How grammatically sound are you?

Thursday 15 April 2004

I guess grammar is in the air these days. Here's a twenty-question grammar quiz: How grammatically sound are you? I found this quiz disappointing on a number of levels (and before we get into it, I scored Master on it).

First, there are no answers given, and the final score is simply a qualitative ranking, so there's no opportunity to learn from the exercise. Second, question #7 has a typo in it!

But more importantly, answering some of these questions, I was divided: there was the way I knew I should answer to be "correct", and the way I would actually speak. For many questions, there was more than answer that I would consider acceptable. In some ways, this quiz provides a perfect demonstration of how little grammatical correctness matters.

Language changes, it's a dynamic living creature. Any label of linguistic "correctness" is only good for a certain period of time, measured in centuries or maybe only decades. After some period of time, the distinction between the correct and the incorrect is eroded ("The puppy which is without a home" vs. "The puppy that is without a home"). Once this happens, the language maven who still cares about the distinction is branded as pedantic. Eventually, the correct can fall out of use, and be considered archaic. Who says, "Whom should you ask?" any more?

In the very long run, everything we say will be gone. Ever read Chaucer in the original? It's a completely different language, but the difference between his tongue and ours happened gradually over centuries. The forces that changed his language continue to work on ours, and no number of dictionaries or grammarians will stop them.

On the other hand, I don't believe that anything goes: I cringe when I hear people say "There are less people there". But I know that my great-grandchildren won't. Some people decry that shift. I don't. It's inevitable. My great-grandfather would probably cringe to hear how I speak, so who am I to throw stones?

What really matters in language, whether written or spoken, is communicating effectively. Some grammatical issues (like the misplaced modifier covered in question #19) touch on that effectiveness. Others (like #20: what is the plural of Mr.?) do not.

Language changes, the people will speak as they speak. Long live language!

Comments

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Tom Franks 6:39 AM on 16 Apr 2004

well, I thought the questions were a little wierd, even though I did rate "Grammar God"!

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Max Ischenko 6:46 AM on 16 Apr 2004

I did rate "Grammar God" too, while I am far from fluent in English, being a Russian myself and never even talked to a native!

I am generally suspicious to the select-one-of-these kind of tests and this one clearly proves the point. ;-)

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Nat 8:57 AM on 16 Apr 2004

I don't trust the test much either. I scored Grammar God, and I'm a French-Canadian. My learnin' really ain't that good.

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Jeff 9:42 AM on 16 Apr 2004

Grammar God here also. Frustratingly enough, there were listed neither answers nor rank thresholds, and I am too lazy to permute my answers, so I have no clue as to which or how many I got wrong. Since I'm a software engineer and haven't taken any English/grammar since high school, I'm more than a little suspect that God == perfect.

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Nils Jonsson 10:23 AM on 16 Apr 2004

I join the pantheon of grammar gods.

Was anyone else bothered by #17? “There are a lot of things” vs. “There is a lot of things.”

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Damien Katz 10:58 AM on 16 Apr 2004

Here are my results:

You are a complete and utter BASTARDIZATION of the English tongue!

Yes, I really tried.

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Alex Merlo 2:28 PM on 16 Apr 2004

I also scored Grammar God, and I´m Spanish... ¿? This test seems to be rewarding non-native speakers more than americans... maybe, as we have talked less in real english speaking enviroments, our English is less polluted by colloquial forms...

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Ned Batchelder 3:19 PM on 16 Apr 2004

This makes perfect sense to me. Non-native speakers are taught from textbooks, which encapsulate a particular snapshot of correctness. Native speakers are taught by their surroundings, which are always speaking the latest English.

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James 6:47 PM on 16 Apr 2004

I scored 'bastard,' then changed 1 answer (misters to messrs) which I consider absolutely trivial, and suddenly I was a god.
I hail from Australia, so English is my first (and only) language, and both my parents are English teachers. I hereby denounce the quiz as a useless fraud.

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Laura 2:28 PM on 19 Apr 2004

I scored as "Grammar God" and was curious whether that was the highest level, etc., so clicked a link to see the other levels. What I got for my trouble was a bunch of junkware/spyware that began downloading itself to my computer. Argh! I am usually so careful about avoiding sites that might be malicious -- I didn't think a grammar quiz would net such problems. (Yes, I ran Ad-Aware, etc. to clean up the junk.)

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Ned Batchelder 2:32 PM on 19 Apr 2004

It now seems that this quiz is either random or malicious or both. I apologize if it's caused difficulty.

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OndÅ™ej Válek 3:05 PM on 1 May 2004

I was marked to be a "GRAMMAR GOD"!! Good job I think, because I'm not a native speaker! Actually, I've never been to an Englich speaking country ;-)

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u dont know me 3:40 AM on 16 Jul 2004

you're just complaining because you suck at speaking English.

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florencia 6:04 PM on 25 Nov 2007

hi! Im from Argentina. I would like to know whether it is ungrammatical to say : THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS.. wouldnt it be : "THERE IS A LOT OF THINGS" ?? or "THERE ARE LOTS OF THINGS".
my doubt arises from the fact that a lot of is singular so "is" is used, whereas lots of is plural so "are" is used.. despite the fact that you are talking about "things" which is in the plural..
well, I hope u can help me
THANKS! Please answer my question!

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