Disappearing down the grammar hole

english grammar ebookEager readers of Copywrite Now may be wondering where I’ve been lately. Run out of adverts to analyse and copy to ponder over? Kicking back on a beach somewhere far afield? Not exactly. About a year ago I started work on a brief English grammar guide for foreign students, planned to be some 14 pages or so long. In the past month or two I knuckled down to finally finishing it, at about ten times that initial length. Such is the nature of the ever-evolving beast that is English grammar. On top of that, my freelancing efforts have been channelled increasingly into the full-time realm, as I’ve taken up a mobile app project that’s quickly becoming a serious business. But that’s a story for another day. 

What’s to say about English grammar?

The topic I decided to cover with my short book, all that time ago, was the very simple prospect of demonstrating different times in English. My eBook, The English Tenses, covers all the ins and outs of which tense to pick when. No doubt a mind-numbing topic for most native English speakers, who’d probably find more use in deciphering tax forms than figuring out when to use the future perfect continuous instead of the future perfect. But for foreign learners it’s that kind of detail that can make or break your understanding of the English language.

As a writer, as well as a teacher, this detail is fascinating to me. So it was that my brief summary of the English tenses slipped so quickly from a blow-by-blow “use this tense here and that tense there” to an extended study of “actually, you might consider a few options in this circumstance…”

Any language has to be taught as a set of rules. Otherwise there’s no way to adopt it, no way to plan how to use it. Unfortunately, almost all the language rules in English can be bent. It’s that complexity that makes English a great, and surviving, language – and is incidentally what makes copywriting such an interesting profession. Grammar rules can tell you everything about what should be said, but when you get into an argument with a bruiser down the pub about whether it’s technically correct to say I was going instead of I were going, you’ll probably it’s volume of voice, and not academic accuracy, that prevails. And therein lies the crux of my grammar guide – possibly the first of many such tomes – designed to demonstrate that this is how the language should be used, but so too how it could be used. Which is, I believe, a very important level of understanding when it comes to creating effective copy, as well as when communicating in general.

And yes, apparently is it possible to dwell for over 100 pages on one very specific area of grammar. If you are a foreign learner, or student of the language, I hope my guide will help you understand more. If you’re not, I hope it’ll serve to help you appreciate what you already know without, perhaps, realising it!

The English Tenses is available from Amazon now, in eBook form. The print edition will follow.

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