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Topic: 1. Learning Grammar. Title: When is it okay to break the rules? There is a demarcation in English grammar between: Those that fall into the prescriptive side, who argue that grammatical rules must be followed; and those that fall into the descriptive side, who insist that language evolves over time and therefore grammar should too. Is usage determined by grammatical structure? Or are grammatical rules defined by usage? Every written language in the world has a grammatical structure. In English there are five fundamental structures: morpheme, word, phrase, clause and sentence. Rules govern how each of these structures are put together to convey meaning. To function as a practical means of communication, these rules must be followed. This is a reasonable request given the result is clarity of expression, after which one is (or should be) understood. The English language has however, changed considerably since its beginning. Bar the exception of someone playing the role of town crier, no one speaks Olde English anymore. English is currently the third most spoken language in the world. It is spoken in more countries than any other, and is also the primary language for business around the world. One could argue that it has only achieved these three feats because of its ability to adapt and evolve over time. When discussing English grammar, it is pertinent to note the differences between spoken and written language. The main goal of a language is to be understood, and the spoken language appears to allow for greater leniency regarding correct usage. For example, my native Australian English is littered with litotes. A litote is the ironic use of understatement or affirming something via its negative. For example, ‘not bad’ is a perfectly acceptable response to the interrogative question ‘how are you?’. This double negative particularly suits the laidback and easy-going nature Australians tend to be associated with. Breaking the rules correctly is quite a skill. Using the relaxed ‘not bad’ indicates you have not only understood the question, but you have acquired some of the local vernacular and are comfortable using it. Although such verbal leniency is tolerated in Australia, and indeed accepted without so much as a raised eyebrow, correct usage when writing is still preferred. For example, if you use ‘whom’ at a barbeque with friends you will likely be met with raucous laughter and be labelled a pompous git. However, should you be remiss and not use the correct ‘to whom it may concern’ when addressing a letter to an unknown, then you will definitely be guilty of breaking convention. Admittedly it is unlikely that an error may lead to miscommunication in either spoken or written language, as the meaning will be understood from context. The importance lies in formal or academic writing, where vigilance and adherence to the rules is paramount. Native speakers learn grammar as a child through exposure of practical examples, usually by their parents. Because we learn to speak before we learn to write, grammar is learned in context. It is then reinforced by ongoing exposure and also after corrections are made. Despite intuition being a part of the learning path, the native speaker is not immune from grammatical errors. In fact, they are made frequently and often without awareness of even doing so. In addition, a native speaker may, for example, be able to use the correct preposition in a sentence, but ask them to explain why and you’ll soon see their eyes glaze over. Using grammar is one thing; explaining it is another. Learning English grammar as a second language must be daunting. There seems no sense in learning a rule until you are ready, willing and able to integrate it into your language practice. Immediate and ongoing exposure to the language enables you to practice it promptly. Sustained repetition and exposure are vital ingredients required to integrate it into working memory. Being able to switch between the prescriptive and descriptive ‘rules’ indicates a sound knowledge of a language. Yes, we must know the fundamental principles of the language, but ultimately, being able to correctly apply its incorrect usage, as demonstrated by colloquial language, puts you right in the heart of the language used by its custodians every day. So it seems that grammatical rules are defined by usage. Understanding when, where and how to break these rules is critical to ensure its incorrect use is indeed used correctly!