Basics of English?

  • Thread starter pivoxa15
  • Start date
  • #1
2,255
1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I went through primary and secondary school without (any?) knowledge of the theory behind English. Although I am capable of writing an A level essay. But I like to start learning the basics now. Could anyone recommend good books with lots of excercises on the basics of English?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
There are plenty of online resources. Here are some that I happen to have bookmarked. You can read a little of each and see which style you like. Many of them cover the same thing, but which site is best depends, I think, on how you personally like to learn. If you have any specific questions, don't hesitate to ask them here. I'll be sure to check in more often. (I study language and am a native English speaker, so I should be able to help with most of them, if not all. :smile: )

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/home.htm
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm
http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/writcent/hypergrammar/grammar.html
http://aliscot.com/bigdog/ [Broken]
http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue.html
http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/EngLatGrammar.html
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
http://www.usingenglish.com/
http://www.usingenglish.com/glossary.html [Broken]
http://www.ceafinney.com/subjunctive/excerpts.html
http://mit.imoat.net/handbook/home.htm [Broken]
http://www.dianahacker.com/resdoc/
http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/index.html
http://www.worldwidewords.org/index.htm
http://www.bartleby.com/usage/
http://www.sparknotes.com/writing/style/ [Broken]
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #3
11
0
Hello, honestrosewater, so could you tell me why the language has no gender like that of i.e French?


Thanks and Best regards,
Dr. Kiley Dean (an Australian teaching English in South Korea)
 
Last edited:
  • #4
George Jones
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,261
790
Kiley Dean said:
Hello, honestrosewater, so could you tell me why the language has no gender like that of i.e French?
... of, e.g., French?
 
  • #5
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
Kiley Dean said:
Hello, honestrosewater, so could you tell me why the language has no gender like that of i.e French?


Thanks and Best regards,
Dr. Kiley Dean (an Australian teaching English in South Korea)
I guess the short answer is that grammatical gender died out of English. Old English and its close ancestors did have grammatical gender, which Modern English retains traces of in our third-person, singular pronouns he(/him/his/himself), she(her/hers/herself), and it(its/itself).

The suffix -ess, as in actress, princess, lioness (which, incidentally, I think came from French) comes to mind as a way that English marks gender. You might also consider some diminutive forms, e.g., derived with -ette (cigarette, diskette) to carry information about gender. This is still of course different from grammatical gender, which is required, affects more than just nouns, and doesn't necessarily relate to natural gender (e.g., biological sex).

Does that help, or are you after a longer answer?
 
  • #6
11
0
Well, I think it is obvious that I would be more grateful if you could explain more.

But does English gender have any rule for a student to learn or is it that he/she has to learn it by heart?
I have to meet a bunch of students every Friday night.
?
 
  • #7
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
Kiley Dean said:
Well, I think it is obvious that I would be more grateful if you could explain more.
Okay, well, if there was something that made that obvious, I missed it. You'd have to narrow the field a bit. What else specifically would you like more information about?
But does English gender have any rule for a student to learn or is it that he/she has to learn it by heart?
I have to meet a bunch of students every Friday night.
?
No, there are no grammatical rules to learn for gender. Modern English doesn't have a gender system or decline nouns for gender. I think the only basic thing that they would need to know about gender use in English is the meaning of the individual words: he is used to refer to a male individual or to connote some kind of masculine property, she does the same for female individuals and feminine properties, and it is gender-neutral.
 
  • #8
selfAdjoint
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
6,786
7
honestrosewater said:
Okay, well, if there was something that made that obvious, I missed it. You'd have to narrow the field a bit. What else specifically would you like more information about?
No, there are no grammatical rules to learn for gender. Modern English doesn't have a gender system or decline nouns for gender. I think the only basic thing that they would need to know about gender use in English is the meaning of the individual words: he is used to refer to a male individual or to connote some kind of masculine property, she does the same for female individuals and feminine properties, and it is gender-neutral.
But we don't use it for a person, and English really doesn't have a universally accepted gender-neutral personal pronoun. In the old days he was used for both males and females, and this is still the default practice although it irritates many women. For a while sensitive people experimented with she or alternating the two. This now seems a bit retro. Some people bite the bullet and use they/them as singular pronouns although this sounds dialectical or illiterate to many:"a person can have their own opinion".

The use of one would be nice if we could make it stick, but it always makes me think of "One never knows, DO one?" (An old line mocking the racist dialect that whites liked to imagine blacks spoke).
 
  • #9
11
0
Thanks, but how about French, does French have any rules ?
I know English was the child of European languages but it was weird to have completely different characteristics compared to its ancestors.
 
Last edited:
  • #10
478
2
French most definitely has rules about everything you can imagine. Just about all if not all nouns are sensitive to gender and pluralization in French. French children grow up learning not only new words but their genders as well. It's hard to imagine American children having to do that.
 
  • #11
11
0
Thanks z-component, that's a very interesting explanation, I never know French children learn all the stuff like that. I am pretty sure to say that they understand the diversity of sex more than do normal American children.
 
  • #12
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
selfAdjoint said:
But we don't use it for a person, and English really doesn't have a universally accepted gender-neutral personal pronoun.
I was just thinking about this recently. I use singular they and don't really have a problem with it in the situations where it works. But I would certiainly try using a new word if I could find one that actually worked.

By the bye, those two, singular they or a new word, are the only options that I currently have. Generic he doesn't work. I think there have been studies about the interpretation of generic he if anyone wants to look. For one thing, in

(1) The pilot left a note saying he would call tomorrow.

how are you to know whether he was intended to be gender-specific or gender-neutral? Is the pilot male or female? There's no way of knowing. I imagine that that doesn't stop most speakers from assuming that the person is male, though. (I imagine the same would happen for every other profession. For professions that are automatically associated with males, the use of he doesn't interfere with the assumption and perhaps even encourages it, and for other professions, the use of he interferes with the female association -- and in the case of stereotypically female professions, it signals to me, at first, that the sex is in fact known and male, but perhaps that's because I'm used to they. Consider the nurse left a note saying he would call tomorrow. Heck, consider the stewardess left a note saying he would call tomorrow. He and -ess contradict each other, but if you assume it's a goof, does -ess ever win? Hah, interesting. Anywho...) I've been referred to with he plenty of times and am never sure whether to correct the person since I don't know whether they think that I'm male or are just using he generically. Using she generically and switching between he and she have the same problems.

Personally, I'd like to see generic he fall out of use. At best, it's annoying, and at worst, it makes bad situations worse and leaves the door open for all kinds of stupidity.

I find s/he, he or she, and similar options ugly and long, and some don't even work in speech at all.

I don't like one either. It doesn't work for me in informal contexts, and I don't even like it in formal writing either.

You can find lists of proposed pronouns http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/ [Broken]. None of the ones I've seen yet would work. It just occurred to me that bringing back thou(/thee/thy/thine/thyself) might be an option -- at least we know that they already work as a set of English pronouns! :biggrin: I don't know, just something to toss around.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #13
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
Kiley Dean said:
Thanks, but how about French, does French have any rules ?
...
I never know French children learn all the stuff like that. I am pretty sure to say that they understand the diversity of sex more than do normal American children.
From everything that I've read, all 5-7,000 human languages in the world today have the same level of complexity. There are different ways of saying things, but in the end, all human languages are capable of saying the same things and are solutions to the same problems.

Grammatical gender doesn't necessarily have anything to do with biological sex or sex-related properties or constructs. The assignment of gender is in many cases arbitrary. It is just another thing to learn, as English speakers have to learn what positions in clauses they can use certain word forms. For example, he and him have the same basic meaning, but he saw him crying is grammatical, while him saw he crying is not. Why? I certainly don't know why -- it's arbitrary and could just as well be the other way around as far as I'm concerned.
I know English was the child of European languages but it was weird to have completely different characteristics compared to its ancestors.
Just to be clear, English isn't a child of any extant European language. It is a child of Proto-Germanic, as are Frisian, German, Danish, and Swedish. And English isn't completely different from French -- Norman French had a substantial impact on English, and many English words are closely related to French words, thanks also to academics who borrowed quite a lot from Latin, which is an ancestor of French.

Are you looking for the actual rules for gender in French?
 
Last edited:
  • #14
selfAdjoint
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
6,786
7
honestrosewater said:
Just to be clear, English isn't a child of any extant European language. It is a child of Proto-Germanic, as are Frisian, German, Danish, and Swedish. And English isn't completely different from French -- Norman French had a substantial impact on English, and many English words are closely related to French words, thanks also to academics who borrowed quite a lot from Latin, which is an ancestor of French.
Don't forget Old Norse, which was very important in the north of England (the part known as the Danelagh, especially Yorkshire), and in Scotland. Scots English is not just a cute music hall do, it's a strong dialect almost constituting an independent language.
 
  • #15
11
0
Well, thanks for a long post and nice comments, I was misunderstanding what I actually didn't know, I have copied and pasted what you said in my notepad for some thoughts I can give it later on.
 
  • #16
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
selfAdjoint said:
Scots English is not just a cute music hall do
I can't figure out whether a cute music hall do is a kind of tone, coiffure, or something else entirely. Care to enlighten me? :smile:
 
  • #17
selfAdjoint
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
6,786
7
It's an act. Music hall was a kind of English vaudeville in the early part of the 20th century, and one performer who got so famous and "beloved" doing Scots dialect that he was knighted by (I think) King George V, was Sir Harry Lauder. I was thinking of his act when I wrote that.

I have a thin thread of Scots ancestry, and do a small celebration on Robert Burns' birthday, January 25th.

BTW, on the "new word" approach to the neutal personal pronoun in English, how about es? That's the nominative, the objective form would be en and the possessive ens. Thus "A student should write ens name at the top of the paper, if es wants credit." Sounds alien but I believe that pronoun actually existed in some English historic dialects. Just a thought.
 
Last edited:
  • #18
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
Cool. Thanks for the suggestion. I think I'm slowly coming up with a good list of requirements for a successful one.
 
  • #19
nrqed
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Gold Member
3,569
190
honestrosewater said:
I guess the short answer is that grammatical gender died out of English. Old English and its close ancestors did have grammatical gender, which Modern English retains traces of in our third-person, singular pronouns he(/him/his/himself), she(her/hers/herself), and it(its/itself).
But in English, he/him/himself and she/her/herself are used when referring to *persons*, aren't they? Not to objects.
I am not sure what "grammatical gender" refers to. Could you tell me?
On one hand there is gender referring to people and I would be very surprised if any language would not have that. But gender referring to objects is not universal, it seems (is it known if all early languages had gender for objects or if there were genderless languages?)


But in French, we *do* use he/she when referring to objects.

For example, if one says "You see the glass? Put it on the table" in French, one actually says the equivalent of "You see the glass? Put him on the table". Because the word "glass" (verre) is masculine.

Actually, in French one can say the following:
"You see the glass and the table there? Put him on her"

meaning "put the glass on the table". The sentence is unambiguous because table is feminine and glass is masculine. That would not work in English! ("put it on it!!!")

As for English, is it known that gender was originally assigned to objects (before 1066)? I am curious.

Patrick
 
  • #20
selfAdjoint
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
6,786
7
Yes, it takes an English speaker learning French a little by surporise to learn that a book is feminine, and so on. Of course this happens in other European languages too. But English stands alone in this. Things are neuter and have their own pronoun, "it" (undeclinable, i.e. it has no objective or plural forms. The plural for objects is the same third person plural used for persons; they, them, their.

We English speakers very much do not want to use "it" when referring to persons. The problem is that the only singular pronouns we have for people are hard coded with a sex reference: "he" applies to boys and men, and "she" applies to girls and women. We don't have one single pronoun that means "a person of unspecified gender". And this causes all sorts of awkwardness in writing.
 
  • #21
nrqed
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Gold Member
3,569
190
selfAdjoint said:
Yes, it takes an English speaker learning French a little by surporise to learn that a book is feminine, and so on.
Actually, it is masculine (un livre).:redface:

Actually, this gender business leads to "interesting" situations. For example, sometimes people may refer to a specific object using he *or* she! It depends on what word one is thinking about while designing the object. For example, one may see a dress and ask to put it somewhere. If one is thinking of the dress as a piece of clothing, one will use "put him there", whereas if one is thinking of the dress as a dress, one will say "put her there". This sometimes leads to interesting conversations:approve:

Even more surprising is that it sometimes happens that one will refer to a man as she (and a woman as he). For example, if one describes what a person (who is a man) was doing and one is thinking in terms of "person" and not man, one will use "she". So "the person went that way" will be expressed as "she went that way" even if it's a man.

I am glad that I had to learn English as a second language instead of learning French:surprised (and this is not even mentioning the difficult verb tenses of French...English is amazingly simple to learn as a second language. Of course, it's even easire for a native French speaker to learn Spanish or even Italian but I would bet that coming from almost any language, English is pretty simple to learn)

Patrick
 
  • #22
honestrosewater
Gold Member
2,105
5
nrqed said:
But in English, he/him/himself and she/her/herself are used when referring to *persons*, aren't they? Not to objects.
Sort of. You wouldn't usually use it to refer to a person, as sA said. One exception that comes to mind is when referring to a baby whose sex is unknown, irrelevant, or being announced, as in

(1) a. It's a boy!
b. It's a girl!
c. Have you decided on a name for it?
d. ...the parents of a newborn baby name it...
e. ...it was obviously time to find a name for it ... for her.

But he and she can be used to refer to anything: people, animals, or any animate or inanimate object. Speakers refer to storms, boats, and machines, for example, with she, and this kind of use is perfectly acceptable, though I suppose it might usually be rhetorical. In all cases, gender could be biological sex or some other set of properties, usually sex-related (stereotypical feminine and masculine properties).
I am not sure what "grammatical gender" refers to. Could you tell me?
It's similar to tense, person, number, and case. It's a system of extra rules for creating little changes in words and constraining how those words can be combined. I'm afraid it's not the easiest thing to explain. If you are interested, you can start reading about it in this glossary or http://users.fmg.uva.nl/jvanberkum/vanberkum-dissertation-ch3.pdf [Broken]. I haven't ever seen it covered in any detail in an introductory linguistics text (though I imagine an introduction to morphology might cover it).
On one hand there is gender referring to people and I would be very surprised if any language would not have that.
Surprise! An incomplete list of langauges without grammatical gender. They have notes for languages that include some limited gender distinctions, e.g., English.
But gender referring to objects is not universal, it seems (is it known if all early languages had gender for objects or if there were genderless languages?)
What counts as an early language?

Languages can be split into two groups: (i) attested languages, which we have actual records of and (ii) unattested languages, which are theoretical -- linguists use laws of language change and other means to reconstruct an ancestor language from the languages that are assumed to have descended from it. You gather together a group of languages that you suspect are related and try to figure out what kind of language could have produced every language in the group. You might also want to specify whether you want your answer to include any of these recontructed, unattested languages.

As far as I know, it isn't known yet whether or not all languages share a common ancestor, by the bye.
As for English, is it known that gender was originally assigned to objects (before 1066)? I am curious.
I'm sure it is known, though I don't happen to know already. I'll make a note to look into it.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #23
selfAdjoint
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
6,786
7
Old English (once known as Anglo Saxon) did have gender for inanimate objects, inherited from its germanic roots. Words actually had infectional endings, -a in the nominative for male and -e for females (-a was pronounced "ah" and -e was pronounced "ey" as in "obey". On the way to becoming Modern English it passed through two "pidgin" episodes in both of which the plattdeutsch component OE was the ignorant peasant speech and the other was the aristocratic language (Old Norse first, when the Vikings under Canute conquered and ruled part of England for a century, and of course Norman French was the second). In any pidgin, functioning to allow communication between speakers of different languages, the syntax gets simplified, and one of the things that fell by the wayside was gender for objects.
 
  • #24
2,255
1
Is it grammatically wrong to say
Electric circuits will be covered on chapter 4.

Would it be correct instead like this
Electric circuits will be covered in chapter 4.
 
  • #25
berkeman
Mentor
56,649
6,550
pivoxa15 said:
Is it grammatically wrong to say
Electric circuits will be covered on chapter 4.

Would it be correct instead like this
Electric circuits will be covered in chapter 4.
Yes to both questions.
 

Related Threads for: Basics of English?

Replies
14
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
8
Views
9K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
637
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
466
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
3K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
33
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
11
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
2K
Top