My Writers Circle

Writing => All the Write Questions => Topic started by: TheGreyMan on July 12, 2013, 07:47:58 AM

Title: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 12, 2013, 07:47:58 AM
Unfortunately I didn't pay much attention in English classes at school, mainly because i had a horrible beast of an English teacher who almost completely destroyed any interest i had in literature. I think it was because she was fixated on my bad handwriting, me being a leftie.
Her chosen method of torture was public humiliation, she would drag you up in front of the class and publicly ridicule you for your mistakes, a particularly effective way to disengage an adolescent boy from writing I'd say!

Anyway enough therapy for now  :D

My question to you guys is this:

How would you suggest i go about improving my grasp of the rules of written English. I'm afraid i don't really know what a verb or an adjective is, any knowledge i do have is mainly acquired through reading novels and picking it up that way?

Do you guys know of any good online resources for adult learners of English, or perhaps a good book that starts from the basics?



P.S. as for my terrorizing teacher I'm sure there is an evil character role waiting in one of my future books for her.  ;)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 510bhan on July 12, 2013, 08:06:06 AM
There are plenty of resources online if you run a search.

I suggest you don't think of the elements as 'English rules' but more as ingredients for good writing. Compare them to recipes . . . okay so you have an egg -- sometimes it's separated and you use only the white or the yolk, sometimes it's beaten, flour often features in bread/cake/sauce recipes but there are different types requiring different treatment, some sort of fat is usually used oil, butter, lard and then there are sugar, salt and flavourings added at different points to make up the treat. Blimey, then you can go mad with garnishes or accompaniments and create a whole dinner party of writing.

Verbs have tenses -- past [what's happened before either a moment ago or long ago], present [what's happening right now] and future [ what is yet to happen. If you are a native English speaker much of this will come naturally to you but it is important to know the differences for writing so that you don't slip tenses and fill your sentences with muddled chronology.

Nouns -- are things. If you can touch it, smell it, see it, hear it, taste it, feel or imagine it it's a noun, it might be a person [named or pronoun], a place or an object and if it has a special name or title it's a proper noun and it's only proper it gets capital letters to show how special it is, like Trafalgar Square, Mrs Mahoney, The Title of my Next Book etc.

Sentences have to have nouns and verbs -- everything else is extra. She sings. The dog jumped. Henry screamed.

When you start analysing sentence structure it can be really good fun -- honestly.
   
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 12, 2013, 08:21:02 AM
Thank you for your reply.

Yeah i must admit i am surprised to say i do enjoy learning about the way sentences are structured. I like order (I'm a bit OCD  ;)) and discovering that there are rules and conventions behind something i have learnt instinctively is quite sattisfying.  :)

What i am looking for is a basic outline of the rules, something i can refer to if ever i am in doubt. Most of the time i can read a sentence i have written and instinctively know if it is right or wrong, but occasionally there are things that throw me off. For example sometimes i struggle with knowing when exactly to use a capital letter, when to use a comma and how to use hyphens. I tend to use too many commas, because i'm not entirely sure when it is right to end a sentence.

P.S. I like rules, they make me feel good   :D

Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 510bhan on July 12, 2013, 08:47:22 AM
Look up those items in a search and you'll probably find something with examples to show you what is usually used -- remember English grammar is reasonably strict, but it allows great latitude for style and as long as the syntax isn't mangled, you can see broken rules everywhere that read well.

If you can afford it and particularly like reading about rules, one of the textbooks for teaching English as a second language that TESOL tutors learn from has heaps and heaps and heaps of examples and explanations of how English is correctly used.

http://www.amazon.com/TESOL-Textbooks-for-Teachers/lm/R23RSE9VLJSFG0  This is Amazon . . .  but I can't see the book my husband used and I can't recall it right at the moment, but it was a beauty -- info about modality and auxiliary verbs, formal and informal expression and the use of tenses was great. I'll try to find out from him what the title was.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 12, 2013, 09:00:46 AM
Thank you very much, i will have a browse throught those now.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 12, 2013, 09:02:39 AM
This looks like the one for me.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Grammar-Dummies-UK-Edition/dp/0470057521/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373634087&sr=8-1&keywords=english+grammar+for+dummies
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: heidi52 on July 12, 2013, 09:08:39 AM
Good for you for wanting to learn. Bad teachers suck and can do a lot of damage but that's over and I'm glad you are moving on. It sounds like you have a good command of English so you probably use a lot of the rules without knowing them.

You'll learn a lot here reading, critiquing and posting. People will point out grammar errors. MWC is an invaluable learning resource.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 510bhan on July 12, 2013, 09:20:35 AM
Good for you. ;)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 510bhan on July 12, 2013, 10:01:18 AM
This might be handy too -- http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/b.html#bugbears

 ;)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 12, 2013, 10:01:46 AM
As i see it a good command of the language is a basic tool for a writer, if i am going to be sucessful at this i need to have a good tool kit. It would be like a mechanic trying to fix your car with cheap and broken tools.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 12, 2013, 10:05:48 AM
This might be handy too -- http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/b.html#bugbears

 ;)

This looks just like the sort of thing i was after, i do like that it opens on the British English section too  ;)

I will have a good read through this and report back later.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: ChrisHarrison on July 12, 2013, 03:42:31 PM
I was only thinking yesterday how many English speaking people, and I include myself, are still unsure about English grammar. Why didn't they teach us any of this at school? Bloody comprehension, that's all we were ever taught: how to read a big paragraph and answer questions about what it said.

I would sue, but the school was demolished decades ago.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 510bhan on July 12, 2013, 03:48:10 PM
Depends where you went to school and when . . . I learned all sorts of aspects of English Language and used to spend time 'parsing' -- sorting out subject, object and predicate, drawing little boxes to show which part of speech related to what, clauses, subordinate clauses, compound and complex sentences . . . many of these things have returned in the past decade, and are part of the National Strategy [formerly the National Curriculum] for Literacy in Primary Schools. :o
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: protekme on July 12, 2013, 04:12:45 PM
I believe it to be the same in every language. My mother used to tell us, grammar is one of the most important subjects. (What?)  If you learn it well, it will serve you all your life. She might have been right. Because of her, I loved grammar and was good at it (I was probably good at it because I loved it--or maybe I loved it because I was good at it--whatever).

I hated composition, though, and would have a headache and feel really sick when it was time (on Friday afternoon) to write a one-page piece. I would take it home to my Mom, and she'd do it for me. (Not good). But when I had no choice and had to finish it before leaving class, I'd do it and always got a good mark. I realise today, that I was lazy. I did not like to force my brain to create a story. . .

Wow!! Look at me today: I've been forcing my brain for ten years to create something that might not even go anywhere. I must be a masochist.

It's never too late to learn, TheGreyman. . . but you have to want to force yourself and believe it's important.

Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: ChrisHarrison on July 12, 2013, 04:35:53 PM
Depends where you went to school and when . . . I learned all sorts of aspects of English Language and used to spend time 'parsing' -- sorting out subject, object and predicate, drawing little boxes to show which part of speech related to what, clauses, subordinate clauses, compound and complex sentences . . . many of these things have returned in the past decade, and are part of the National Strategy [formerly the National Curriculum] for Literacy in Primary Schools. :o

Wigan, all through the 1970s. It was a Catholic school and we spent 99% of the time singing hymns and praying. The other 1% was spent wishing we didn't have to.  ;)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 2par on July 12, 2013, 05:22:23 PM
Haha, aww, Chris. I went to catholic schools, 1st through 12th, and had a great education. I learned a lot more than my public school friends.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: ChrisHarrison on July 12, 2013, 05:37:24 PM
You sure they were catholic? Doesn't sound catholic to me: great education!  ;) Did you not spend all morning singing hymns until the deputy headmaster was satisfied you weren't all evil whippersnappers?
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: jeff on July 13, 2013, 09:39:40 AM
By far the best way of learning the 'rules' of good English is by reading good novels.
Then when you write, compare what you've written with what you've read.
Books on grammar are really just a way of making explicit things that you learn implicitly.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 13, 2013, 12:06:09 PM
I like that Jeff, i do think that most of my knowledge of the technicalities of my language i have learned from my favourite novels.
I was just looking for a good website to use as a reference, for when things come a little unstuck.  ;)

One question i do have though is about the differences between British English and American English. I know about the different spellings but are there any differences in grammar to keep an eye out for? Apaert from their annoying way of writing dates down.  >:(
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: jeff on July 13, 2013, 02:30:22 PM
Differences between British and American English? Oh so many, where to begin? This is worth a thread all to itself...

In U.K the first floor of a building is called the ground floor, the second floor is called the first floor, the third is called the second... etc.

In U.K. private schools are called Public schools, and public schools are called whatever stupid name the government has just invented to make parents think things are changing for the better.

in U.K. the last letter of the alphabet is called Zed. That rapper should be callled Jay Zed. The Zombie story is World War Zed.

More seriously, the number 157 is one hundred AND fifty seven, not one hundred fifty seven.

The eleventh of september is 11/9. The ninth of novemeber is 9/11

Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: intercat on July 13, 2013, 04:00:48 PM
i envy you guys your zed.

i was extremely lucky to go to decent schools, considering i grew up in the american south (shudder).  still, i think i learned more about english grammar and syntax through studying other languages.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 510bhan on July 13, 2013, 04:19:34 PM
i envy you guys your zed.

i was extremely lucky to go to decent schools, considering i grew up in the american south (shudder).  still, i think i learned more about english grammar and syntax through studying other languages.

Ditto that. ;)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: Nick on July 14, 2013, 05:33:03 AM
Just a quick reminder that our forum sponsors, SDN, publish a downloadable guide called Essential English for Authors, which is designed to bring anyone's English up to a publishable standard in the shortest possible time. Check it out here! (http://partners.selfdevelopment.net/ref/6785/8da375d8)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 14, 2013, 05:49:18 AM

In U.K. private schools are called Public schools, and public schools are called whatever stupid name the government has just invented to make parents think things are changing for the better.


We have this in the UK now Jeff. The government has invented 'Academies' to pass on the burden of running costs to private businesses  ???

Just a quick reminder that our forum sponsors, SDN, publish a downloadable guide called Essential English for Authors, which is designed to bring anyone's English up to a publishable standard in the shortest possible time. Check it out here! (http://partners.selfdevelopment.net/ref/6785/8da375d8)

Looks good Nick, i'll have a look at that.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: Jo Bannister on July 15, 2013, 04:22:45 PM
I'm with Jeff - if you're reading good books, you're absorbing good grammar organically.  If you can tell the difference between  good and bad books, you're already half-way there.  One observation: everything you write matters.  Find out where the capital I is on your key-board!
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: intercat on July 15, 2013, 04:50:04 PM
"They do say Britain and America are two countries separated by the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s true. No, they say, “two countries separated by a common language,” that’s the line; it’s an Oscar Wilde line, I think. And we do pronounce things in a different way, like you say “caterpillar” and we say “caterpillar,” and… You say “aluminum” and we say “aluminium.” You say, “centrifugal” and we say “centrifugal.” You say, “leisure” and we say “lizuray.” You say “baysil” and we say “bahsil.” You say “’erbs” and we say “herbs,” because there’s a fucking “H” in it… But you spell through THRU, and I’m with you on that, ‘cause we spell it “THRUFF,” and that’s trying to cheat at Scrabble."

- eddie izzard
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 15, 2013, 05:08:46 PM
 :o

One observation: everything you write matters.  Find out where the capital I is on your key-board!

Keyboard surely.  ;)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: Gayle on July 17, 2013, 12:08:14 PM
still, i think i learned more about english grammar and syntax through studying other languages.

There have be studies done in Canada regarding the effect of studying a second language in childhood on the brain. They've found that people who study a second language before the age of 12 have better reasoning skills as adults then people didn't. If you studied a second language as a child that may be why it helped you understand English better; it improved your reasoning skills.

Getting back to U.K. versus U.S. English, I find the "snobbishness" that people have regarding this infuriating. I've seen people in critiquing groups who roll their eyes if they see someone use a different kind of spelling then they themselves use. All I can think is, "really? That's your biggest concern? The publishing house you send your manuscript to is going enforce their own house style on it anyway, so as long your consistent in whichever spelling system you choose to use, what does it matter?"

I've been playing Lumosity.com games and one of them in particular infuriates me every time I play. It's call Word Bubbles. They give you two or three letters and you have to come up with as many words that start with that letter combination as quickly as possible. Trouble is the game was designed in the US and doesn't allow UK spellings. Being Canadian, I was taught UK spelling at school, so I'm constantly losing points because the game doesn't recognize the words I know I'm spelling correctly. And I can't use the US spellings on every word because I don't know all the US spellings. Drives me bonkers!
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: protekme on July 17, 2013, 12:40:40 PM
JK Rowling is from the UK, right? Well, her last book uses US spelling. Why would that be? Her choice or the industry?

Gayle - Where, in Canada, were you taught UK spelling? Allow me to differ. Unless you went to private schools and had English teachers, but even there the system would require uniformity.  Why is it then that you write "realize'" the US, Canadian way?

Your reporting on the study is interesting. I know, from experience, that when learning a foreign language, even as an adult,, forces your brain and you learn the rules in that language, sometimes better than the one who was born with it. Also, it makes you reconsider the rules in yours. I never understood the "subjunctive form" in French. I must have been sick that day, but when I took Spanish, I finally understood why and how subjunctive was used.  They also say that the more languages you learn, the easier it gets. I'm not so sure about that. It could be because you get used to learning and force yourself.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: Gayle on July 17, 2013, 01:19:23 PM
JK Rowling is from the UK, right? Well, her last book uses US spelling. Why would that be? Her choice or the industry?
Most likely, the industry. Each publishing house has it's own "house style". The publishers also take into account which market they want target the marketing towards. If a book is going to be targeted at the US market, then they'll use US spelling.

As for Canadian education, realize with a zed is a new trait to Canadian spelling brought on by features like spell check's autocorrect which now won't let me spell it with an "s" without switching to UK spelling. Hence the zed in my post. The Canadian dictionary on both Mac and Windows (both American designed programs) doesn't recognize "realize" or "recognize" with an "s", so the Canadian academic system has come to accept the zed spelling to simplify computer use for their students.

I was educated in Alberta. We were told that both "s" and "z" spellings were acceptable but that "s" was what we should use on academic papers. Until autocorrect came along and screwed that up.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 510bhan on July 17, 2013, 01:26:41 PM
We decided to lift it a bit from British into a rather global English which might be easier to understand for a broader audience. This way, we did not have to adjust the book for another market as happened to the Harry Potter books (so that the world-renowned wizard would not have to walk around in a small girl’s dress rather than a pullover – the word jumper is understood quite differently in different parts of the world).  

Above -- what some publishers do and why. Explains why HP has US spelling/terms. Taken from: http://safkhetpublishing.wordpress.com/
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: TheGreyMan on July 17, 2013, 02:38:06 PM
We decided to lift it a bit from British into a rather global English which might be easier to understand for a broader audience. This way, we did not have to adjust the book for another market as happened to the Harry Potter books (so that the world-renowned wizard would not have to walk around in a small girl’s dress rather than a pullover – the word jumper is understood quite differently in different parts of the world).  

Above -- what some publishers do and why. Explains why HP has US spelling/terms. Taken from: http://safkhetpublishing.wordpress.com/

This is fascinating. It makes sense to me really. I guess with the amount of American culture we enjoy here in the UK i have learnt to accept and understand the slight differences in language (though i do still get a little bit of a shock when i hear an american sitcom use the word 'fanny'  :o ).
I guess i have never really thought about the effect going the other way over the pond, i guess that Americans would be less exposed to our way of talking, therefore the differences would be more pronounced to them.

I for one like the idea of a global English.  :)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: 2par on July 17, 2013, 03:51:45 PM
oh, not so, grey man. We Americans are well exposed to British programming and language. In fact, more Brits can find work here in the arts than Americans can in England. It's a sore spot with some, but I don't find a problem with it.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: protekme on July 17, 2013, 04:52:35 PM
 ;D ;D

Thanks for the explanation

Gayle-- You must be the young generation. In my time, Eastern Canada, Ottawa, was teaching realize with z. We never heard of s. I found out only later that British wrote it differently.
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
Post by: Gayle on July 17, 2013, 05:35:38 PM
I'm from the "middle" generation now. I'm in my late 30's.  ;)
Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
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Title: Re: Learning the rules of the English language.
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