What is a (grammar) rule?

(Updated November, 2017)

In February, I read an article with my classes about business ethics (or the seeming lack thereof in parts of the corperate world). You can find it on onestopenglish.com, Business Spotlight Worksheet: Money or Morals. Highly recommendable lesson by the way.

In the introductory paragraphs, the author (Vicky Sussens) describes a group of children playing hide and seek:

It is a beautiful autumn day. The sun shines golden on a small group of children who excitedly agree to play hide and seek. “Whoopee!” calls Sarah, racing off to a tree to hide her eyes. “Count to ten!” shouts Johnny, “That’s the rule.”

Rules are so much part of human interaction that even children can stick to them – especially in a game where there are winners and losers. (p 2)

This passage led to a discussion on the nature of rules, laws, regulations etc. and someone remarked that especially – not even – children insist on following the rules of a game. We all remembered such incidences. Without everybody sticking to the rules, many games would simply be unplayable. Rules are the defining features of a game.

In larger groups, like societies, rules become laws to ensure, in the best of cases, a cooperate and peaceful life among all members of the community. In any case, there are significant reasons for rules and they are always made by humans (‘manmade’ so to speak).

Do languages have rules too?

If the answer were yes, what would be their nature? What would they be for? And who made them up or developed them?

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When the ‘past’ tense does not refer to past time or: Confusion by Misnomers

One of my main issues over the last years of teaching has been with traditional grammar terminology, especially with ‘present’ and ‘past’. To a certain extent I believe in linguistic relativity i.e. that the language we use to describe something has an influence on how we perceive this something. It is not such a surprising insight, if you think about it. When someone refers to an object as table, I will not think of a chair. Well, I actually might think of a chair in association with the table, but that is a different point.

So when a form is called ‘past’ tense, most people – if not all – will believe that the term refers to the meaning of the form. However … Continue reading