|Three Grammar Gremlins that Plague Multilingual Authors (and others)|
She went to school.
She went to the school.
She is in school.
She is out of school.
Small differences convey different meanings, so it's no wonder that writing in English can bedevil multilingual authors. Last month's issue highlighted underlying issues that make writing in a non-native language difficult. Given these issues, how can generally proficient writers minimize errors?
In English, three areas of difficulty (among others) often arise. I am not sure if the explanations and examples below will help or confuse, because the unfortunate truth is that the "correct" choice usually boils down to use, re-use, and memorization.
Prepositions: Which One to Use?
Prepositions show how a noun or pronoun is related to another word in a sentence. Figuring out which one to use to convey the intended meaning can be difficult.
Tips: It may be helpful to narrow down the choices by figuring out the relationship, then selecting the preposition--
- Time (not an exhaustive list, but consider prepositions such as at, by, before, after)
- Place (in, out, from, around)
- Means or agent (from, by)
- Manner (like, on)
- State or condition (for, by, as)
- Quantity or measure (for, by)
- Purpose (for)
Helpful, too, is to review lists (see Resources below) of which prepositions tend to follow which verbs, although, alas, different prepositions after the same verb can convey different meanings (wait for versus wait on).
Maybe the main tip: Be aware that prepositions can cause a problem for multilingual authors and tread accordingly.
Articles: Definite, Indefinite, or None at All?
An article is used with a noun to indicate a type of reference. Because many languages do not use articles, or use articles based on gender and number, some multilingual authors find them hard to use.
Tips: Use an indefinite article (a, an) with a single, countable, but non-specific noun.
Use a definite article (the) with a specific noun or nouns.
Omit the article for plural, non-specific nouns.
She likes to visit a city. (any city)
She likes to visit the city. (New York or another specific location)
She likes cities. (a general preference, plural)
She likes the cities of Europe. (specific group of cities)
Adjectives and Adverbs: What's the Right Order?Finally, where to place an adjective relative to its noun or an adverb relative to what it modifies (basically, anything except a noun or pronoun) is also confusing.Tips: One rule for adjectives is at the Frankfurt International School website mentioned below:
More elaborately, check out the Royal Order of Adjectives and Royal Order of Adverbs:
- Opinion adjectives come before fact adjectives
- Fact adjectives appear in this order: size-age-color-origin-material.
A silly old man (not an old silly man)
A beautiful red dress (not a red beautiful dress)
- Adjectives: Determiner, Observation, Physical Description, Origin, Material, Qualifier
- Adverbs: Manner, Place, Frequency, Time, Purpose
After seeing mention of these "orders" on various websites, I tracked down their creator to Dr. Charles Darling, a professor, now deceased, at Capital Community College in Hartford, CT.
I am not sure how useful they are on a daily basis, but food for thought.
So, no silver bullet or hard-and-fast rules exist for these fine points of English. Knowing some of the traps can help.
General Grammar The Elements of Grammar: The Essential Guide to Refining and Improving Grammar--From the Basics of Sentence Structure to the Art of Composing Written Works, by Margaret Shertzer
Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O'Conner
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus (deceased, 2011, but site maintained by colleagues)
Language=SpecificAn online search took me to a huge assortment of sites, including these--
Language differences (16 languages highlighted), on the Frankfurt International School website
Common English mistakes made by native Chinese speakers, by Philip Guo
University of Minnesota Center for Writing has a PDF of a guidebook for its writing consultants, Guidelines to Working with Non-Native Speakers
In late 2012, I compiled many of the articles first published in this newsletter into an ebook. If you haven't seen it yet, view or download a complimentary copy on my website.