WILLIAMS EASY GRAMMAR

5a. THE NEED TO REFORM ENGLISH GRAMMAR
Compared to many other languages, English grammar is fairly easy to learn. For example, English has only two inflected forms of each verb tense, compared to four to six forms in French and Spanish, and even more in Russian. The big problem with English is not the grammar rules per se, though some of them could be easily simplified, but the fact that there are so many exceptions to the rules. The main areas where words are not consistent, and there are irregular forms, is in verb conjugation, plural forms of nouns, possessive forms, comparison, and in prefixes and suffixes. Suggestions will be made in this chapter showing how a few changes to make grammar consistent will result in English becoming much less difficult to learn.

As with spelling, the biggest problem with grammar is lack of consistency. English grammar is so inconsistent that sometimes even grammar books make mistakes!  Many native-speaking Americans make grammar mistakes. The goal of grammar rules should be to facilitate clear and effective communication.  A simplified grammar system is needed to get rid of grammatical inconsistencies (for example, this word, which pluralizes by changing the ending “y” to “ies”).  Today, the world is left with English, this mess of a language, as its main means of international communication. It is time for the language to respond to these realities and change the grammar rules that are inconsistent, and inconsistently applied, rather than just to keep replicating one generation after another of people who have to struggle with grammar problems.

When languages are taught, teachers typically expect the students to adapt to the language. Grammar rules are taught, even when those rules do not make any sense. They are presented in terms that every student must adapt to the existing language. The different approach of this book is that an international language should adapt to the needs of those people who are trying to learn it, by a campaign to simplify the language.

Around the world schoolchildren and adults are struggling to learn English as never before. Because English grammar is so inconsistent, and because there are so many exceptions to grammar rules, both children and adults are tormented in English classes as they struggle to make sense of a senseless amalgam. The difficulty in learning English is compounded by an ineffective means of teaching languages in many countries’ educational systems. In Southeast Asia, government schools continue to emphasize English grammar, despite numerous studies which show that teaching grammar is not an effective strategy to learning a language. Developing skills to build vocabulary and improve pronunciation are much more important for students than learning grammar rules.

The simplifications suggested here are intended not only to benefit non-native speakers of English, but also to benefit future generations of children who now have to struggle for years—as I did—to become proficient in spelling and writing.  English need not be this difficult.  There is a good basis for reform of grammar, by looking at the grammar of other languages and drawing inspiration from those languages to decide methods by which English can be made less complex. I will suggest some examples by drawing on the languages with which I am most familiar (especially Indonesian, Thai, Spanish, and German).

A spelling reform movement exists, but it does not require native speakers to change anything about the way they speak, only the way they write.  Grammar reform, however, asks native speakers to change the words they use and the construction of sentences. These differences make grammar reform less likely to occur. Grammar reform is just as needed as spelling reform, but because grammar reform will likely be more controversial, the two topics are being presented separately. Spelling reform can still take place without grammar reform, even though both together would make English literacy much easier both for the next generation of native English speakers learning to read, as well as for speakers of other languages who want to learn English. This chapter contains suggestions for grammar reform, presented from the most simple and easily accomplished word changes, to more drastic grammatical changes that alter the way sentences are constructed.

HOW CAN GRAMMAR SIMPLIFICATION BE ENACTED?

One option in allowing a gradual implementation of these changes is for spoken English to continue as it is, but native-English-speaking children just learning to read, and learners of English as a second language, could be taught with the new simplified grammar rules. That would allow them more quickly to learn enough English to communicate, and then they could be taught later to recognize verb conjugation and other aspects of the traditional grammar. If print materials in English could be published with the new simplified grammar, so that people can gradually get used to reading in this new way, then even those wedded to the traditional ways would still be able to read the new grammar forms. They would be free to continue writing and speaking in the old ways. Gradually over time, as the new generation matures, people will start speaking more like the words they are reading, and the old grammar inconsistencies can be allowed to fade away. Still, I recognize that gaining acceptance of even the most simple grammatical changes suggested here will be an uphill battle. The most important need will be for the writers of grammar books and dictionaries to accept that these changes are alternatives that are acceptable. That is, people can continue speaking and writing with the old grammar rules, but it will also be acceptable to write and spell in the new reformed way of simplified grammar as well.

Though in my opinion all of these spelling and grammar changes should occur, objections lodged against one particular grammar change should not prevent the other suggested changes from being considered independently and adopted widely.  For a future edition of this work, I will greatly appreciate readers sending me additional ideas for grammar changes, or persuasive arguments critiquing these suggested changes below.  I would especially like to hear from speakers of other languages that I am not familiar with, and from language teachers and linguists, who have other ideas of changes that should be added to this list.

IRREGULAR WORDS

The first principle of grammar reform is to get rid of irregular words.  Consistency should be the goal. Because English has so many irregular words, learners have to waste huge amounts of time just memorizing the exceptions to a rule.  If irregular words were made regular, then learners could learn good English much more quickly and with much more ease. As much as possible, words should conform to the general pattern.

A second level of grammar reform is to go beyond making irregular words regular. The other option is to change the grammar rules themselves so that words are no longer irregular. This chapter offers examples of both kinds of reforms. Rather than just learning a set of grammar rules that can be applied consistently to all words, I also try to simplify the rules so that “regular” or “irregular” categories become meaningless. This is the approach that I take for verbs. Here are the suggestions for grammar reform, in following posts after this one.

 

5b. NEED TO ELIMINATE VERB CONJUGATION

Irregular verbs are the worst offenders in English grammar irregularities, but also the easiest to improve.  In general, past tense is denoted by adding “ed” to the end of the verb.  But there are so many irregular verbs that it is very difficult for learners of English to know when to follow this rule and when a special word is needed.  Imagine that you are a non-native speaker of English, and you are trying to learn which verbs make the past tense by adding “ed” or which verbs have a separate word to mark the past. Or, imagine that you are an English teacher trying to explain to non-native speakers why the verb infinitive form of “be” is divided into several different words: “I am, you are, he/she/it is.  I was, you were, he/she/it was.”  To remind yourself how difficult irregular verbs are for learners of English, take a moment to construct some sentences using irregular verbs in these phrases:

I want to _________  but yesterday I __________
begin – began                         break – broke                          bring – brought
build – built                            buy – bought                           come – came
do – did                                   drink – drank                           eat – ate
find – found                             fly – flew                                 get – got
give – gave                              go – went                                 have – had

keep – kept                              know – knew                           leave – left
make – made                           meet – met                              pay – paid
say – said                                 see – saw                                 sell – sold
send – sent                               speak – spoke                          spend – spent
take – took                               teach – taught                          tell – told
think – thought

One approach to grammar reform would be to make all irregular verbs regular. This would be the result for the most commonly used verbs:

begin – begined                      break – breaked                     bring – bringed
build – builded                       buy – buyed                            come – comed
do – doed                                 drink – drinked                                    eat – eated
find – finded                            fly – flyed                               get – geted
give – gived                             go – goed                                 have – haved

keep – keeped                          know – knowed                       leave – leaved
make – maked                        meet – meeted                                     pay – payed
say – sayed                              see – seed                                sell – selled
send – sended                          speak – speaked                      spend – spended
take – taked                             teach – teached                                    tell – telled
think – thinked

If the writers of dictionaries and grammar books would simply accept these spellings as one of the correct ways to make these common verbs past tense, then many problems of verb conjugation would be solved. In fact, many forms of pidgin language do exactly these forms. That is, pidgin is more consistent and logical than standard English! But when students in school are taught that these logical and consistent words are not “correct,” anyone who uses such words is stigmatized as uneducated and uncouth. A character in a novel might be characterized as a country bumpkin by having them say “I seed with my own eyes what I knowed to be true, and no matter what they teached in the school I thinked this is a good way to talk. I be going to ask dictionary writers to make these word choices acceptable.”

Making all irregular verbs regular, as is done in pidgin, would be an improvement of English, and would make it less difficult to learn. There is, however, an easier approach. This easy way is represented by some verbs that do not change at all between tenses: put, cost, cut, hurt, quit.  Why can’t we do with all verbs what we do with these verbs?

“Put paper here, because last week I put paper here as well.”

“I want to cut some paper, but yesterday I cut my finger.”

“Five packs of paper cost ten dollars, but a year ago they cost only eight dollars.”

“We hurt ourselves when we criticize others, but in past generations people hurt themselves even more. They finally quit criticizing others, and we should quit as well.”

Following this form, the same verb form can be used as the present tense instead of having to remember to say “I want to buy some paper, but yesterday I bought paper.”

ELIMINATE VERB CONJUGATION

Verb conjugation is needlessly complex and difficult to learn, even for regular verbs. Rather than just getting rid of irregular verbs, I propose a more drastic change that is an extremely simple solution to all these problems with verbs. This change is inspired by Bahasa Indonesia. When I first started learning this language, I did not see how Indonesians could communicate without doing verb conjugation. But actually, to my surprise, I found out that it is very easy. For example, the verb “go” in Bahasa Indonesia is “per-gi.” To say “I go” in the present tense, add the word “Saya” for I, it is “Saya pergi.” To say “I went” instead of having to learn a different word “went” for the past tense, Indonesians simply add the word “sudah” which means “in the past,” saying “Saya pergi sudah.” Any verb can be denoted as the past by adding the word “sudah” and any verb can be denoted in the future by adding another word that means “in the future.” Thus, there is no need to conjugate verbs in Bahasa Indonesia. That language is very easy to learn because only one verb name needs to be memorized.

How can this idea be adapted into English? Actually, English already uses the word “will” to indicate future tense. Once someone memorizes the verb “go” it is easy to remember that the future tense is always indicated by saying “I will go.” There is no need to memorize a separate verb form for the future of “go,” since it is the same verb form as the present tense of “go.” That logical pattern, though, does not apply to the past tense. A student must memorize a separate word “went” to use as the past tense of “go.” In English, past tense is the difficult part for students to remember.

What I propose is that English should use a word to indicate the past, in the exact same way that it uses “will” to indicate the future. After thinking about many different alternatives, I decided that the best word to use for the past is “did.”  While it may be a bit awkward for native English speakers to adjust to this slight change of meaning, the answer to the question “Did you go to Toronto?” could be answered “Yes, I did go to Toronto” instead of saying “Yes, I went to Toronto.” By using “did” with all verbs, the use of a separate word for the past can be avoided as easily as the future by saying “I will go to Toronto.”

By this means, verb conjugation becomes unnecessary. Even remembering to add the ending “ed” to a regular verb is not easy for students of English. “I want to go” for the past tense must add “I wanted to go” which is different. But for irregular verbs, the memorization required is much more difficult.  Whether a verb is regular or irregular, the most commonly used verbs adapt well to this plan. Instead of trying to remember all the following different words [inserted in brackets below] that mark the past tense of every one of these verbs, using the word “did” for the following actions makes English much more easy to learn:

PRESENT                           PAST TENSE                                FUTURE TENSE

I do                                      I did                                                 I will do.

I say                                     I did say  [said]                                I will say

I see                                     I did see  [saw]                                 I will see

I get                                      I did get  [got]                                 I will get

I think                                   I did think  [thought]                      I will think

I have                                   I did have  [had]                              I will have

I give                                    I did give  [gave]                            I will give

I look                                    I did look   [looked]                       I will look

I call                                     I did call  [called]                         I will call

I move                                  I did move  [moved]                    I will move

I find                                     I did find   [found]                       I will find

I change                                I did change [changed]                I will change

I know                                  I did know  [knew]                      I will know

I tell                                      I did tell  [told]                            I will tell

I run                                      I did run  [ran]                             I will run

I learn                                    I did learn  [learned]                   I will learn

I study                                   I did study [studied]                   I will study

I go                                       I did go  [went]                           I will go

I come                                   I did come  [came]                     I will come

By using these simple two words “did” and “will” verb conjugation can be completely eliminated. Then, it does not matter whether a verb is regular or irregular, because the verb itself never changes! And, as an added advantage, every one of these verbs’ actions can be negated by simply inserting the word “not” before the verb.

There are only two verbs where this solution sounds awkward. With the verb “can” it does not sound right to say, “I can. I did can, I will can.” The solution for this verb is simply to say, “I can, I did, I will,” and there is no need to say a past or future form of the word “can.” The other verb that does not work well with this plan is the verb “be.” It is awkward to say “I be, I did be, I will be.” The main way the verb “be” is used is in the present continuous tense, as in “I am going, you are learning, he is following, she is coming, we are saying, they are thinking.” None of these words are necessary, and these useless words should be dropped as archaic. For example, “I am going now” or “I will be going now” should be simply “I go.” “I am going soon” should be “I go soon” or “I will go soon”. “I will be going” should be “I will go.” For ongoing past to present actions (present continuous tense), as in “By May I will have been here for one year” should be “By May I will be here for one year”  And “They were going to go but did not go yet” should be “They did intend to go but did not go yet.”

When I first started learning Bahasa Indonesia, I was amazed to learn that in that language there is no verb “to be.” “How can a language operate without such a basic verb?” I thought to myself at first. But I was soon to understand that it is extremely easy for a language to exist without “am, is, are, was, were, be.” For example, instead of saying “Is he there?” an Indonesian speaker would simply say “He there?”

It is bad enough that English has so many verb tenses, but present styles of speaking make them much more complicated than they need to be. If just a few words (“did, will, now, until now, to the present”) are accepted as grammatically correct and become the standard way of speaking, then English verb use can be vastly simplified. Below are all the different verb tenses that are used in English, and the simple ways that they can be changed to avoid verb conjugation.

1.  Present Simple Tense requires no changes,

as in:  I go to work at 8:30am.

Where do you prefer to do your reading?

They don’t take the Metro at night, but I think it is very safe.

I often arrive late at meetings.

2.  Present Continuous Tense (happening at this time)

Use the word “now”

I am working on my homework now.

Should be           I work on my homework now.

I am not using that equipment.

Should be          I do not use that equipment now.

What are you doing?

Should be   What do you do now?

3.  Present Perfect Tense (happening up to the present)

Use the words “yet” or “until now” or “to the present.”

I haven’t taken a shower.

Should be       I do not take a shower yet.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam?

Should be        Did you go to Amsterdam yet?     Yes I did./  No I did not.

They have worked for their uncle for ten years.

Should be       They work for their uncle for ten years, until now.

I have never been late once on this payment.

Should be    I not late once on this payment, to the present.

4.  Present Perfect Continuous Tense (happening up to the present, same as present perfect)

Use the words “until now”

How long have you been waiting here?

Should be    How long do you wait here, until now?

We have been riding on the bus for four hours.

Should be   We ride on the bus for four hours, until now.

5.  Past Simple Tense (happened at a specific time in the past)

Use “did” as in : “Where did you go on vacation?”  [No change]

I relocated to Los Angeles in 1974.

Should be    I did relocate to Los Angeles in 1974.

We didn’t want to go to the concert, but felt pressured by his boss.

Should be    We didn’t want to go to the concert, but did feel pressure by his boss.

6.  Past Continuous Tense (is happening at a precise moment in the past)

Use “did” and “before” or “when”

What were you doing when they knocked on the door?

Should be   What did you do before they knock on the door?  [OR they did knock]

I was working on my homework when you called.

Should be     I did work on my homework when you call.  [OR you did call]

7.  Past Perfect Tense (an action that finishes before another action in the past)

Use “did” though the second “did” is optional, depending on the specific sentence.

Had you invested your money wisely before you bought the car?

Should be     Did you invest your money wisely before you did buy the car?

She hadn’t spoken two sentences before he rudely interrupted her.

Should be   She did not speak two sentences before he did rudely interrupt her.

8.  Past Perfect Continuous Tense (about the duration of an activity that happened in the past)

Use “did” though the second “did” is optional, depending on the specific sentence.

I had not been sleeping long when you called.

Should be  I did not sleep long when you did call. [OR  before your call]

They had been waiting for over an hour before Susan finally arrived.

Should be   They did wait for over an hour before Susan finally did arrive.

9.  Future Tense

Use “will” plus infinitive verb, instead of “going to” plus gerund [verb—ing ]

I will go get some soup for lunch.  I think it will rain tomorrow.   (no change)

They are going to waste their time in looking for me.

Should be   They will waste their time to look for me.

Who are you going to consult while studying?

Should be   Who will you go to consult when you study?

10.  Future Continuous Tense

Use “will” or “do”

I will be playing my guitar at 8pm at the coffeehouse.

Should be    I will play my guitar at 8pm at the coffeehouse.

What will you be doing when I come?

Should be   What do you do when I come?   OR   What will you do before I come?

11.  Future Perfect Tense (happening that will have been done in the future)

Use “will” or “hope to” or “be able to”

What will you have accomplished by the time you have completed your degree?

Should be    What will you accomplish by the time you will complete your degree?

OR     What do you hope to accomplish by the time you complete your degree?

I’m afraid I won’t have finished studying by the time of the test.

Should be       I am afraid I wont finish my study by the time of the test.

OR      Im afraid I wont be able to finish my study by the time of the test.

ELIMINATE USE OF VERBS WITH  GERUNDS

When two verbs are used together, the second verb is in the infinitive form, as in:

“She promised to help me.  We need to leave right away.  He decided to bet all his cash.”

But sometimes, with some verbs, the gerund form (–ing) is used instead of the infinitive, as in: “We go jogging every morning. I can’t stand driving in heavy traffic. I don’t mind calling to wake you. I suggest you should be enjoying your free time. He quit smoking last year. We discussed ending our relationship. I enjoy dancing every weekend.”

There is no grammar rule which governs which words use the infinitive and which use the gerund, and so this is another case of English being more difficult than it needs to be. The only way a learner of English can know the correct word to use is by rote memorization. As with other grammar inconsistencies, I suggest eliminating the use of gerunds, so that all verbs should use the infinitive as most verbs already do. Eliminating all the irregular words and the exceptions to the rules will make English much more easy to master. Therefore, the above sentences should be revised to read: : “We go to jog every morning. I can’t stand to drive in heavy traffic. I don’t mind to call to wake you. I suggest you should enjoy your free time. He quit to smoke last year. We did discuss to end our relationship. I enjoy to dance every weekend  OR  I like to dance every weekend.”

In short, there is absolutely no reason to add a gerund to the end of a verb. Get rid of it, stop it. Start teaching that this is an archaic form of speaking that is no longer grammatically correct [which should be: Start to teach that this is an archaic form to speak that is no longer grammatically correct]. It is as simple as that.

If just these two grammatical changes are made, to use “did” and “will” instead of conjugating verbs, and to eliminate gerunds, English will become immeasurably easier for both native speakers and for students of English as a second language. If teachers of English will teach these forms of verb use, their students will be able to express themselves clearly much more quickly than if they get bogged down in verb conjugation and gerunds.

5c. NEED TO MAKE WORDS CONSISTENT

CONSISTENT USE OF “UN” TO DENOTE OPPOSITES

English can also be made much easier to learn by simply changing all words to the most common form used for that kind of word. For example, to make an opposite meaning, English usually adds the two letters “un” to the beginning of a word, as in “true / untrue,  friendly / unfriendly, desirable / undesirable, comfortable / uncomfortable, educated / uneducated, intelligent / unintelligent.”  That is a very efficient means of communicating opposites, and if all English words followed that pattern it would be extremely easy. But in current English usage some words denote opposites by adding the prefix “im” or “in.” Why is an unequal status called inequality?  Why is the opposite of “proper” spelled as “improper,” or the opposite of “consistent” spelled as “inconsistent”? There are many “unconsistencies” in English!

It is ridiculously difficult for English learners to figure out when to use “un,” “im,” or “in.”  This grammar problem is easily solved by changing all “in” and “im” opposite words so that all opposites are denoted by the standard “un” prefix.  Thus, new words to use include: “unconsistent, unconvenient, unaccurate, uncomplete, uncorrect, uneffective, unmature, unmoral, unpartial, unpatient, unperfect, unpermanent, unpenetrable, unpolite, unpossible, unpersonal.”

All kinds of prefixes and suffixes should be spelled consistently so that learners of English do not have to waste time trying to remember which way to spell a prefix or suffix of similar words.

CONSISTENT USE OF “AT” TO DENOTE LOCATION IN TIME AND SPACE

When noting time, English usage usually uses “at” to precede the stated time, as with “at nine o’clock, at 11:45a.m. at night”  but the inconsistent word “in” is used for “in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, in January, in 2008, in a couple of weeks, in a few days,” and still another word “on” is used for days: “on Monday, on Wednesdays, on June 27th.” To be consistent, all references to time should be said with “at” or the universally recognized symbol @ that is used for email. So we should say “the lights turn on @ night and turn off @ morning, beginning @7:30p.m., but only @ Monday to Friday.”

Likewise, “at” is used with spaces (at work, at home, at the bus stop, at the theater, at the crosswalk)  but “in” or “on” are sometimes used (in the garden, in a river, on an island, on the table, on the ceiling, on the floor, on the sidewalk, on the left side).  Again, to be consistent, “at” should be used for all locations of time and space, unless a very specific meaning is meant by “in” (inside or in the middle), “on” (on top of), “beside”(next to) or “under” (underneath). Correct use should be “I will stand @ the sidewalk as I wait @ the bus stop. While I stay @ the island, I jog @ morning. The children sit in the car, but the keys sit on the roof.  I did leave the book on the table. It is @ the left side.”

Conventional grammar uses “to” to denote movement from one place to another, as in “I went to school, she went to the office, and he went to the shopping mall.”  But an exception is to delete “to” when saying “I went home.”  These inconsistencies and exceptions are confusing to learners of English, so it is better to use “at” for all cases: “I want to go @ school, after that I will go @ work @ my office, and then I will go @ the shopping mall. At the evening I will go @ home.”

There is no logical reason why “at” cannot be used consistently for all time and space references, and it will only take some time for older speakers of English to get used to these changes.  Again, the savings for future generations will outweigh the minor inconvenience for people who have been taught the old inefficient grammar forms.

CONSISTENT USE OF “SOME”

Another difficulty for people learning English is trying to tell whether to use “some” or “any.” In general, “some” is used. But for negative sentences or questions, “any” is sometimes used, as in “I have some friends in Chicago, but I do not have any friends in Seattle. Do you have any water? Could I have some water?  Do you know anything about her? She doesn’t have anywhere to live now.” Because trying to understand when to use “some” or “any” is so difficult for learners of English, it is best to follow the general suggestion to make the dominant word apply to all cases. Accordingly, the word “any” should be deleted, and “some” used in all cases. The above sentences should read: “I have some friends in Chicago, but I do not have some friends in Seattle. Do you have some water? Could I have some water?  Do you know something about her? She doesn’t have somewhere to live now.” Though this substitution makes for a slightly awkward feeling or slight change of meaning for native speakers, it will make the learning of English much less difficult for non-native speakers.

CONSISTENT COMPARATIVE AND SUPERLATIVE WORDS

To note comparisons, English has very efficient words “more” or “less” as comparative and “most” or “least” as superlative. For example, “Beijing is more expensive than Bangkok, but Stockholm is most expensive. Beijing is less expensive than Stockholm, but Bangkok is least expensive.” But, as in many areas of grammar, there are inconsistent exceptions to these forms. English grammar recognizes additional comparative and superlative forms that use “er” or “ier”  and “est” or “iest” as in “She is hot now, but she is hotter when she goes into the kitchen, and she is hottest when she goes outside into the sun.”  But if the word ends in “y” then it is changed to “i” as in: “He is happy now, but he is happier when he is listening to music, and he is happiest when he is dancing.” But some words change entirely, such as “good, better, best” and “bad, worse, worst.” In addition, the word “the” is sometimes placed before the superlative form.

All these rules and exceptions are confusing, and easily mistaken for another kind of word ending.  Except for one and two syllable words, present English grammar does not use these additions. To simplify the language, these “er, ier, est, iest” endings should be discontinued for all words, so that “more” or “less” and “most” or  “least” are used consistently.  Correct use should be:

She is hot now, but she is more hot in the kitchen, and most hot when she goes into the sun.”  “He is happy now, but less happy when worrying about finances, and least happy when contemplating death.” “We feel good, but we feel more good when we are singing, and most good when meditating.”  “They are never very kind, but they are even less kind when harassing others, and least kind when engaging in violence.”  Consistency is the goal, making English more easy to learn. It will be the most good language for world communication if these changes are made and most bad if not made.

5d. NEED TO ELIMINATE PLURALS AND APOSTROPHES

ELIMINATE PLURAL FORMS OF NOUNS

English generally denotes more than one thing by adding an “s” to the end.  But sometimes “es” or “ies” is used instead. And sometimes “s” is added to the end of the third person pronoun (for example, “he cuts, she jogs, it forces”).  This is a major problem for learners of English. There is so much use of the letter “s” at the end of English words that it is difficult to know which use of this letter is being used, and when to use which form (ie: toward or towards; beside or besides).  The simplified English grammar rule is that “s” should not be used at the end of a word unless the root word itself ends with a “s” sound like “hiss”.

Because it is difficult for many people to remember when to use “s, es, ies, z,” or other irregular plurals, the easiest solution is not make any change in a word because there is more than one.  There are many words that grammar theorists call “uncountable nouns,” in which there is no change from single to plural.  We do not add an “s” to multiples of words like information, wood, water, cheese, sheep, deer, understanding, equipment.  It is very difficult for learners of English to try to understand why different kinds of informations, woods, equipments, etc., is not considered correct speech.  If it is correct to say, “I want to retrieve my suitcases, so I can eat the sardines inside” or ask “Do you want some apples,” why don’t we also say “I want to retrieve my luggages, so I can drink the waters inside” or ask “Do you want some advices?”

These exceptions prompt a thinking person to ask why it is necessary to change plurals in any words.  Furthermore, sometimes an “s” is added, sometimes an “es,” and sometimes the word is changed altogether.  Why is it necessary for clear communication in measurement to say one meter but two meters, one inch but two inches, one foot but two feet?  How can an English learner know when to add an “s,” when to add an “es,” or when to change the word altogether?  To simplify this problem, any number more than one should be denoted by the context (“Do you want one book, two book or three book?,  I have many shirt and pant in my closet.  There are twelve inch in foot, and one hundred centimeter in meter, but only three foot in yard.  Each person has on average four person as grandparent.”).  If this rule makes a number unclear, then for clarification words like “all, many, group, some, few” should be added before or after the noun (ie: “Among Americans, children have the least amount of liberty” should be  “Among all American, child group have the least amount of liberty”).

ELIMINATE APOSTROPHES

The possessive form is confusing to English learners because sometimes an apostrophe is used and sometimes it is not, sometimes the apostrophe is before the “s” and other times after the “s,” and “s, es, ies” are inconsistently used.  People get very confused about where to place the apostrophe in words like aviary’s / aviaries’  children’s / childrens’  people’s / peoples’ Many words end in the letter “s” or even “ss,” making possession even more confusing. Do you say “Ms. Ross’ car” or “ “Ms. Ross’s car?”  In addition, simplified grammar does not even need to use  apostrophes in commonly accepted word contractions like “don’t, can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, isn’t,” which should be spelled simply as “dont, kant, wont, shouldnt, isnt” These words are already being written like this, without apostrophe, in text messaging. There is no need for an apostrophe, since these words are recognized as their own meaning. Those grammar purists who insist that use of apostrophe is required in order to defend “correct” English are making an argument based on a notion that languages do not change, which is just not true.

Apostrophes are confusing and unnecessary.  A better way to show possession, in a more simplified way and without having to use an apostrophe, is by using the capitalized letter “Z”  at the end of a word, without an apostrophe.  “This is JeanZ book, and PatZ ruler, that I found at the teacherZ meeting.  Characteristic of many personZ speech is grammar inconsistency.”  In the new spellings to be proposed in the next chapter, only a few nouns end in the letter z, and no common words end in a double z, so it is not confusing to add a second z to these words to show possession.  Similarly, for proper names that end in the letter z an additional capital Z can be added to show possession: “Mr. MarkowitzZ hat” means the hat belonging to Mr. Markowitz.

5e. NEED TO SIMPLIFY PRONOUNS

ELIMINATE GENDERED PRONOUNS       HE    SHE    IT

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.”

ELIMINATE OBJECT FORM OF PRONOUNS

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.

ELIMINATE POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS

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?”

STOP USING ITS / IT’S

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.

5f. NEED TO CHANGE ARTICLES / READING EXERCISES

ELIMINATE ARTICLES  A / AN / THE

When talking about a specific object in English, an article precedes the name.  Whether to use “a” or “an,” and when to use “the” is a source of major confusion for learners of English. Though some linguists will object, the easiest solution is simply to eliminate these articles.  Many languages, like Japanese or Indonesian, get along just fine without such articles.  So, for example, “The book is on the shelf and a piece of paper is beside an elegant bed next to the window” would be literally translated in Japanese or Indonesian as: “Book on shelf and piece of paper beside elegant bed next to window.”  The reformed way of communication is just as clear without the articles.  If a word is not necessary for clear communication, why is it used? If necessary for clarification, other articles may be used like “this, that, all, some, many, few, every” so that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” should be “Apple every day keep doctor away.”  If I want to distinguish a movie that I saw with which the listener is not familiar, from the specific movie the listener and I have been discussing previously, I would say: “Movie I see last week very good, but this movie excellent.”  or  “… but movie you and I discuss excellent.”

If English would make these changes, by eliminating verb conjugation, and strive for consistency in all prefixes and suffixes, and all other grammar forms, get rid of gendered pronouns and apostrophes, stop adding “s” for plural noun, and stop using “a, an, the, be, am, is, are,” just these changes alone would make English a much easier language to learn than at present. Those who are inclined to resist changes should think about two things: (1) The greater ease by which their future descendants can learn English when they go to school, and (2) by making English easier for foreigners to learn, that will promote more people around the world learning English, and will make it easier for all of us to communicate. If we want the world to learn our language, then it is up to us to make some compromises so that our language is easier for others to learn.   In my view, all of these changes should be made, but each one could be made independently if resistance or inertia to the more drastic changes prevent their implementation. Some improvement is better than no changes at all.

READING EXERCISES

To give a concrete example of these changes in grammar rules in action, the following paragraphs are presented, first with traditional grammar and second with the changes in grammar suggested in this chapter. In order to clarify the differences, only grammar changes are made here, and spelling changes are not made except for deleting plural “s” and adding a capital Z to replace apostrophe “s” for possession. Notice how easy it is to cover all the complex verb conjugation tenses with only a few words like “did,” “will,” and “until now.” Notice also how awkward the traditional pronoun use is, especially with the name of a person like “Pat,” who could be either male or female. Begin with the old grammar forms in this paragraph:

Pat has always traveled [present perfect] a lot. He or she was born [ simple past (passive] in Canada, but his or her parents had met [ past perfect] in Bangkok after his or her father had been living [ past perfect continuous] there for two years. They met [ simple past] one day while both of them were reading [ past continuous] their email at an internet shop in the evening.

NEW GRAMMAR:

Pat did alway travel much. They born at Canada, but they parent did meet at Bangkok after they father did live there for two year. PatZ mother and father did meet one day while both of they go to read theyZ email at internet shop at evening.

Now, try to read a longer paragraph, which is deliberately written with many confusing references to pronoun use, that is presented here in the old forms of grammar:

Pat’s father, who is Canadian, fell in love with the beautiful Thai woman on the day he met her. Pat’s mother and her family liked the handsome Canadian better than the other three men she had dated before. They soon became best friends, and without any regrets still today feel closest to each other. After they impatiently waited a year apart, Pat’s mother came to Canada and they got married. After another two years her family lost their house and they didn’t have anywhere to live, so they all came to Canada and started working in Pat’s father’s grocery store. Over the years they all became very close, and Pat grew up in the kindest family. For Pat, the worst part of his or her job is that it is impossible for him or her to be with them often.

NEW GRAMMAR:

PatZ father, who Canadian, did fall in love with beautiful Thai woman at day they did meet. PatZ mother and theyZ family did like handsome Canadian more good than other three man they did date before. They soon did become most good friend, and with no regret still today feel most close to each other. After they unpatiently wait a year apart, PatZ mother did come to Canada and they did get marry. After another two year PatZ motherZ family did lose theyZ house and they didnt have somewhere to live, so they all did come to Canada and did start to work in PatZ fatherZ grocery store. Over many year they all did become very close, and Pat did grow up in most kind family. For Pat, most bad part of PatZ job is that it unpossible for Pat to visit with they often.

Notice that this paragraph, with its many confusing pronoun references to “they” (which could mean to Pat, to either of his or her parents, or to his or her mother’s family), may require sometimes referring to a name in order to distinguish which “they” (being used here for both singular and plural third person) is meant. Notice most of all that this paragraph was written without any verb conjugation, or without using any forms of the verb “be, am, is, are, was, were, been.” If you can understand this paragraph you will have quickly adjusted to the changes in grammar called for in this chapter. Before reading the traditional version of the next paragraphs, try seeing if you can understand the new version of the paragraphs by remembering the changes suggested in this chapter. Here is the sample:

Pat live at Los Angeles now, but visit theyZ two parent and four grandparent at Canada for past few week, until now. Pat really enjoy to live at Los Angeles, but they most happy when they can come to visit they parent at least three time during year. Even though sometime unconvenient, Pat do not want something to interfere with theyZ visit to theyZ family, so Pat still like to see they often. Someone can tell they alway most close family.

Did you understand it? If you did, congratulations; you are now a communicator in simplified English.  If not, here is the same paragraph written in the old grammar:

Pat lives [simple present] in Los Angeles now, but has been visiting [present perfect continuous] his parents and four grandparents in Canada for the past few weeks. He really enjoys [simple present] living in Los Angeles, but he is happiest [simple present ] coming to visit his parents at least three times a year. Even though it is sometimes inconvenient, Pat doesn’t want anything to interfere with his visits to his family, so he still likes to see them often. Anyone can tell they have always been the closest family.

5g. NEED TO MAKE NUMBERS CONSISTENT

CONSISTENCY IN NUMBERS

The above changes are designed to make English as consistent as possible. This reform is especially needed for the words used for numbers, which are some of the most important words to learn in a language. Changes in the names of numbers will probably generate more resistance than respelling and grammar changes, yet these changes would make daily living so much easier for people all around the world.

I have learned so much about the problems of the English language by trying to teach Thai students how to speak.  In Thai, the numbers for one to ten (“sip”) are unique, just as in English.  But in Thai, the word for eleven is “sip et” (ten one) for twelve is “sip song” (ten two), and so on consistently to “sip gau” (ten nine).  When I have tried teaching Thai students the numbers in English, the use of the first number 1 to 9 plus “teen” represents the next sequence and multiples of ten become “ty.”  Thus, six becomes sixteen and sixty, and so on though nineteen and ninety.  But, Thai kids cannot figure out why three does not become “threeteen” and “threety,’ and why five does not become “fiveteen” and “fivety”.

Having grown up as an English speaker, such a logical consistency would never have occurred to me before coming to Thailand.  The Thai words for numbers are much more consistent, efficient, and easy to learn than English. Learners of English have to remember the first ten numbers, as do learners of Thai, but in addition English speakers have to remember the irregular words eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifteen.  Another problem with numbers is that it is difficult to say and hear the slight difference between “teen” and “ty.”  Since the teens are only used once, and the numbers eleven to fifteen are so inconsistent, I suggest changing the numbers after ten so that they will be treated the same way that numbers after twenty are presently treated in English.

I suggest changing the number 2 to “twen,” which is already associated with two siblings.  Using twen makes number 2 consistent with twenty and also removes confusion with the other words “to” (direction) and “too” (also, excess) that are pronounced the same way as two.  The number 3 three is a difficult word that is often incorrectly pronounced as “tree,” so I suggest changing it to “thr” to be consistent with third and thirty. Number five should be changed to “fif”[rhymes with “if”] to be consistent with fifteen and fifty.

Another problem with numbers is the totally different ordinal words “first, second, third.” From the number four onward, the ordinal name is similar to the cardinal number: fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, etc.  To be consistent, the words “first, second, third” should be eliminated.  In their place, to be consistent with number one, first should be replaced with “oneth.” [rhymes with month]. For number 2 “twen” the ordinal number should be “twenth” instead of “second.” Eliminating the word “second” will have the added advantage of ending confusion about second as a mark of time, as in “sixty seconds in a minute.”

To make English numbers consistent, then, a reformed number system should be changed to become the following [note that additional spelling changes will be made for all words, including these numbers, but at this point I am merely introducing the concept of making English ordinal numbers consistently spelled with “th” at the end. If ordinal numbers one, two, three are changed, then ordinal numbers forth through tenth remain the same.]

1  one            1st should be changed to 1th “oneth”

2  twen    2nd should be changed to 2th “twenth” while 20 should be changed to  “twenty”

3  thir             3rd should be changed to 3th “thirth” while 30 is “thirty”

4  for              4th remains  “forth”  and 40 is “forty”

5  fif               5th remains “fifth” and 50 is “fifty”

6  six            6th remains “sixth” and 60 is “sixty”

7  seven         7th remains  “seventh” and 70 is “seventy”

8  eight             8th remains  “eighth” and 80 is “eighty”

9  nine           9th remains  “ninth” and 90 is “ninety”

10  ten          10th remains  “tenth”

[to be consistent with all numbers above 20, numbers in the teens should be changed. Because “tenty” is so close in spelling and sound to “twenty” the second “t” is deleted so that numbers 11-19 are pronounced “te-nee”]

11  teny one      11th should be  “teny oneth”

12  teny twen     12th should be  “teny twenth”

13 teny thir          13th should be  “teny thirth”

14 teny for            14th should be “teny forth”

15 teny fif             15th should be “teny fifth”

16 teny six            16th should be “teny sixth”

17 teny seven        17th should be “teny seventh”

18 teny eight          18th should be “teny eighth”

19 teny nine           19th should be “teny ninth”

Such changes in wording will admittedly take some getting used to, for present speakers of English, but this reform will make it so much easier for future generations to learn numbers in English.  This kind of consistency should be applied across the board to related groups of words.

Suggestions and contributions of others to additional types of word groups will be appreciated.

Posted in Why English is Difficult to Learn, and what to do about it | Leave a comment | Edit

Advertisements

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s