Grammar Talk with Google

“Which is correct: ‘pair is‘ or ‘pair are‘?” My barely awake neurons asked. *Maxie tells me it’s still 7:35. But Google is awake 24/7 and here’s what they say: 

Which is correct: "pair is or are"?

Really, Google? I know you have become the authority in English grammar recently. Everyone simply types a string of words and whatever you reply to them, they accept them as solid truth. Now, do you imply that “pair are” is more appropriate than “pair is”? I rephrase my query: do you mean ‘pair is’ is wrong? And ‘pair are’, correct? Because if your answer is ‘yes’, this also means “these pair” is more adequate than “this pair”.

Descriptivist vs Prescriptivist

Do you want to have a chat with a physicist or a physician? Descriptivists are like scientists: they observe how people use language, gather the data, and objectively report about it. Prescriptivists are like doctors: they recommend solutions to language rules confusion. To illustrate:

DESCRIPTIVIST: 

  • Grammar Conscious: What should I use to refer to apples, fewer or less?
  • Descriptivist: According to the language database, many speakers used these words interchangeably without causing any misunderstanding.

PRESCRIPTIVIST: 

  • Grammar Conscious: What should I use to refer to apples, fewer or less?
  • Prescriptivist: Fewer is the comparative form of few so fewer is used before countable plural nouns. An apple is a noun that can be counted so you should use fewer to refer to its plural form (apples).

Grammar cops are obviously ‘prescriptivists’ – and perhaps I’m like one. Grammar was my first love. I thought becoming friends with it meant I’d be forever free from any embarrassment. I was enamoured by the authority Grammar bestows.  I’ll never feel awkward speaking English as long as I know the norm.

Because- a preposition

But here’s a problem: language is merely a tool for communication. Communication is all about people trying to get their message across. If they understand the use of ‘because’ in this sentence, then it becomes the norm: 

“We’re crying at AHS not because we’re scared but because comedy.”

“Because” is now an acceptable preposition. It surely has an immense effect on all Grammar textbooks ever published. Oh how many of them now require revision!

So should you be a descriptivist or a prescriptivist? Or both? After all, these two approaches in linguistics are meant to be complementary, not contradictory. Descriptivists paint the inherent chaos in a language, while prescriptivists put in order those causing language troubles or confusion through a set of commandments called Grammar.

*Maxie is the name I gave to my laptop – please get used to me giving inanimate object a persona.

 

 

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