The Cambridge grammar of the English language /. Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey K. Pullum p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 0 The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, often abbreviated CGEL by its adherents, is a comprehensive reference book on English language grammar. Its primary authors are Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum. English Grammar. RODNEY HUDDLESTON. Ullil’ersity of Queensland. GEOFFREY K. PULLUM. Ulliversity ()f Caliji)mia, Santa Cru. “CAMBRIDGE.:>.

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The candidates were excited, even over-excited, by the “imagery”, as they had been taught trammar school that “imagery” is what counts in literature. One of the Pet Shop Boys’ perkier songs has a chorus which goes: For the purposes of ans, sharp focus on current English is entirely legitimate, but there are things we may, and perhaps should, want to know about our language other than those synchronic description can reveal.

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. The syntax is not what it seems; “one in a million men” is not the subject of a sentence which continues “change grammar way you feel”. They rightly decline to prescribe usage, but they exceed their remit when they proscribe prescription, for it is a fact of language use that writers and speakers concern themselves with more than information throughput and upllum as strictly understood.

The Cambridge Grammar would call this “desententialisation”, and alert us to the lack of clear bearings on “time referred to” the time Dickens is writing about and “time of orientation” the time Dickens is writing in or from. If that were so, then nobody could be “someone eminently worthy of being followed in matters of taste and literary style”, as they say pullu, the same page, nor would grqmmar be any reason for appealing, as they sometimes do, to “the writings of highly prestigious authors” or “the usage of the best writers” they carefully refrain from naming these paragons.

As a punishment for my sins in a previous life, I recently had to mark 64 examination scripts in which third-year undergraduates reading English at Cambridge offered their comments on the opening of Dickens’s Bleak House:.

This would be described as “confused” by today’s undergraduates, who take it for granted that “accessibility” is the first requirement anr all writing and impute confusion to any writer who stretches them.

The Cambridge Grammar spends 20 extremely well-observed pages on “number and countability” in current English, and would dismiss the claim that “one” should take a verb in the singular; “one” with a plural verb is not looseness but “usage”.

Fretful sub-editors who want to know the better way with “which” and “that” must apply elsewhere. These 1, pages are not short of terms which will be new to the non-specialist, and they bristle with a more-than-grammatical deliciousness: After all, there are many things which are certainly “established” but only arguably “well established” – the Church of England, for example.

The usage of those who abide by exploded, traditional rules is usage still; maiden aunts who would rather expose themselves at evensong than ask for “a large quantity of stamps” should be equal in the eyes of historical description with those who don’t even remember that “agenda” was once a plural and feel they need an s for the agendas they progress through.


The tense of that writing, like the tense of that last sentence “will have been”is best described with an old term: Or consider some characteristic lines from one of the language’s most grammatically resourceful writers, Emily Dickinson:. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth In her right hand, she brandishes a bundle of twigs above the bare torso of a “bad boy”; he’s holding his book with its cover toward him, his eyes are turned up into her disapproving stare and, though he looks as if he’s about to get a hiding, he has a big grin on his face.

Take the case of “only”. And what is “careworn verbiage”? Put the “only” elsewhere and the schmooze evaporates: To delineate the experience of living with and through a language a grammsr beneath or beyond the ambitions of systematic grammarwe need fresh-minted terms and brilliant redescriptions such as uuddleston Cambridge Grammar supplies in its strong arguments for the claim that “English has grammaar future cambrivge, soon to be pkllum in the Daily Mail, no doubt, as “dons say english has no future”.

Readers need respect for, a capacity to delight in, usages other than their own; such respect and delight are not encouraged by the tendency of grammarians to treat “usage” as if it were a noun which occurred only in the singular, nor by their habit of dismissing how the language used to be with their equivalent of the characters’ constant refrain in EastEnders: Such as what Ben Jonson meant when he wrote:. Drinke to me, onely, with thine eyes, And I will pledge with mine; Or leave a kisse but in the cup, And Ile not looke for wine.

At first hearing, a traditionalist might want to change “change” to “changes” – “one in a million men changes the way you feel” – though even Neil Tennant might have difficulty getting his mouth round that extra syllable while following the broad, expansive lines of the tune.

The last line of Geoffrey Hill’s poem, “Pisgah”, reads: Topics Reference and languages books. We hang on the words of style gurus about everything from trainers to varieties of olive oil, but on the subject of our language there is nothing to say, only market research to report.

The lavender of the subjunctive

Language too is an affair which, from one point of view, is always just in the flush and tremor of beginning while, from an other, quite as sharp-eyed a point of view, it continues to run down foreseeable grooves formed by accumulated habit. Bleak House havers creatively over the boundaries between past and present in order to ask whether the story it’s telling is about the bad cambridgd days or the way we live now, to question confidence about history’s direction, to gauge the gap, if gap there be, between the primordial “mud” and the “Mlud” with which the Lord Chancellor is eventually addressed on the novel’s third page.

The apparent grammatical stumble expresses splendidly a trepidation such as any one at such a moment might experience, but you have to wonder if the words aren’t wrong to find how right they are. Paul had just released “Yesterday” when Mr Smith began to teach my class clause-analysis and how to avoid dangling participles. The descriptive grammarian in quest of systematic clarity will correctly observe that “historically the gerund and present participle of traditional grammar have different sources, but in Modern English the forms are identical.


Yet even the members of this excellent Cambridge team sometimes fail to confine themselves within lullum narrow bounds of testimony. Yet a language like English is simultaneously virgin and long clapped-out, so old words for it are still good too. Or consider some characteristic lines from one of the language’s most grammatically resourceful writers, Emily Dickinson: Because linguists busy themselves with “actual usage” “synchronic” study of the language, in their termsthey are professionally bound to scant other, earlier usages; the “long-standing” must always give way to the “actual”.

The sentence seems innocent enough in contrast to their hudddleston comment, which groans with inexactitude and redundancy: The Gramnar Grammar rightly doubts that “present-day English” can be grammatically analysed in this hudeleston, because “historical change has more or less eliminated mood from the inflectional system”, and it sensibly re-describes “subjunctive” as “the name of a syntactic construction – a pu,lum that is finite but tenseless, containing the plain form of the verb”.

One of the Pet Shop Boys’ perkier songs has a chorus which goes:.

Huddleston and Pullum: Exercises

They say of the sentence “In this day and age one must circle round and explore every avenue” that it “may be loaded with careworn verbiage, or it may even be arrant nonsense, but there is absolutely nothing grammatically wrong with it”.

All descriptive grammarians can determine is whether something is “established” or not; their “well” is illicit. Freud imagined that “where the Coliseum now stands we could at the same time admire Nero’s vanished Golden House. One in a million men change the way you feel one in a million men baby, it’s up to me. We should not expect too much from linguists; they are witnesses not judges.

When Beckett gave his only broadcast talk, about his experiences of the Irish Red Cross Hospital in Normandy where he served as interpreter and store-keeper from August to Januaryhe ended by entertaining. Perhaps the adjective is here a new portmanteau word made up from “outworn” and “careless”. The pedantic carper is, however, right and on the verge of a discovery; there is something odd about that chorus, and its oddness is apt to the situation in which two, previously promiscuous homosexuals shakily embark together on a possibly monogamous future.

She holds an open book in her left hand, beneath which sits a “good boy”, notably round-shouldered, already vested in what is probably a monk’s habit, his fingers tracing the page he’s intently squinting at.

It can be a sign of respect to raise an objection rather than hudddleston over permissively while re-describing usual practice in such a way as to make a new locution fine by readjusted norms. Dickinson’s vaults and swivels resolve themselves into plain sense, as a paraphrase shows: The words “a time-honoured conception of humanity in ruins” are ambiguous because of uncertain juncture.

This is another of those well-known prescriptive rules that are massively at variance with actual usage. Of course they are uncertain about number, and whether number of partners matters.