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What is Correct English ?

January 26, 2006


I don’t know about you but I feel that the language is changing so fast that it is increasingly difficult to give students hard and fast rules for correct English.

Of course, the language is in a constant change of flux and modern English bears little resemblance to Old English. But as I listen to native speakers I notice that many forms are in use that only a few years ago most grammarians would have pronounced “incorrect” . . .

. . . It is, for example, common to hear an adjective used in place of an adverb as in: “he did brilliant in his exams”. Many people give a singular verb after a plural pronoun: “we was up really late”/ “you was all wrong”. I think I have mentioned before that the adverbial comparative –er-/ier is going out of fashion so that people say ‘he’s more happy” rather than “he’s happier”. Verbs are affected by this creeping laxness too. It is not at all unusual to hear conditionals expressed: if he would get a job, he should pass his exams”. And of course the meanings of words are constantly shuffling around; my pet hate is “wicked": used as a term of praise and politicians are always using euphemisms such as “collateral damage", which usually means the mass murder of defenceless civilians.

I think the whole tone of the paragraph I have just written oozes disapproval. Yet of course I know that change is inevitable as language is organic. It is just that we seem to live in an age that lacks lofty aspirations and principles, such ideals being written off as “elitist”, so that just as we seem to accept junk food and low-grade popular culture, so we seem willing to see the richness and subtlety of English slide into sloppiness and imprecision. Guess I’m just a boring old has-been.


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  1. Marilyn Says:

    I cannot believe that anyone that is paid to teach English would even consider such junky grammar! I am not that straight laced but really, one must go by the book.

    I think I'll rent "Good Morning Vietnam"...haven't seen it in years.


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