� 2017 Steve Campsall
|Englishbiz grammar essentials|
There are three basic but highly useful terms you'll need to grasp: standard, non-standard and ungrammatical.
Sentences that are clear in their meaning and which follow the rules of grammar are said to have been constructed using standard grammar. Such sentences will also be using a standardised dialect of English which is called, not surprisingly, Standard English.
Here is a sentence constructed using standard grammar and which is, therefore, in Standard English:
'I never knew grammar could be so much fun.'
A sentence that is not constructed according to the standard rules of grammar may still be meaningful even if it perhaps could have been expressed more clearly. In this case - and it occurs often in speech and in regional dialects - its grammar is said to be non-standard. You'll also find non-standard grammar used in lines of poetry where it is sometimes called 'tortured syntax'.
Here is a sentence constructed using non-standard grammar:
'I don't know nothing about grammar.'
This sentence uses what is known as a 'double negative construction' (i.e. both 'not' and 'nothing') which is clear in its meaning but goes against traditional grammar rules and could therefore be described as being non-standard. In the past, at least, some grammar purists might claim that such a sentence is ungrammatical (see below) as, they would argue, the use of two negatives in this way creates ambiguity because the negatives act to cancel each other out and so create a positive sense which is not intended by the speaker, i.e. 'I know something about grammar'.
Using the rules of grammar sentences will always be clear and meaningful, so... if a sentence is unclear or ambiguous, its grammar must be suspect; in this case the sentence is likely not to be non-standard but to be ungrammatical.
Because speech is spontaneous and often created under pressure of time or social circumstance, it is especially prone to containing ungrammatical constructions - when we make errors or forget to complete a sentence, for example.
Being able to recognise and comment upon ungrammatical constructions is an important part of your course - in child language acquisition, for example, you will come across a good deal of ungrammatical language.
Here is a sentence that is ungrammatical:
'I knew such fun could never be grammar'.