An Overview of the English Verb Structure System: Introduction

What is grammar?

Whenever you ask this question, e.g. in a first year Introduction to Linguistics course or to learners of English, the first reaction is often one of bafflement. Isn’t the answer rather obvious? Tenses, prepositions, if-clauses: all the stuff you were supposed to learn in school.

When I ask adult learners of English, which area of grammar they feel they have the most problems with or feel they need more practice in, they most often answer: tenses – closely followed by prepositions. The first year linguistic student as well as most learners of English equate ‘grammar’ with verb structures or ‘the tenses’. Especially in a German context there seems to be a certain obsession with ‘tenses.’ And many learners of English worry about getting the ‘tenses’ right, even students I consider quite advanced. Although, when asked, most agree that vocabulary is much more important than correct ‘grammar’, there seems to be a certain unease or insecurity when it comes to using the ‘tenses’. Continue reading

Grammar as Fact or Grammar as Choice

The above distinction was originally made by Richard A. Close in ‘A Teacher’s Grammar’ (1992). He had already formulated his ideas 30 years before, but published a revised version in the early 90ies. I believe the distinction to be quite valuable, even if not always clear-cut.

Grammar as fact concerns such aspects of the language that are non-negotiable if I want to be able to communicate with the majority of speakers of the language. Facts of grammar describe the essential regularities or rules of a language that define it and organize its meaning. Continue reading