Here's why everything you think you know about grammar is wrong

Here's why everything you think you know about grammar is wrong

Pedants beware: journalist and author Oliver Kamm has laid down a challenge to pedants everywhere in his new book, Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage.

In the book Kamm attempts to prove that talk of a "decline in standards" in grammar is nonsense.

Here are some of the gems we learnt about grammar from the book.

1. Most rules are rubbish

If you've been cursing your school for not teaching you subtleties of prepositions, make like Frozen and let it go. Kamm says:

“You are already a master of grammar. Trust me on this. You became one when, as a young child, you acquired a set of rules – whether of Standard English, or another variety of English, or another language. Second, there’s no cause for alarm about the state of the English language, which is in excellent health and can look after itself.”

Don’t you just feel better about yourself? Go forth, grammar Gods and Goddesses of the world.

2. It’s fine to start a sentence with because

Your teachers might have given sentences beginning with “because” a liberal coat of red ink, but Kamm is insistent it can be used to start a sentence – and not just because he says so.

“You would have to be a very extreme pedant indeed to argue that beginning a sentence with a subordinating conjunction (such as unless or although) is ungrammatical. It isn’t.”

So now you know.

3. To happily write, split infinitives

“If there is an objection to split infinitives at all, it’s solely aesthetic, not grammatical, and even then applies only under some circumstances. The split infinitive to boldly go is excellent English, as it puts the stress in the right place.”

4. People haven’t not used double negatives for centuries

They may be sneered at as the linguistic trademark of your average Jeremy Kyle guest but double negatives have been used for so long, Kamm argues, that they should be considered fair usage.

“A non-Standard construction such as the double negative (I didn’t see nothing) has been used for centuries despite being deplored as illogical by the pedants.”

And if that doesn’t convince the naysayers, bamboozle them with your knowledge of French. Kamm says:

“French has double negatives ( je ne sais pas or je ne sais rien) and no one claims they violate logic.”

5. Using, like, slang may be wrong – but not because of grammar, bro

The argument thread through Kamm’s book is that grammar pedants are unhelpfully obsessed with non-Standard English. He uses slang to explain that some things that are incorrect aren’t necessarily a bad idea.

He cites an encounter between actress Emma Thompson and a group of school children as an example:

“Urging pupils to avoid slang words such as like (as in I was, like.. .) and innit, she [Thompson] concluded for her teenaged audience: ‘Just don’t do it. Because it makes you sound stupid and you’re not stupid.’ This was wise advice proffered for the right reason."

6. Imply, infer - who cares?

If you’re stuck with that one colleague who refuses who simply won't accept this rule, refer them to Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Milton’s Paradise Lost, which both use infer freely.

7. Irregardless is a word (but irregardless that doesn’t mean you should use it)

Even so, Kamm says regardless does the job just as well.

8. Haters gonna hate, pedants gonna pedant

Whatever happens, someone will have a problem with English standards, Kamm says.

The English language is not static, nor are its boundaries clear. Nor is it a language tied to the British Isles. English is a river. Its content is always changing and it has many tributaries. Its characteristics include impermanence. Indeed, there can be no single definition of the English language.

More: To split infinitives or not? The Independent's John Rentoul and The Times's Oliver Kamm talk superstition, convention and pedantry

'Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage', by Oliver Kamm (£12.99, Weidenfeld & Nicolson), [is out now]2

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