Before coming here, I had no idea that unless the rule is too basic, English Grammar is changeable, in fact, conventional grammar can be disobeyed sometimes. Although I don't have the links right now, I have seen reputed users here argued that Grammar does not speak the last sentence when we are forming a sentence. Rather I extracted the summary as Grammar should follow how people use them in their day-to-day life. As I am not a native English speaker, I thought maybe I am not up-to-date with this kind of changes. So it is worth asking here. By the way, the rules, users tend to avoid are medium level to high level rules, which are definitely hard to be grasped by a non-native speaker. Often answerers cite how this particular type of things are said in US, UK or other native English speaking countries although they are not 100% Grammatical and the poster admits it. But as it is a learners site, should not we at first hand refer them to the most Grammatical constructs? I want to know what community thinks here? Should Grammar follow conversational English when the rule is not too basic?

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    Part of this is that the there are lots of constructions that are used in some regions that are not considered grammatical in other regions. For example, if you say "the car needs washed" in Pittsburgh, nobody will think this is weird. If you say it in Los Angeles, people will think you're an ignorant hick. Jun 16, 2013 at 21:11
  • The car needs washed? Hmm. I'll have to check with a family member who is from there but I am not sure I buy it. :)
    – Lambie
    Dec 10, 2016 at 13:31

4 Answers 4


I think we should prefer Standard English unless it's clear from the question that the asker is interested in a non-standard construct.

I can think of two main reasons why we'd want to describe non-standard English:

  1. ELLs need to understand many non-standard constructs, even if they choose not to make use of them themselves; and

  2. Speaking perfect Standard English all the time can seem a bit haughty or highfalutin. Sometimes breaking the rules is more friendly or conversational.

I'm mostly convinced by reason 1, and not so much by reason 2. After all, a construct can be both informal and standard, so even if a question asks about an informal situation, I think we should give preference to standard constructs.

Still, I see nothing wrong with describing real-world usage, so long as we let readers know when something is non-standard.

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    Yes. And there's little grammatical distinction between formal and informal SE; most of the difference lies in lexical and idiomatic choices, and even that difference is narrowing, as academic English grows more colloquialized, at least in the humanities. Mar 23, 2013 at 21:26
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    I’m slightly confused about your terminology. When you said Standard English, do you mean the UK Standard English or the US Standard English? The wiki is mentioning a number of standards (i.e. In Scotland the standard is Scottish Standard English and in Australia with General Australian). Also, there is no official or central regulating body defining Standard English. Mar 27, 2013 at 21:06
  • @EnglishLearner I explained what I mean in this comment.
    – user230
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:48

as a learner’s site, should not we at first hand refer them to the most Grammatical constructs?

That depends on the question. As a general rule, I don't think so. As a learner's site, we should give answers that tell the whole story: what's rude, what's acceptable, what's common, what's appropriate for formal writing, and, yes, what's grammatical. But I see no reason why grammaticality should take precedence by default.

For example, if someone were to ask:

What's a friendly way to say goodbye to someone when they are going on a long trip?

why would we care about the "most grammatical" way to say bon voyage?

  • Great response. This is exactly what I’m hoping to get out from this site. Mar 25, 2013 at 21:04
  • Bon voyage doesn't involve grammar. I think it depends on the question and not trying to write a grammar book.
    – Lambie
    Dec 10, 2016 at 13:16
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    @Lambie - Yes, exactly. Not every question on this site needs to be about formal grammar. The OP asked, “As it is a learners site, should not we at first hand refer them to the most Grammatical constructs?” My answer: Not necessarily; it depends on the question.
    – J.R. Mod
    Dec 10, 2016 at 13:56
  • I understand you were trying to be funny, but I just don't think the example works....sorry. I think one has to be idiomatic and grammatical. I gave elsewhere the example of gonna or wanna. You can teach people to hear that but not use it unless their speech flow is quasi-native and they don't make tons of other mistakes: I'm gonna see him since a long time. That's where the rub comes...You don't want to use a colloquial form unless you can be 100% idiomatic as well.
    – Lambie
    Dec 10, 2016 at 14:22
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    @Lambie - I wasn’t trying to be funny at all. I’m just saying that sometimes a learner wants to know about formal grammar, and sometimes learners simply want to know about what sounds current or antiquated, superfly or stodgy, natural or awkward, trendy or stale. I think each question deserves carefully examination, in an attempt to figure out what exactly the learner is asking about, before providing an answer accordingly. Sometimes that means a long discussion about grammar is warranted, and sometimes that means giving a few idiomatic examples instead.
    – J.R. Mod
    Dec 11, 2016 at 0:11

I think you'll find that the very people who write their answers, and explain that an expression is acceptable, despite it being non-standard, colloquial or slang etc... are precisely those whose writing is almost flawless from a grammatical viewpoint. Which could appear to be hypocritical.

The language experts, especially on EL&U, have such an enviable command of the written and spoken language (although I cannot be certain of the second, but more on that later) that apart from the odd typo here and there, whenever I read their answers I cannot help but say: Why can't I write or express myself that way?

I want to improve my understanding and dimestichezza (the English equivalent "familiarity" doesn't quite cut it for me) with any language I might be learning. I know that many learners have an understandable fervour to want to speak English correctly. The desire to sound natural and to speak fluently, can conflict with the grammar which many have formally learnt at school and this in turn may cause frustration and disappointment within an individual learner.

Personally, I am of the opinion it is better to point out to learners of a foreign language the "standard" and so considered "correct" forms of expression; explain why it is standard, explain its structure, and give further examples of its usage. EL&U and ELL both do that. Before you can "break" the rules (as a learner) you need to know what they are. And here is an observation I have made from life. The more you learn, the more you read, and the more you speak with native speakers, especially schooled ones (I won't apologize for sounding like a snob), the higher your standard of English becomes. And the more you, the learner, care about how you sound and write.

And here, I would like to make my final point, which learners tend to ignore or have rarely been exposed to. How people express their ideas on paper and how they speak everyday can differ widely according to the situation. Learners need to be aware that native speakers, in any country in the world, consciously or unconsciously use "non-standard" forms of expressions especially when speaking. It's faster, more friendly, you can adjust your tone and register, and immediately repeat yourself several times without sounding like a "ninny".

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    That bit about how we use "non-standard" language while speaking is quite true. I'm sure my own thoughts would appear much less eloquent if someone had transcribed what I said, as opposed to reading what I wrote (and then proofread and corrected, before I clicked SUBMIT).
    – J.R. Mod
    Jun 15, 2013 at 19:55
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    These are all sound points. Except you shouldn't beat yourself up about not being able to casually trot out fluent English as well as an educated native speaker. I could only dream of being as eloquent as you already are in a foreign language - and here you are actually trying to improve on that! Jun 16, 2013 at 0:25
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    Well, I was talking about learners of any language in general. And even native speakers study their own language and in doing so make fewer casual mistakes, and improve their writing! No?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 16, 2013 at 3:59
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    Oh, definitely. I take every chance I get to learn about English, even though I'm a native speaker. And although I'm not a very good writer, I secretly hope that one day, if I write enough, I'll manage to put together a halfway decent sentence or two. (Who knows? Stranger things have happened.)
    – user230
    Jun 18, 2013 at 10:01
  • Fyi, among linguists, there is the sound (phonology) of spoken English versus the standard grammar of written English. I would personally explain that "I'm gonna" is what one hears for "I'm going go" but would tell students that unless they can keep up speed and sound idiomatic for an entire set of utterances, they should eschew forms like "I'm gonna" until they can spew out there sentences at a very fast clip. A slow speaker using "I'm gonna [whatever] is OK if the speech is idiomatic..."I'm was gonna [ha ha] see him since a long time" is not...for example.
    – Lambie
    Dec 10, 2016 at 13:28

I think it depends on the situation in which the language in question is to be used. For example, if its a high school or college student, or for a business or professional environment, then structure, vocabulary and proper grammar are important.

However, if someone wants to know the vocabulary necessary to order a meal or shop in a store (OK probably not great examples), then common vocabulary and basic structure that is understandable is OK. It probably won't matter much if you say gave vs. have given, or if the tenses of two clauses match, I think the message will still get across. (Maybe this is an oversimplification, but the idea is not to make it more complex than necessary.)

As for questions asked on ELL, sometimes from the context you can tell the setting. But it never hurts to include in the question some context related to the environment where the question examples occur.
If a simple phrase to communicate something properly is sufficient, then its unnecessary to make it more difficult than that.
The more complex the structure, or higher the word count, the more difficult it will be to understand correctly. It depends whether you need such complexity or not.

Regarding vocabulary and usage, localization is important, especially for day-to-day spoken usage. I think one just has to learn what is needed.

  • I agree, and would add that for spoken English it is more important to improve the pronunciation and rhythm of speech rather than worry too much about grammar. It's easier listen to someone whose words are understandable but a little bit wrong than to someone whose vocabulary and grammar are excellent but whose accent/pronunciation is so dense that it's a huge effort to follow what they're saying.
    – toandfro
    Mar 16, 2014 at 20:32

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