to you or unacceptable. (I know you’ll be honest!☺) Of course you can add any thoughts you have about each sentence or a particular part of each sentence. Your thoughts will be most welcome!

You can post your answers and/or thoughts in the “Comments” section at the end of this piece. I hope you participate in this survey and that we get some meaningful feedback that will get all of us more in touch with how English is being used these days and how we might reconsider teaching certain points of grammar.


1. You never know what psychopaths look like. They can look like you or I.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

2. If folks who have preceded us in history did not do that, as a woman, I’m not sure I would be a member of this legislative assembly.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

3. The study’s author claims that high fructose corn syrup contributes to  adult onset diabetes.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

4. Was there a big argument between she and her fiancé before the altercation?

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

5. The heat pump was broke, so the house remained very cold for two days.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

6. There’s lots of products in the stores these days for teeth whitening.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

7. The kids thought the puppet show was really cool. They were loving it.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

8. We can expect less showers in the forecast over the next day or two.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

9. She picked up Brian and I and drove us to the store to pick up some groceries.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

10. The express checkout is for ten items or less.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

11. The cruise we took up the Danube last spring was so fun!

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

12. We found teeth marks on the victim’s left arm.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

13. We drug the heavy bag of top soil to the flower bed to finish preparing it for our flowers.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

14. If they didn’t lose their compass, they could have found their way out of the woods.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine

15. Me and my secretary were met at the airport by the CEO himself.

 sounds fine                    doesn’t sound fine


Comment from Angela Lawrence
February 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Only sentences 3,7,10, and 12 did not have errors that immediately stood out to me.

Comment from Diane Largent Brooks on Facebook
February 23, 2012 at 2:19 pm

shuddered just reading it.

Comment from Son Nguyen
February 23, 2012 at 3:26 pm

All the sentences above sound unacceptable to me, and here are my suggestions:
1. what –> who, I –> me.
2. did not do –> had not done
3. adult onset diabetes –> the onset of adult diabetes.
4. she –> her
5. broke –> broken
6. There’s –> There’re, teeth –> tooth
7. were loving –> loved
8. less –> fewer, over the next day or two –> over the next three days
9. picked up Brian and I and drove us to –> drove Brian and me to
10. less –> fewer.
11. the Danube –> on the Danube, fun –> funny
12. teeth marks –> tooth marks
13. drug –> dug
14. didn’t lose –> hadn’t lost
15. Me –> I
Some of my suggestions may be wrong due to my poor English. Thanks for your helpful article.

Comment from naleeni
February 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Hi Richard,
It’s abt time someone came out with these anomalies that are now the accepted norm of spoken English. Databases are certainly filled to the brim these days with all these new fangled sentences! Only non-native speakers would be forgiven for some of these all too glaring errors in grammar but still when native speakers use them, exactly what is one to think?

Take No 7 for example – shall we blame McDonald’s for it? I’m lovin’ it. And how does one drug top soil – no 13? But then that could be a new form of slang that us NNS are learning today?!

Comment from Hye Yoon Chung
February 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm

1. I—> me
2. have preceded —> had preceded
3. The study’s author —> The author of the study, adult —> adults’
4.she —> her
5.broke —> broken
6.There’s —> There are
7.were loving it —> loved it
8. no can, shower, day or two —> couple of days
9.I —> me, drove —> took
10.ten items or less —> ten or less items
12.teeth marks —> tooth marks
13.drug —> dragged
14.didn’t lose —> had not lost
15.Me —> I

I am not a native English speaker. I was born and grown up in Asia, but as a teacher who have taught English with Azar for more than 10 years, I would say that rules are rules and fundamentals are fundamentals which should be kept. These days, I could see that there seems no boundaries of native or non-native speakers. In that way, the accuracy of the English language is getting broken. That is why we are learning and teaching grammar. Even though we are accepted some errors in spoken English, I would say to my student to remember and know the accurate rules in mind for former English.

Thanks for sharing your article, Richard.^^

Comment from Hye Yoon Chung
February 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm

… for formal English. ^^;;

Comment from AnnieI
February 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I will never forgive McDonald’s for “I’m lovin’ it”. I’m teaching present progressive to non-native speakers, we note the non-stative verbs, and someone jumps in with “loving is progressive because I see it on TV.”

Comment from Keltie
March 3, 2012 at 11:43 am

We can blame McDonald’s for “lovin it” and yet the progressive used where it shouldn’t be is very common in everyday speech. I think we have to go back to the division between proscriptive and colloquial grammar here. The more people use these forms, the more acceptable they become. Have you noticed any patterns for the use of the simple past in place of the past participle in perfect tenses? Could it be generational? K

Comment from shirley
March 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm

1. me
2. had not done
3. the onset of adult diabetes
4. her
5. was broken
6. there are, tooth whitening
7. They loved it
8. fewer, the next two days
9. me
10. fewer
11.  on the Danube, so much fun
12. tooth
13. dragged
14. hadn’t lost,
15. My secretary and I, by the CEO

There are rules of grammar, but the truth is that language is constantly changing. It always has. We don’t say thee and thou anymore. Almost no one says I or we shall. Perhaps, we should accept that spoken language is not the same as written language.

Comment from Tatiana
March 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I’m a non-native speaker from Russia, I’ve been teaching English for over 23 years.
What I could add is that the errors are so obvious that every Russian teenager who studies English at the Intermediate level will easily feel spot them. The fact is that in our Russian language such errors happen more and more often. Every day speech, colloquial language and its classical version are becoming two different things

Comment from sunita
October 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

I agree with Hye Yoon Chung. Thanks for good article.It gave me assurance of certain findings through my research work dealing with English sentences used by teachers in professional colleges

Pingback from Teacher Talk » Survey Review: Grammar Faux Pas or Language Change?
November 1, 2013 at 11:53 am

[...] want to thank all of you who took the time and put in the effort to respond to my little survey. I really appreciate the help you gave me and the insights that I received from looking over your [...]

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