Prescriptive Grammar

Prescriptive Grammar


English grammar had its shape formed in the 18th century. A number of rules and norms on the correct use of English were formulated in the 18th century and copied from book to book all these years. It was assumed that the authors were to be trusted and they were regarded infallible. This grammar of English that originated in the 18th century is called traditional grammar or prescriptive grammar.

Ignoring the truth that language is a record of the conventions followed by the members of the language community and also that the authority that the grammarians refer to is the native speakers, the traditional grammars unscrupulously made English grammar a copy of Latin grammar. The main exponent of traditional grammar was Robert Bishop Lowth who published his ‘A Short Introduction to English Grammar’ in 1762. Close at his heels were Lindlay Murray, J.C Nesfield, Wren and Martin etc. An examination of some of the rules of traditional grammar will clearly indicate that they are contrary to the fundamental aspects of language.

Traditional grammarians were crippled by their Latinate fallacy, a fallacy that made them believe that Latin had a perfect grammar. So they prescribed that a sentence should not end with a preposition. To them it is wrong to say, for instance,
: ‘This is the tool I worked with.’
: ‘He is taller than me.’ cannot be correct according to them, as Latin grammar considers the equivalent of ‘than’ as a conjunction which is to be followed by a noun in the nominative case. ‘He is taller than I’ should be the grammatical sentence; it is the shortened form of ‘He is taller than I am’.

The mechanical application of Latin grammar made them disapprove of the sentence: ‘It’s me’, which is an answer to the question ‘Who is there?’ They insist on the use of ‘it’s I’ as the complement should be in the same case as the subject. The semantic fallacy of traditional grammarians accounts for the definitions of many of the parts of...

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