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Forever, since I can recall, I've used a book for reference to English grammar, written by Peter Bullions, whenever I've felt ambiguous about whatever it be―from punctuation to syntax. And hitherto, I have been very assured by the laid-down rules provided by this seemingly extraordinary and concise book; although judging by the rules proposed by users on this website, it certainly seems as if the rules whereby I have been composing "grammatical" English texts all this time, and sharing my knowledge with others here, are no longer in use! So, I surely seem to be in a tricky predicament, where I find myself uneasy to impart conceivably-outdated information!

Do you suggest I abandon all which I've been taught by this book, or I alter the rules I reckon to be then-right but now-wrong, through meticulous comparisons for confirmation of validity?!

Please note that in this book, the 2nd person singular pronoun is thou, and the 2nd person plural ye. However, I have easily learned to ignore these evidently-outdated pronouns, and instead simply use "you" for both cases (which is ridiculously unclear, due to the confusion of whether a crowd or an individual is the audience).

Thanks for your recommendations.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, tchrist, Kit Z. Fox Mar 17 '14 at 1:31

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I think it's General Reference that all languages change over time. English has probably changed more than most over the past couple of centuries, but even if it's changed less than the "average", such an old textbook is likely to contain seriously outdated information, and should not be relied on by anyone seeking to master contemporary usage. –  FumbleFingers Mar 16 '14 at 18:56
For anyone who's interested, this work is available online here. It really is a marvellously concise little work, and confirms what I have always felt, that English syntax has changed very little in the past 200 years. –  StoneyB Mar 16 '14 at 19:18
I'm not sure what you mean by "our language" there. I'm guessing you're not a native speaker - but even if you are, why pick on early C19 as the "perfect" version of English we should have preserved? What about Shakespearean usages? Or Chaucerian, come to that? –  FumbleFingers Mar 16 '14 at 19:18
@StoneyB: Might your judgement there not be affected by the fact that (as a thespian) you're probably more familiar than most with various features which are actually fading from use? There will obviously be many contemporary usages that simply didn't exist 200 years ago, even if many of those that did exist then are still "normal" (not OP's cherished thee/thou, obviously! :) –  FumbleFingers Mar 16 '14 at 19:23
@WS2: That's perfectly possible. And of course different people will have different ideas about which changes are "significant" - witness StoneyB downplaying the extent of change in English on the grounds that syntax is more important than punctuation or vocabulary (nobody's mentioned pronunciation yet, but that's obviously central to language too). But this OP's position is basically just a peeve, and it would be truly insane for anyone to treat Bullions' tome as a good starting point for someone wishing to learn English today. –  FumbleFingers Mar 16 '14 at 21:38

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As with "thou" and "ye" --> "you", many "rules" of grammar change - more importantly, though, usage changes. Grammar fundamentals have probably not changed too dramatically from 1820, but various preferences have. For example, both commas and hyphenation continue to be used less frequently, and many new or once-nonstandard constructions are now commonly used and generally accepted.

Also note that prescriptions can vary widely from one authority to another. It does not go without saying that your book is 100% accurate about every aspect of English usage from its time. Someone today who is concerned with "talking right" will probably consult more than one source for rules or guidelines.

Having said all that, the purpose of adhering to grammar rules or usage trends is so that you can be understood (or not looked at as if you are crazy). If you are required to communicate with people professionally, for example, then it would pay to do so in an unambiguous, generally accepted, not too distracting (but of course not overly colloquial) --> contemporary way.

I don't expect that you learnt English from this book, nor that you only read literature from that era, so you probably already reconcile what's in that book with what you see, hear, and read all around you. However, I do recommend that you get a modernday style guide that appeals to you, and/or scour reputable (or not so reputable!) websites for grammar guidelines and usage samples, if you are concerned with using modern accepted English.

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I couldn't have asked for more. –  user68911 Mar 16 '14 at 19:11

Back in the day, written English was expected to follow the rules learnt from studying Latin. This has become known as the prescriptive approach. Today, we have a more descriptive way of looking at grammar.

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Not saying you are wrong, but your answer does lack details. eg, "Back in the day" = when? And you could give some examples/cite sources. Also, you should make sure your answer relates back to the question that was asked. Does this mean the OP should disregard the book? –  nxx Mar 16 '14 at 19:32
Yeah. @user69082, you probably should've commented that. The irreversible damage has already been inflicted by nxx, however. –  user68911 Mar 16 '14 at 19:39
Hey I didn't downvote! Just trying to help the poster avoid (further) downvotes (which are reversible). –  nxx Mar 16 '14 at 19:48
That is the danger inherent in commenting on a downvoted post. –  nxx Mar 16 '14 at 19:54
The point is well made that linguistics today is more concerned with describing how people actually speak, rather than setting out rules prescribing how [some smaller subset of people think] they should speak. But obviously as I write this comment, the mood of those currently online and expressing an opinion by voting tend to the "reactionary" position. –  FumbleFingers Mar 16 '14 at 21:19

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