What Makes Good Grammar – Sunday Coffee Coffee Contemplations

Watching Hugh Laurie on CBS Sunday Morning the day after grading papers, it suddenly struck me how grammatically correct his speech is, which is not normally the case. Written English and spoken English are usually very distinctly different, especially when you are dealing with American English instead of the Queen’s own.

So what about Hugh Laurie prompted me to start contemplating the subject of grammar? It was the fact that despite being spoken, his language was absolutely, perfectly correct…and it didn’t sound awkward when spoken, as written grammar often does.

So what makes something “good grammar” as opposed to incorrect? I believe it’s a consensus over time that eventually determines what is correct. Consider for a moment what was correct speech in the 19th century:

I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the every-day news of the times.

This would never fly now, even though it’s technically still grammatically correct as originally written by Abraham Lincoln. But you never know…..


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