When you hear a newscaster say, “The hurricane has WENT from Hawaii to Osaka overnight,” perhaps, like me, you yell, “That’s GONE from Hawaii, you knucklehead!” Nevertheless, you have understood that knucklehead perfectly despite the grammatical error. There is no ambiguity in his meaning.
Meaningless Grammarism 1: Irregular Present Participles
So, if your students write, He has ate the sandwich already, would you correct them? The grammatical error is the same one the newscaster made, and the meaning of the sentence is obvious. We hear this kind of error all the time from our English-speaking friends, professors, reporters, etc. I call this kind of mistake a “meaningless grammarism”. It’s a way of communicating that doesn’t comply with standard English grammar rules, yet doesn’t impede clear communication.
Meaningless Grammarism 2: Third Person Singular “S”
There are many meaningless grammarisms in English. For example, what purpose does the “s” serve on this present tense third person verb “The woman looks at her daughter”? That “s” does not add meaning to the sentence. The sentence is equally clear if I write “The woman look at her daughter”. In fact, some forms of pidgin English and dialects always leave the “s” off third person verbs, without sacrificing the clarity of their sentences. Should we correct this error in our students’ writing?
Meaningless Grammarism 3: Of after A Couple
Increasingly in my reading I’m seeing a third kind of meaningless grammarism. Consider this example: She gave her son a couple dollars before he left for the store. There is no of after the words a couple. Although standard English dictates that the preposition should follow them, the meaning of this sentence is clear and adding an of would not improve its clarity.
How should we, as grammar teachers to second language learners, respond when students incorrectly use the simple past form with the present perfect tense, forget the s on a third person verb, or leave out of after a couple? None of these errors compromise their ability to communicate in English. Afterall, isn’t our goal to help our students communicate clearly in English? Or is our goal to help them become grammatically perfect, perhaps even beyond many native speakers?
To be honest, I generally do mark these grammarisms as errors in my students’ writing. After all, it is, my job to teach students the most grammatically correct English I can, and meaningless grammarisms, while irrelevant, are errors nonetheless. However, if I have a struggling student who has countless other errors to correct, these grammarisms are the first mistakes I overlook.
What about you? Do you correct these kinds of errors? Can you think of any other meaningless grammarisms?