L-C

Basic Grammar

11 posts in this topic

I've ordered this book, since it was recommended by Leonard Peikoff, whose writing technique and precision I enjoy: http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/prodinfo.asp?number=GF73A

It seems to assume that the reader knows basic English grammar. My conscious knowledge of grammar is limited to select facts about nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, article etc. You could say I write "by feeling" and that I don't actually know what I'm doing. Obviously it works well enough for most purposes (especially in Sweden) but I want to be able to construct grammatically perfect sentences, and know and explain exactly why they are so and what every component of them is.

So is there a good source, online or otherwise, for basic English grammar that would prepare me for this more advanced book? Preferably one that follows older standards, which is supposed to be one of the things that make this book better than current ones.

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One thing you need to be careful of, L-C, is regarding sentences as "grammatically perfect." Language changes over time, within a culture, and within social groups of people. There are dialects and sub-dialects. There is slang. Plus, there is the knowledge context of the person and listener (or reader).

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Someone who is not a member of THE FORUM sent me an email which said:

Back in September of last year (2011), I contacted Dr. Peikoff about his old grammar lecture, and in his reply he mentioned that:

"You might be interested to know that my lectures on grammar are currently being edited by Dr. Michael Berliner, with their appearance in book publication expected about a year from now. For further information, you can contact him through the Ayn Rand Institute."

So, assuming all goes as planned, his grammar lecture should be out in book form this coming September, about the same time as his book, DIM Hypothesis.

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Thanks for the advice, John & Paul. ;)

Betsy, that's good news for sure. I think I saw the CD collection of those lectures in Ayn Rand store once, but it doesn't seem to be there anymore and it also cost something like $200. This should be interesting, thanks.

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I have never found a better book for this purpose than Warriner's English Grammar and Composition. Originally written in the 1950s, various versions of it were my standard textbooks from the fourth through the 12th grades (1970 - 1979). The material is as thorough as could be, and the structure, logic, and (perhaps most importantly) sheer economy of the presentation is unparalleled. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Any love for Strunk and White, or are all of these books better?

When I was writing my thesis, I would read Strunk and White before I went to bed to relax. Learned some neat things, but then again, the public school system is so screwed up these days that I've never taken a detailed course on grammar. I was also recommended Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, but I didn't have time to get into it. Any thoughts?

I learned a good deal about grammer while writing my (undergrad) thesis, but it's kind of like learning math and physics at the same time - it's better to learn math first so you can concentrate on the concepts in physics. I'd like to be more prepared to write my next thesis, hence the interest.

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Any love for Strunk and White, or are all of these books better?

When I was writing my thesis, I would read Strunk and White before I went to bed to relax. Learned some neat things, but then again, the public school system is so screwed up these days that I've never taken a detailed course on grammar. I was also recommended Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, but I didn't have time to get into it. Any thoughts?

The public school system has all but abandoned any serious approach to grammar instruction. The "english" classes suffer from an identity crisis of not knowing whether the purpose is to teach writing, or an appreciation of literature/poetry (usually dreary "modern" American works), or an understanding of grammar, so they compromise on all three and do the job badly with all of them.
I learned a good deal about grammer while writing my (undergrad) thesis, but it's kind of like learning math and physics at the same time - it's better to learn math first so you can concentrate on the concepts in physics. I'd like to be more prepared to write my next thesis, hence the interest.

You'll probably find that in the hard sciences you are actually held more accountable for good writing than in the humanities, or worse yet, "english" departments. Most writing in humanities courses, especially in the english courses, consists of a meaningless study of some text where you psychologize on what the author "really meant" in some concrete-bound analysis of his writing style. Since this kind of analysis has nothing in terms of quality or objectivity, you are taught to compensate by being excessively verbose and flourishing and pretentious. Then you hit the hard sciences and you must learn to express complicated and actually substantive ideas in as concise and precise a manner as possible, while trying to keep it interesting for the reader.

I too lack any good formal training in writing or English grammar, and just had to wing it as I went along. What is particularly embarrassing about grammar instruction in the public school system is that many of the "rules" they teach about grammar and writing are actually just issues of style, or just lame faux rules carried over from the 1800's when some intellectuals wanted to make english follow the same rules as Latin (don't split infinitives, don't end sentenced in preposition).

You'll just have to learn as you go along, and writing is a good way to learn. It's something you need to be patient and persistent about, and spend lots of time proof-reading and correcting and revising text. With each work you write though you may find that it takes less effort as your writing skills improve. Writing is something where the productivity is not linear in the time invested at all. Sometimes it takes a considerable effort and time investment to get your brain into the "zone" where you are productive and motivated, and some days you just may not be able to write a sentence at all. If you don't feel motivated to write, sometimes there's not a force on this planet that can make you do so.

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Carlos, what you describe was the pattern of my classes in Swedish. As a foreign language, English was taught with more emphasis on grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and reading comprehension. My High School English teacher was a rare gem in the public education system in that she recognized my skill and said it was a waste of time for me to attend class. Instead she gave me separate assignments and let me complete the two English courses in one year instead of two.

But if I go to Wikipedia to read about grammar, I find that I have almost no explicit knowledge of it. There are so many unknown concepts to me, such as clauses, subjects, propositions, predicates, pronouns, participles...I could go on to list all linguistic features except the few that I mentioned in the OP. Maybe I should get "the complete works" on all this, whatever that would be. I want to know and see every feature that makes up sentences and paragraphs, down to the atoms of language.

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Carlos, what you describe was the pattern of my classes in Swedish. As a foreign language, English was taught with more emphasis on grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and reading comprehension. My High School English teacher was a rare gem in the public education system in that she recognized my skill and said it was a waste of time for me to attend class. Instead she gave me separate assignments and let me complete the two English courses in one year instead of two.

But if I go to Wikipedia to read about grammar, I find that I have almost no explicit knowledge of it. There are so many unknown concepts to me, such as clauses, subjects, propositions, predicates, pronouns, participles...I could go on to list all linguistic features except the few that I mentioned in the OP. Maybe I should get "the complete works" on all this, whatever that would be. I want to know and see every feature that makes up sentences and paragraphs, down to the atoms of language.

Then Warriner's would be ideal for you. You'll get all that in a concise, hierarchical presentation from basic concepts all the way up to the broadest integrative writing skills. Strunk and White is excellent, but not as comprehensive.

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