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Grammar Myths: Strunk and White

April 17, 2009

Today, I heard a good interview with Geoffrey Pullum on NPR.  The interview follows up on Geoffrey Pullum’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Pullum dismisses grammar opinions such as those about split infinitives, about which as improper with restrictive clauses, and about the use of passive voice. I have off and on followed discussions by him and his fellow linguists on the Language Log blog.  I don’t consider myself a grammarian, but I find some “rules” hard to teach such as the ones about avoiding the passive voice.  Today, I went over a practice test which had several items in which students were supposed to identify whether there were verb errors of tense.  We don’t teach the passive voice in our curriculum nor is it in the textbook we use written by colleagues who teach the native speaker sections of the writing class, so for each one I felt betrayed by the people who wrote the practice test. Did they not realize their examples were passive voice? I gave my students a quick method for spotting the passive form which may or may not have confused them.  I hope I did more good than harm. 

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