Author Archive

  • They don’t shoot dead people, do they?

    Posted by on December 16, 2014

    Each Saturday a small section entitled ‘Chris Maslanka’s Puzzles’ appears on the Guardian newspaper’s puzzle page. One puzzle features a ‘Professor Pedanticus’, who – you guessed it – is a pedant, the sort of old-school fuddy-duddy who wants the English language to stay exactly as it was at some idealised point in his past – […]

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  • Stop asking silly questions!

    Posted by on June 18, 2013

    In my last post I mentioned a Telegraph poll which asked innocently: Does grammar matter? Other, equally unanswerable questions are floating around the media, like Is good grammar still important? (why ‘still’?) and Just how bad is bad grammar? I couldn’t say, lacking any appropriate measure of ‘badness’ – it sounds like something from a […]

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  • Do grammar quizzes matter?

    Posted by on June 03, 2013

    The argument about teaching and testing grammar in schools seems to have mutated into an increasingly political media squabble about ‘correct grammar’. Michael’s critique of self-styled ‘crusading grammarian’ Mr Gwynne took me reluctantly to the ‘good grammar test’ featured in The Telegraph. (I scored less than full marks, I’m happy to say.) In the newspaper’s […]

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  • “Pupils go back in time …”: more on accidental ambiguity

    Posted by on May 20, 2013

    Most verbal humour depends on some kind of mismatch between two words or phrases and the funny or unexpected resolution of this incongruity. My last post focused on a type of grammatical ambiguity that allows two conflicting analyses of a sentence, one of them ridiculous. More often, though, humour and ambiguity play on the multiple […]

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  • “A dangling modifier walks into a bar …”

    Posted by on May 13, 2013

    You may be familiar with the not-very-funny jokes based on the old formula “someone/something walks into a bar…”. They usually involve a play on words, as in ‘A drunk walks into a bar. “Ouch!” he says.’ Exactly – they aren’t very funny. But some of them make useful points about grammar: A dangling modifier walks […]

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  • Verbs in learner’s dictionaries 3: ‘Your order has shipped’

    Posted by on April 22, 2013

    My recent posts (here and here) discussed verbs like teach and disappoint, which are both transitive and intransitive: she teaches (English); the festival didn’t disappoint (anyone). The grammatical subject, and the meaning of the verb, are much the same whether there’s an object or not. Today I will focus on another, quite different, way in […]

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  • Verbs in learner’s dictionaries 2: ‘He only does it to annoy …’

    Posted by on April 08, 2013

    Last week’s post focused on the thousands of verbs that are classified in dictionaries as ‘transitive/intransitive’. I also mentioned particular circumstances in which ‘transitive-only’ verbs typically occur without objects. Today’s post will develop this theme, this time in relation to a group of verbs that seem to be consistently ‘losing’ their objects in certain text-types. […]

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  • Verbs in learner’s dictionaries 1: ‘Enjoy your meal’ or just ‘Enjoy’?

    Posted by on April 02, 2013

    In dictionaries generally – whether intended for native speakers or for learners – the majority of verbs (or verb senses) have one of three main labels: ‘transitive’, ‘intransitive’, or ‘transitive/intransitive’, according to whether they have a direct object or not. A major advantage of learner’s dictionaries, of course, is that they include clear up-to-date examples […]

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  • ‘April is the cruellest month’: talking about spring weather

    Posted by on March 25, 2013

    Spring has sprung, and if the UK weather has any respect for seasonal averages, it will soon improve: temperatures will climb, the sun will shine. There will be fewer extreme events (as the weather people say), like blizzards and heavy snowfalls. March is typically a windy month, but wind speeds will drop in April and […]

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  • You can’t go wrong with a hyphen or two: word-formation (Part 1)

    Posted by on February 25, 2013

    If you are a teacher or learner of English, you are probably familiar with advice beginning You do not …, You cannot …, Be careful …, and WARNING! Older coursebooks, especially, used ‘strikethrough’ to herald the errors that you must simultaneously notice and unlearn, e.g.: I need to concentrate myself. Strikethrough is a curious convention: […]

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