Thus far, the grammar changes that have been proposed are rather moderate. Even if it might sound a little strange to a native speaker for someone to say “unconsistent” rather than “inconsistent,” or “I did buy this yesterday” rather than “I bought this yesterday,” or to indicate possessive by a capital “Z” rather than an apostrophe, these changes are still recognizable and understandable to anyone who knows English. Beyond these kinds of moderate changes, there are other grammar reforms which involve more drastic difference in the way English is spoken. Some people may agree to the moderate changes but not the more drastic ones, and any change by itself can be made without making all of the changes. It is my considered opinion that all of the grammar changes should be made, but grammar reform can go forward without complete agreement on all of the suggested changes in this chapter.

If people will be a little more flexible, and have a little more tolerance for change, English can be even more simplified by making a few drastic changes. One of the biggest problems that students encounter in learning English is to know which pronoun to use. By cutting down on pronoun choice, a great improvement can be made. English pronoun use is not as difficult to learn as many other languages; some languages make distinct words according to the speaker’s class or gender, or according to the class or gender of the subject being discussed. In general, English and many other languages get along fine without making these distinctions.  English has a class-neutral and a gender-neutral vocabulary, with one major exception. First person pronouns (I, we), second person pronoun (you), and third person plural pronoun (they) are all used without regard to gender.  But there is a major inconsistency in third person singular pronouns (he, she, it) which are gendered.  Forcing every person to be referred to as either “he” or “she” is discriminatory to androgynous or transgendered people who do not wish to conform to either masculine or feminine standards.  And denoting non-human species by a separate “it” category promotes a disrespectful attitude toward animals.  For these reasons, as well as for simplicity in language use, the most simple solution for English is to eliminate the words “he, she, it.” In place of those words, it is very easy to substitute the word “they” for a singular as well as a plural third person. This change is consistent with the use of the word “you,” which can refer either to a single person or more than one person.  We do not need to expect learners of English to have to remember “he/him/his, she/her/hers, it, its/its”  What a mess!  When referring to a third person or persons, or animals, “they” is quite sufficient.

Enacting this reform will have the added advantage of eliminating the different verb form for third person singular.  For example, in current grammar it is difficult for English learners to remember to say “I have, you have, he has, she has, it has, we have, you have, they have,”  “I go, you go, he goes, she goes, it goes, we go, you go, they go” or “I expect, you expect, she expects, it expects, he expects, we expect, you expect, they expect.”  With this reform, everyone can use the same verb form “I have, you have, they have, we have,”  “I go, you go, they go, we go” or “I expect, you expect, they expect, we expect.”



Beside the above, pronouns that are not necessary and are complex to remember should also be eliminated.  In my teaching I have found that English learners find it very difficult to remember when to use subject or object forms of pronouns.  The easiest solution is that the complex number of pronouns and possessives “I/me/my, you/your, he/him/his, she/her/hers, it/its, we/us/our, you/your/yours, they/them/their” should be reduced to simply “I, you, they, we.” All pronouns should be consistent, in the way “you” can be both subject and object. “You want to go with me / us / them” and “I  / we / they want to go with you” the word “you” is consistent but “I / me, we / us, and they / them” are not. Why should “I” change to “me” and “we” change to “us” and “they” change to “them” when “you” works just fine without changing?  Context can denote subject or object., as in “Do you want to go with I by car?  They go with we to see movie. You go with they to meet father.” This is, of course, a more drastic change in the way of speaking than many people would feel comfortable with, but if these changes can be implemented future generations of English speakers will be very grateful to inherit a simpler language to learn.



It is also simple to eliminate the possessive pronouns “my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, its, our, their”  by using capital Z at the end of subject-object pronouns, consistent with all other possession of words.  The most simple and consistent way to denote pronoun possession is by using the new words “IZ, youZ, theyZ, weZ”.  For example, “Do you want to go with I to IZ house in youZ car?  They go with we to see theyZ and  weZ favorite movie.  You go with they to meet IZ father. Dont judge a book by theyZ cover.” This more drastic change will be more disturbing to some people, but once they learn it, future generations will benefit from the simplicity. For third person plural, used in sentences like “Is JohnZ football helmet really theyZ?” to distinguish if this is the helmet of John or of other people referenced by “theyz” it would be easy to clarify the exact meaning by writing: “Is JohnZ football helmet really Johnz?”



Especially troublesome for learners of English is the pronoun “its,” because it is so often confused with “it’s,” the contraction for “it is.” Again, rather than continue to torment generations of learners, it is better to eliminate this troublesome word altogether. This is easily done by the use of “they” to cover any animate or inanimate object (including animals as well as both masculine or feminine human beings).  For example, for either one dog or several dogs, instead of saying “Is this its dogfood?” or “Is this their dogfood?” it is better to say “Is this theyZ dogfood?” Eliminating the possessive pronoun “its” has this added advantage of ending the confusion that so many people, including native speakers, have concerning when to use “its” and “it’s”.  Henceforth, “its” should be used only as the shortened form of “it is” but without any apostrophe. But if the verb “to be” is eliminated, then even that use of its will be gone.


About englisheasylearning

Walter L. Williams, Ph.D., has taught at UCLA and as Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He taught English Language in Thailand and also as Fulbright Professor at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia. He has published eleven books, including JAVANESE LIVES: WOMEN AND MEN IN MODERN INDONESIAN SOCIETY (Rutgers University Press).
This entry was posted in Why English is Difficult to Learn, and what to do about it and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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