General grammar thread (was Re: Checking in)

minnow at minnow at
Sun Jan 25 06:09:26 EST 2004

widdy wrote:

>On Saturday, January 24, 2004, at 03:58  PM, Charles Butler wrote:
>>> Roger
>>> --
>>> I have a version of that which I've never heard anywhere else. Roughly
>>> formulated, it is something like this:
>>> For first person, "shall" indicates intention and is for normal use
>>> ("I
>>> shall go to the cinema tomorrow"), while "will" indicates an emphatic
>>> intention or perhaps a serious undertaking ("I will have vengeance").
>>> For second and third persons, this is reversed ("He will go with you",
>>> "They shall pursue you to the ends of the Earth").
>>> Has anyone else met this?
>> Yes, is all I can tell you. I've no idea what its linguistic *bona
>> fides*
>> might be, but this is the way my grandfather's grammar books (my
>> source for
>> grammatical knowledge of English when I was a child, and probably
>> dating
>> from about 1920) put it.
>> Charlie
>I think the shall/will distinction is falling away (at least in spoken,
>North American English). I'm not saying that it should or shouldn't . .
Gentlemen, gentlemen, it is surely obvious why nobody knows this rule any
more unless it is his or her business to write in English (and mostly not
even when it is)?

Nobody in speech need say other than "I'll", "you'll", "he'll" and so on,
or, if it ought to have been either "would" or "should", "I'd" and so
forth.  So they don't know what it ought to be were it not abbreviated.

>Others have expressed their grammar/style bugaboos, things that drive
>them to drink, distraction, or over the cliff.

You want honesty?  None of the things I have decried worry me enough to
make me lose sleep at night the way I wake in the early hours debating with
myself whether the word most likely to have been Chaucer's own is "eft" or
"oft" in one place in a particular poem of which I am preparing an edition,
and each of them (plus "efte" just for good measure) is in at least one
early text.  At least thank the deity of your choice one doesn't need to
worry about where Chaucer put the commas and semi-colons!

>For me it's the misuse
>of the words envy and jealousy (in their various forms). Being jealous
>and being envious are two very different things.

How about the fine distinction between being avenged and being revenged?

It's probably too late to rescue any notion that to refute something means
just a little more than merely to deny it.  No politician has denied
anything for years: when they say "That isn't true!" and give no evidence
at all to back up their assertion, it is always reported as "so-and-so
yesterday refuted accusations that... ".  It would be grand if they
occasionally rebutted them instead, just for variety.

>(who's editing a course manuscript now and finding comma splices

Your own (in which case you can amend them if you want to and think it
matters) or someone else's (in which case you can gloat a bit)?


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