Topic: Standards and variation

These resources take an exploratory approach to the nature of English in use, in real-world contexts.

Grammar

We define grammar as the study of the structure of words and sentences. As such it is an abstract system, worthy of study in its own right. However, we also see grammar as a system that is used in a range of contexts to unlock meaning. We want to look at grammar not only in written language, but also in spoken English, in a range of multimodal forms, and in all its rich variety.

Grammar: What grammar isn't

One of the big misapprehensions about the word grammar is that it is all to do with getting things right or wrong. Grammar teaching in the past has often taken a prescriptive turn, and for many people of older generations the memory of grammar tests at school is often a painful one.

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We all use different forms of language in different situations. At the most extreme, you’ll probably know that in casual conversation with friends you will use very different language from that which you’d use at a job interview.

The kinds of differences will relate to vocabulary (the word choices you make) but also to grammar (the structures, the complexity, the patterns of words).

Spelling: Alternative spelling

Just like humour and humor, and centre and center, a number of other words vary in their British and American spellings. How different are British and American spelling and how should you choose which spelling to learn?

The number of spelling differences between British and American English amount to less than 1% of the overall vocabulary of contemporary English. It’s not something that we need to be terribly worried about, but it is always something that we must bear in mind.

Spoken language: Dialect and slang

[Amended from Dan Clayton's Teaching English Grammar in Schools blog]

The history of grammar teaching has often been associated with prescriptive models in which the "correction" of perceived faults in language has been paramount. While linguists are careful these days to talk about what is 'grammatical' or 'ungrammatical' and 'standard' or 'non-standard', rather than what is 'right' or 'wrong', there is still a tension at the heart of the teaching of English.

Tag questions

Questions like ...isn’t it?, ...haven’t they? and ...wouldn’t you? that sit on the end of a statement are called tag questions in linguistics. There’s a range of different tag questions most people call on, varying by verb, tense, person and whether the tag is positive or negative.

Tag questions: Innit

For some people, innit is just another tag question, a contraction of isn’t it. But kids in urban Britain are using innit to cover a wider and wider range of situations. Here are some examples of non-standard use, gleaned from recent messageboard postings:

English Grammar Day 2016

'Grammar is cool, and it is cool to know your grammar'.

A video about the Third English Grammar Day held at the British Library in 2016.

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Englicious contains many resources for English language in schools, but the vast majority of them require you to register and log in first. For more information, see What is Englicious?

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