It may/might rain tonight.
Is it grammatically right to say "It can/could rain tonight"? If yes, what's the difference in conceptual meaning?
They are all grammatically correct but they convey different degrees of probability:
It can rain tonight = It is theorically possible.
It could rain tonight = It is possible but not particularly likely.
It may rain tonight = There is a chance that this will happen. It is a factual possibility (compare with the theoretical possibility of 'can')
It might rain tonight = It expresses a weaker probability, there is more reserve or doubt on the part of the speaker
I agree with everything you say except that I don't think "It can rain tonight" is proper English, except in the very unusual context offered by cclaff.
Yes, I managed to understand the difference! But I can't imagine a situation in which somebody would say, as a reply: " It can rain tonight". Would it suggest a specific mood on the part of the speaker?
I'm not knocking you, Lou, but 'proper', to my mind, is too loaded a word to describe this ungrammatical use of 'can'.
What do you see as the difference between "ungrammatical" and "not proper"?
A sentence like, "We ain't never done seen nothing like that there," is not ungrammatical because every native English speaker knows exactly what it means.
Be careful of overgeneralisations. Many native speakers would have difficulty unravelling such a sentence (and you can count me in that group), although most would eventually arrive at the intended meaning -- this is, however, despite the unorthodox grammar.
I can't imagine anyone with a NaE background would have any trouble with that sentence, Rewboss. There are cross pond differences where both sides do have difficulties.
I think your definition of "grammatical" is unhelpful, because actually it's very rare that anyone utters complete gibberish, unless they are suffering from certain forms of aphasia. The problem is that there are many, many different dialects of English (as there are of any language), and these dialects all have different grammar rules. Many sentences may be ungrammatical in some dialects but not in others.
I'd say that Mike's definition has been the first helpful definition we've seen here at UsingEng in a good long time. His definition is precisely what The Grammar Book, a respected ESL grammar uses. His definition is remarkably close to the definition adopted by language science. Not surprisingly, it isn't how prescription deals with it.
Paradoxically, while grammar rules are (or should be) arrived at by observation and describe how native speakers actually use the language, we do need standards and conventions so that we can communicate meaningfully -- just as we find it convenient to have a "lingua franca" we can use to communicate to people on an international level.
Consider this: In some dialects of English, a double negative is used to emphasise the "negativity" of a sentence (as in: "I ain't got none"), while in others, a the second negative cancels out the first to make a positive (as in: "He can't not come", to mean that it would be impossible for him to stay away).
In all dialects of English there are certain circumstances and instances where a double negative can be interpreted as a positive. But that is a function of emphasis and intonation.
I'm not aware of any dialect of English that actually has a rule, a real rule that is, where double negatives cancel each other out to form a positive. Perhaps you could point one out for us?
Now, suppose you came across this sentence in a technical manual:
You shouldn't never supply hydrogen gas to this inlet.
Is the author saying that under no circumstances should hydrogen be supplied to this inlet, or that supplying hydrogen to this inlet is not completely inadvisable? Considering that hydrogen is a highly explosive gas when mixed with oxygen, this type of confusion could cost lives.
So here we have an example of a sentence which is grammatically correct in many dialects of English, but can be interpreted in two completely opposite ways.
This is a red herring, Rewboss. If this was to appear in a technical manual, every native speaker of English would know that it was a typo and I can't imagine any person, even the most prescriptive, thinking that the two negatives mean that a person should supply hydrogen gas to the outlet.
These unhelpful statements have been repeated for so lomg by prescriptivists that they have, for some, taken on the qualities of a mantra.
"A tin ear for stress and melody, and an obliviousness to the principles of discourse and rhetoric, are important tools of the trade for the language maven." Steven Pinker - Grammar Puss
To facilitate communication, then, we use an agreed standard, and as part of that standard we agree not to use double negatives at all. This is an artificial grammar, of course, arrived at pretty arbitrarily, but serves a purpose; and so this is what we normally teach in schools.
Of course, many native speakers who have had this standard grammar drummed into them are then inclined to view other dialects as somehow inferior or "incorrect", which, of course, simply isn't true. They're incorrect according to the prescriptive grammar rules agreed upon for the purposes of communication, but those prescriptive grammar rules don't apply to any variation of English except the artificial standards we've created ourselves.
That Standard English better facilitates communication is a complete falsehood, Rewboss. People communicate perfectly well in their dialects, at least as well, if not better using nonstandard forms.
People who have not been raised on prescriptions still use Standard English for writing and for formal speech. They use it not to communicate any more effectively but simply because that is what we use.
The conflict is usually characterised as an intellectual war between "prescriptivists" and "descriptivists", which over-simplifies the whole issue greatly. Prescriptive grammar has its uses, but those uses do not include a Yorkshireman speaking to his mother, or a Kentucky farmer speaking to his sister. We prefer to teach students standard dialects on the grounds that standard dialects are pretty much universally understood and used in the mass media.
Well, I disagree with The Grammar Book. I've pointed out what I believe to be a weakness in that definition: it's far too simplistic and simply doesn't match reality. You haven't addressed that with anything more than appeal to authority, which is a logical fallacy and always a very weak argument.His definition is precisely what The Grammar Book, a respected ESL grammar uses.
How can you, who claims to believe in descriptivism, demand to see "a rule", and then qualify that by saying "a real rule"? What do you regard as "a real rule"? For a huge number of speakers, a double negative is generally a positive, such as the dialects spoken in southeast England, on which RP is partly based. In a large number of dialects, speakers do not use double negatives, or use them only as negated negatives (slightly different from a straight positive, of course, but I was simplifying for clarity).I'm not aware of any dialect of English that actually has a rule, a real rule that is, where double negatives cancel each other out to form a positive. Perhaps you could point one out for us?
How would they know if it's perfectly grammatically correct? Are you saying that technical manuals follow different rules of grammar? If so, why are you even arguing with me?If this was to appear in a technical manual, every native speaker of English would know that it was a typo
Perhaps that's because such a construction doesn't exist in your dialect. Maybe it exists in mine. Do you know all English dialects? I mean, do you really?I can't imagine any person, even the most prescriptive, thinking that the two negatives mean that a person should supply hydrogen gas to the outlet
No, this is your mantra; it has become so because every time somebody says something you personally disagree with, you claim that it's "prescriptivist" and therefore "wrong". It is by way of a knee-jerk reaction with you: "This is a silly prescriptivism", "Prescriptivists have always claimed this, but they're wrong" -- and yet the fact remains that for a large number of native speakers of English, a double negative is not a negative. There's no "right" or "wrong" here; there are dialects of English that treat double negatives differently. The error would be to suggest that one way is "correct" and the other is "incorrect" -- that is the fallacy. They are all correct within their own dialects.These unhelpful statements have been repeated for so lomg by prescriptivists that they have, for some, taken on the qualities of a mantra.
I'd like to see Pinker use that argument for written English. Punctuation and italics can only give a rough clue as to intonation, stress and melody.A tin ear for stress and melody...
People communicate perfectly well within their dialects, but between dialects is an entirely different matter. I would be very surprised indeed if you could understand a broad Geordie dialect, as spoken in the Tyneside area of northeast England. Even most British people have trouble with it. It may well be that "yakkin Geordie is mint", but you'd never write a technical manual or even a novel in Geordie. (You might write a novel in standard English with some well-known Geordie dialect words and a few spellings to indicate a Geordie accent, but that's not the same.)That Standard English better facilitates communication is a complete falsehood, Rewboss. People communicate perfectly well in their dialects, at least as well, if not better using nonstandard forms.
That depends on the person. Skilled speakers use standard English in formal settings precisely because they wish to be understood by a wider audience. When Trainspotting was released in the US, the actors dubbed their lines into a more US-friendly dialect so that Americans could actually understand what was being said. They retained some Scottish speech patterns, but moderated their accent to something very much closer to Oxford English -- a sort of "The engines canna take it, Cap'n" dialect. If Billy Connolly were to perform in his native Glaswegian accent, I confidently predict you would not understand half his jokes. My wife speaks the Kahlgrund dialect with family and neighbours, and High German with everybody else (including me), and will happily tell you that she deliberately speaks High German to me for my benefit: like most people, she is bilingual within her own language.People who have not been raised on prescriptions still use Standard English for writing and for formal speech. They use it not to communicate any more effectively but simply because that is what we use.
I'm not using prescriptive grammar to describe how language is used. Indeed, I expressly made the point that prescriptive grammar is nothing but an artificial set of agreed standards. You're falling into the trap of thinking that there is a war between prescriptive and descriptive grammar (a trap that an awful lot of self-styled "grammarians" on both sides of the argument fall into), when in fact it's a case of different tools for different jobs.Again, there is no need for prescriptive grammar; there actually isn't any need for prescriptive grammar for descriptive grammar accurately describes how language is used in all registers.
To communicate across dialectical boundaries.You pointed out, correct me if I'm wrong, how artificial these prescriptions are. Why would anyone want to use artificial rules for language when language has all the real rules it needs to do the job.
I use descriptions of language use to understand how people communicate, and prescriptions to tell students how to impress prospective employers at job interviews.Why not use accurate descriptions of language instead of artificial prescriptions, which are after all, mere opinions of how some people want to see language.
The problem is that there are many very well-respected authorities who believe very firmly that prescriptivism is not sadly lacking. They may be wrong, but so might the people on your side of the argument. The appeal to authority is a logical fallacy because you have to prove the authority is actually correct.You chide me for "an appeal to authority" yet you offer nothing more than "Rewboss".. These are people who have studied language and found prescriptivism to be sadly lacking. And it is and has been sadly lacking.
And large numbers of speakers use double negatives in the way I describe. You can't have not noticed this, surely.A real rule is one that describes how language is actually used.
Travel a bit, and take a notebook and tape recorder with you.I would truly like to see some proof for this contention.
What I missed was a comma, which is a pure prescription (what is punctuation if not completely abstract, artificial and arbitrary?); but this caused you to slightly misunderstand my sentence. Let me rephrase:RB wrote:
How would they know if it's perfectly grammatically correct? Are you saying that technical manuals follow different rules of grammar? If so, why are you even arguing with me?
I think you missed a negative somewhere in there, but I believe I get your point. Because I disagree, vehemently, with your example.
My dialect is mainly Oxford English, with some influence from Westcountry and a small helping of Bristolian (a.k.a. "Bristle"). I have often negated negatives, but only ever used double negatives as negatives when imitating certain dialects, such as Mockney. Of course, Westcountry does use double negatives, but it's completely unnatural to me. It was never a part of my idiolect.Let's get rid of the maybe's and deal in facts. Do all double negatives mean a positive in your dialect of English, Rewboss? What is your dialect of English?
On the contrary: you have frequently said that rules you happen to disagree with are flat out incorrect.I've never said that one way it correct and others incorrect.
Why lump BrE as one dialect? How's that a reflection of reality?So don't just tell me, prove it to me for I simply don't believe that what you've said, above, is an accurate representation even of BrE. I may well be mistaken but I need proof, not opinions.
I know. So why quote him in this context?I'd like to see you address the issue, Rewboss. Professor Pinker was quite obviously addressing the spoken language.
Standard English is all prescriptions. It is based on certain dialects, but is essentially a completely artificial creation. Standard British English is based on dialects spoken in Oxford and parts of London, where the governing classes were educated, lived and worked. But it is a synthesis of various dialects, primarily Oxford, and is, according to Peter Trudgill, outside of the dialect continuum. That can't have happened by any natural process.But Standard English is hardly guided by prescriptions.
This is true in a purely psychological sense. However, many dialects have rules which happen to conform to "prescriptive" rules.Nobody, using language naturally, ever uses prescriptions because as Professor Pinker says, prescriptions are alien to the natural workings of language.
So when your students have to write job applications (or technical manuals), what advice do you give them about double negatives?The trouble comes when people pass on to ESLs and ENLs these artificial "rules".
You don't understand, do you? It's not so much the rules themselves, it's the approach you use.Take one prescription, just one prescription and show us how it is a "different tool for a different job".
yea, i agree with u on that. it may/might/couldnt/could. but it can rain. not proper.I agree with everything you say except that I don't think "It can rain tonight" is proper English, except in the very unusual context offered by cclaff.