Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Is there a grammar of spoken English?

Summarising: Three ways of looking at it. Extracts from the Geoffrey Leech article, English Grammar in Conversation.

View 1: Spoken English has no grammar at all: it is grammatically inchoate.

(That view) ...does not need to be taken seriously, although it is surprisingly persistent in the mind of the folk grammarian. It is inherited from the age-old tradition associating grammar with the written language, and it is bolstered by examples such as the following, which, like others which follow, is from the Longman spoken corpus:

No. Do you know erm you know where the erm go over to er go over erm where the fire station is not the one that white white

View 2: Spoken English does not have a special grammar: its grammar is just the same as the grammar of written English

Conversation makes use of entities such as prepositions, modals, noun phrases and relative clauses, just as written language does. So - assuming, as many would, that differences of frequency belong to the use of the grammar, rather than to the grammatical system itself - it is quite natural to think in terms of one English grammar, whose use in conversational performance can be contrasted with its use in various kinds of writing. In other words, conversational grammar is seen to be just a rather special implementation of the common grammar of English: a discovery which does not necessarily in any way diminish the interest of studying the grammar (i.e. the grammatical use) of spoken language.

View 3: Spoken English does have a special grammar - it has its own principles, rules and categories, which are different from those of the written language.

In handling spoken language, (David) Brazil argues for a totally different approach to grammar from the approach which has become familiar through conventional focus on the written language. He argues for a linear model moving dynamically through time, and puts aside the more traditional architectural model in terms of hierarchies of units. Although Carter and McCarthy do not take this thorough-going approach, they do throw the spotlight on grammatical features of spoken language which they feel have been largely neglected by standard grammars entrenched in the ‘written tradition’. They argue that structures which are inherent to speech have not been properly studied until the advent of the spoken computer corpus, and are consequently absent from canonised written grammar familiar to learners of English throughout the world: structures such as the ‘dislocated topic’ of This little shop ... it’s lovely or the ‘wagging tail’ of Oh I reckon they’re lovely. I really do whippets. These tend to find their raison d’être in the fact that conversation constructs itself in a dynamic fashion, giving the speaker only a small look-ahead window for planning what to say, and often inducing retrospective add-ons. Carter and McCarthy (1995) put forward a structural model for the clause in conversation, containing in addition to the core clause itself a pre-clause topic and a post-clause tail. With their refreshing emphasis on the dynamic modelling of grammar in action, Carter and McCarthy seem to be taking a line similar to Brazil’s advocacy of a new grammar of speech.

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If you look at it from a grammarian's point of view you're always going to find it tricky to answer this question because, as you say, grammar is a very old concept that originally only concerned itself with written language. Linguists define grammar a bit differently. For a linguist spoken englihs does have a grammar, but it's more an observation of how people speak. Are there things that english speakers would never say? Definitely, and that is all a linguist cares about. From the linguistic point of view if something is in accordance to what someone would say it is grammatical, if nobody would say it, it is not. For instance, "Them cars are blue" is a gramatical sentence because it reflects the way some people speak. "Cars them blue are" is not gramatical because no native speaker of englihs would say that. Both sentences violate traditional perscribed grammar, but you must remember that historically, textbook grammar has only been a reflection on the written language as spoken by a small social minority. It has inherent judgements about the speakers that linguistically one tries to avoid.

anonymous4 Sep-26-2005

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Maybe this is the same as View 3, but I would propose a fourth view: that spoken English mostly does not have a separate grammar, but there are a select number of rules that differ from written grammar.

I would like to point out that English grammar is really somewhat subjective, ultimately decided by consensus. Compare this to French or German grammar for which there actually exists BY STATE LAW, an official language, vocabulary, and grammar.

anonymous4 Oct-26-2005

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I would have to concur with anonymous, for I have seen in many instances where my first urge is to admonish those with so-called "horrible" spoken grammar, but at second thought I realize that it does conform to some sort of grammar. Being prescriptive is mostly antiquated, however I do think there does seem to be the need for some agreed-upons in the English language, if only for a commonality in understanding. Language change is unavoidable. So, maybe there should be two disciplines: a grammar of the written language, and also one of the spoken? To be ruled and governed (in whatever way) separately, for they both meet different ends.

foster.408 Oct-07-2006

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Hello Mohan Raj,

1. you have to buy a new and clear structured English book for beginners
2. you have to be taught by a native speaker
3. if it's possible you should go to a country where English is spoken(exchange program,..) - this is the best way to achieve a high level of the English language
4. practise regulary what you have studied
5. try to get as much English input as you are able to (dvd's, conversations, books,etc.)

with kind regards,


ina Oct-17-2006

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Hy Raj!

Some good ideas to improve your English skills without a professional teacher are:

*Buy a beginner's edition of a grammatic book
*Read as much as possible
*Watch as many dvds as possible (in English maybe with subtitles in your first creative)
*Listen to songs in English together with the lyrics
*Start with the easy stuff and then go more and more into detail
*Make sure you are aware of the rules and how to use it before taking up anything new

I hope this helps you. Good luck and hold your head up high.


oachkatzlschwoaf Oct-17-2006

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Dear English Learner,

My suggestion to especially speak better English is to just go to the library and borrow easy books at first. You should read them and in time you will be able to understand more and more words, because you start to understand the words from the context. Another good thing to do is to watch as many films as possible in English. It helps to understand the language and is also fun. Try to get in contact with native English speakers, either personal or via e-mail. Or could also take part in an English course. I think there are many offers at any Universitiy.
I really hope my suggestions can help you a bit.

Best wishes,

Sarah_from_Innsbruck Oct-17-2006

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There are 2 possibilities which come to my mind P. Mohan Raj.

1. If you have the possibilty to go to school, do so.

2. Read books, there is now better way to improve your English (by the way, it can be very entertaining to read books^^).

Generally speaking, the more you are in active contact with English language, the more you will improve. Active contact means: reading, writing, interaction (forums) and of course speaking and listening to English.

However, books are probably the most reliable source. Mind, that I am not talking about school book, but about thrillers or science fiction books. Read the Lord of the Rings in English, or the Harry Potter books. Or if you are looking for a good laugh, stick to the Disc-World books by Terry Pratchett, they are damn funny. Or read the Grisham thrillers, its totally up to you.

Sebastian Oct-17-2006

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Dear P. Mohan Raj,

In order to speak good English and know English grammar it is important to expose yourself to as much English as possible, which means that you should watch a film in English, read newspapers, books, etc. in English. But first of all I would consider it to be the best idea to attend an English course, or buy yourself a textbook (you can also go to the library and borrow one) for English learners and maybe a CD for English learners, so that you can hear how different English words are pronounced.
I wish you good luck!


Viktoria St.

Viktoria_St. Oct-17-2006

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Dear Raj,
Being able to use English in an appropriate way affords a lot of practise. Try to enlarge your English input. You should spend at least half an hour every day practising. It is not so important what you do as long as you do something. So read an article, listen to the radio, watch a movie or speak with a native speaker. The most important thing is that you become aware of your mistakes and that you try to eliminate them.

Barbara1 Oct-17-2006

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Dear P. Mohan Raj,

First I want to tell you that your English is not as bad as you think. I am an English student at an Austrian university.

I would suggest if you want to learn English properly, you should start with a course at a language school or any other institution. There you can learn the basics of the English language like grammar and vocabulary. But there are also many other ways how you can improve your English. For example there are many useful internet sites for learners of English (, etc.) Try to get in touch with the English language as much as you can: try to read simple English books, listen to English TV and radio programs, try to get to know native speakers of English (for example through the Internet).
This is my advice for you!

Good luck,

Julia1 Oct-17-2006

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Dear Raj,

Well, I think it is important to read as much as possible. This is an easy way to know new expressions. In addition you could also watch TV or go to the movies.
For your grammar doubts you should consider the website: There are many interesting grammar exercises. Try to do some of them and I am sure you will improve soon! I am an English student and this is one of my favorite English learning sites.
Don't you know any native speaker? Try to take every change to speak in English. On your next holidays you should possibly visit an English speaking country.
Have fun and good luck!

mariamulser Oct-17-2006

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Dear Mohan,

I`m also a learner of the English language, so I have the same hopes as you to be aware of this language. I would suggest that it helps if you try to involve the language as a essential part of your life. Try to speak as much as possible in English, read English books and newspapers, try to watch English TV programmes, try to listen to English music and to understasnd the meaning of the song text .. I think this will enlarge your vocabulary and you also become used to the sound of the language and with time you will understand more and more with ease.

Simone1 Oct-17-2006

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Dear P. Mohan Raj,

My suggestion to learn English grammar and to speak English well would be to attend an English course or to buy a book for learners of English first. Look at sentence structure, how to form questions, etc. Learning vocabulary is especially important when learning a foreign language. A very helpful thing can be a vocabulary notebook where you write down English words you want to remember. In addition to studying from books it is useful to watch English films, listen to music, or try to talk to people who speak English well.

I hope my comments are of any help to you.


Sonja1 Oct-17-2006

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Dear P. Mohan Ray,

I read that you need help because you would like to speak English. There are many different and interesting ways to learn a language. Of course, it always depends on which English level you are. If you already speak some English I would suggest to you to translate English song texts into your language. I advise to take some songs you like and you are listening to. Like that it will be a pleasure to translate the texts and finally you will understand what your favourite songs are about.

Greetings and good luck,

anonymous4 Oct-17-2006

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Raj, I'm surprised no one else has suggested this, but, depending on your free time, scheduling flexibility, and budget, I would highly recommend concentrated classes or concentrated immersion classes. In both, you go to language class for eight hours a day or more, every day. In the immersion classes, only english is spoken the entire time. After a few weeks or maybe a month, your fluency will increase quite a lot, especially if you already have some knowledge of English.
It's not for everyone as it can be very intense and requires a big time commitment. Also, you are not likely to retain what you learn unless you follow up with long-term exposure to the language. If you have recently moved to an English-speaking country, or plan on an extended trip to one for business, education, or vacation, then that would be excellent reinforcement.
I learned German this way years ago, covering two complete college semesters of German in four weeks, starting from scratch. I spoke quite well afterwards, but unfortunately, did not use it, so I lost it all after a while.

porsche Oct-17-2006

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here's a recently published grammar of English, including spoken English, by Crter and McCarthy as mentioned in the original post

anonymous4 Jan-20-2008

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Dear Sir/Madam,

Good evening to you. This is Venkatesh Akurathi from AP, Hyderabad. I finished my post graduation in Maths at AN University. But I am suffering with english because to speak others. I spend more time with my friends, here my friends can speak a good english, I feeled very guilty. And I have to see more websites for english like and so on... Now, Presently am working an Organisation, but in this organisation all my much fluency english.

I have one problem. From my child life to present life am not worked with english colligues. This is my bad advantage. So, Please give me the advice how to learn english fluently and free from fear. So, sorry because there are so many mistakes in this letter. Try to understand me and what is the mistakes of this letter please underlined.

Ok, Looking forward for your early response.

Thanking you.

With Regards,

Yours Venkatesh,

venkatesh.akurathi Feb-02-2008

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The conversation is about three ideas on how grammar works in spoken English. The first idea says that spoken English doesn't really have a proper grammar, but this view isn't taken too seriously because it's based on old thinking that only written language has grammar. The second idea thinks that spoken English follows the same grammar as written English, just with some differences in how often certain things are used. The third idea believes that spoken English does have its own grammar, different from written English, and it's about how conversation naturally flows and creates its own rules.

elizabethwilliams_7 May-08-2024

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