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Speaking your language

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  • Grammar

    I was always taught never to start a sentence with 'And'. Surely Mr Crisp should have been extra prudent when writing an article bemoaning the standards of English, and avoided such an inelegant sentence structure?

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  • I think it's journalese

    Technically one can't start a sentance with 'and', but clearly in reality you can: newspapers, the Bible and Shakespeare all do it fairly freely.

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  • Grammar

    Not only does Mr Crisp start a sentence (and indeed a paragraph) with the word "And", he begins another paragraph with "But". Practise what you preach, Mr Crisp.



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  • 'buts' and 'ifs'

    Starting sentances with 'buts' and 'ands' is pretty standard 'journalese'. Showing he knows how to adapt to the appropriate style for his audience is an excellent example of Mr Crisp practicing what he preaches.

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  • O Peter, thy grammar is appalling.

    Yes, even Caesar is not above the grammarians; and nor, it seems, is Mr Crisp. "But is a compulsory foundation course or remedial lessons at Law School the answer?" Mmm. "[C]ompulsory foundation course" and "remedial lessons at Law School" together make two, so I believe the correct form is "are".

    Also, I suggest you seek advice and support from your law school in relation to your conciseness and powers of argument: you have managed to waste 700 words on two points, one self-evident (that lawyers need to be able to read and write properly), and one completely unsubstantiated (that many of them cannot). Good day sir.

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  • Gerald Erasmus: smug, but wrong

    Actually, I think the writer is perfectly correct to use 'is', as to use the word 'are' would be to suggest that BOTH things are the answer, when what he is referring to is that it could be EITHER of them.

    The point that lawyers need to speak English is also clearly not self-evident, as otherwise so many straight-A students wouldn't come to law school unable to write properly.

    Lastly, the fact that that is happening is far from 'completely unsubstantiated', as the view of the SRA director that first made the point in the previous story, the City law firm partner this piece quotes, and of course Peter Crisp's own direct professional experience all go some way to substantiating.

    I did like your 'good day, sir' sign-off, though: it will help remove doubt in the minds of anyone struggling to decide whether you are just a bit unjustifiably smug or actually insufferably so.

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  • Poor English

    There's quite a lot of substantiation in the original story, too.

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  • "Is" or "are" - I'm afraid I agree with Gerald!

    I'm afraid I have to agree with Gerald on the "is" or "are" point. In a case like this, where the writer is equating two ideas and therefore using a noun rather than an adjective to play the role of the compliment within the structure of the sentence (e.g. "John is a giant" as opposed to "John is tall"), but the two nouns being equated are different in number, whether the verb is singular or plural will be dictated by the number of the noun which is playing the role of the subject (and is, in this respect, grammatically speaking the entity underlying the "action" in the sentence - the "doer" of the verb). Thus if Mr Crisp had designated "answer" as the subject of the sentence rather than the compliment and written, "Is the answer a compulsory foundation course or remedial lessons at law school?", he would have been correct.

    However, instead he designated "answer" as the compliment, and "a compulsory foundation course or remedial lessons at law" as the subject. Now, however one chooses to construct the above phrase, it remains plural in number. Therefore the verb should be plural.

    As a subsidiary point, surely, Mike, you would allow that, if Mr Crisp had expressed the sentence as a positive statement rather than a question, it would properly have read, "A compulsory foundation course or remedial lessons are the answer." Therefore why should the number of the verb change if it is rephrased as a question?

    I would welcome your thoughts (or those of others), as it is an interesting point of grammar.

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  • Minding your language

    I am not sure that there exists any longer a cast-iron rule against beginning a sentence with “And” or “But.” If there ever has been such a rule, it is not always being obeyed by many contemporary professional users of the English language—not to mention several eminent writers of English in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some correspondents have made a mention of grammarians. Perhaps a quotation from a textbook of grammar, published as long ago as 1893 by the Cambridge University Press, might be of some help. Here it is: “If we consider the ease with which long compound verbs can be formed in modern German, it seems curious that our own Teutonic language should lack the same facility. But such is the case. And as compound terms are increasingly necessary to express the complex ideas of science, we fall back on Greek to supply our needs.” This quotation is from The Elements of English Grammar by Alfred West, M.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge, Fellow of University College, London.

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