Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Speak Good English Movement's new grammar book - PART 2

In this article, I will examine in greater detail one or two more of the many errors made in the new grammar book of Singapore's Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) called Grammar Rules. I will also perhaps take a peek into the thoughts of the writer or writers of this highly flawed grammar book. If you want to read PART 1 of this article, please click here.

In PART 1, I pointed out two major errors in its new book and I alluded to 'countless other errors' which I did not elaborate on. The errors I highlighted in Part 1 of this article are all found in the chapters on 'Subject-Verb Agreement' and 'Pronouns'. Before I go on to deal with a couple more errors in Grammar Rules, I should just add that the SGEM's poor understanding of the pronoun is consistent with the mistakes made in the Movement's earlier grammar book and its Chairman's speech which I wrote about 3 years ago in this blog post. Last year, the SGEM held a conference in which it showed its characteristic weakness on the pronoun when it could not get the title of its conference grammatically correct. You may read about that here.

In this article, I'll talk about tenses. The SGEM's Grammar Rules has a section on tenses.

In Grammar Rules, the SGEM says that most people have a problem with tenses. In Tense about Tenses, a post just before this, we see another instance of the problem some people have with tenses. But it is perfectly all right if the public in general makes language mistakes. However, the SGEM is quite a different entity altogether; it assumes the role of the nation's English teacher and how effective is such a teacher if it can't seem to get its basic tenses right? There are many other errors in Grammar Rules but I will restrict myself to an analysis of what the book says about tenses.

Let me begin with the simplest and most basic of the tenses, the simple present. This is what the SGEM says about the simple present which it refers to as the 'present tense' on page 45:

First, the present tense in grammar includes the simple present and the complex present. But let's not be confused by the terminology. It's very clear that whenever the SGEM mentions 'present tense' in the book, it refers only to the 'simple present'. This is made clear in the way the book divides the tenses into the 'present tense' and the 'present participle'. See also pages 47 and 50 of Grammar Rules. After having dealt with the 'present tense', the book says on page 47, 'Other parts of the verb are the present participle and the past participle.' It is obvious that the simple present is meant whenever 'present tense' is used. I'm not faulting the SGEM for its use of 'present tense' to mean the simple present. There are enough examples in Grammar Rules to show beyond any doubt that the SGEM doesn't know the terms used in grammar. But that is not my point. What I find more unacceptable is SGEM's ignorance of the substance of grammar itself. The SGEM doesn't know what the simple present is or what its main function is. What does the simple present mean to the SGEM?

'Generally we use it to refer to present activities...'. This is the first function that the SGEM brings up when it defines the simple present but this is clearly wrong. This is just the kind of definition that very young children give when they are asked to define the simple present tense. Just talk to any young child and he'll tell you that the simple present is for talking about present actions and the past for past actions. You can't blame a child for this but when this flawed statement on the function of the simple present appears in the grammar book of Singapore's official Speak Good English Movement, it is perfectly understandable if you demand the immediate dissolution of this disgraceful organisation because what is the point of having a Speak Good English Movement that knows nothing about the simple present?

To say the simple present is generally used to refer to 'present activities' is ignorant and unthinking. We rarely use the simple present to talk about present actions. Anyone who speaks English and who is not a young child must know this. There are only a few exceptional situations where the simple present is used to refer to present action. Apart from commentaries ('Ronaldo gets the ball. He passes the ball to Beckham.'), special exclamations ('Here he comes!') and performatives ('I thank you for the invitation), there is no other situation where the simple present is used for 'present activities' or present actions by themselves.

In grammar, 'present action' is to be distinguished from the habitual present which the simple present is used to refer to. In 'He walks to school every morning', 'walks' is the habitual present and NOT a present action or a present activity. The SGEM's statement about the simple present ('Generally we use it to refer to present activities') is assuredly wrong.

Apart from such clear deviations from standard grammar, there are many other unpardonable errors in Grammar Rules that even an incompetent language student should not make. Let me just turn to the next page - page 46. This is what we see:

I can accept this kind of shoddy and incorrect statement as an unguarded remark from a careless teacher who's exhausted after a hard day of teaching in school and who will probably correct himself five seconds later but to see it in print and in the new grammar book of an organisation appointed by the government as the nation's language watchdog is something nobody should tolerate. Every child knows that 'cut' together with some other words is an irregular verb even though it doesn't at all differ from the base in the simple past and past participle. What Grammar Rules says about the 'irregular verb' is wrong.

Flip the page of Grammar Rules one more time and look at page 48. Here, the SGEM tells us when to use the present perfect tense:

Yet again, the SGEM displays its ignorance of English grammar. Here, it is obvious that the area of grammar called 'grammatical aspect' is beyond the SGEM's grasp. Anyone who speaks English must know the difference between these two sentences:
1. My friend has/had arrived.
2. My friend is/was arriving.
Any language student must know that the first sentence expresses the perfect aspect while the second the imperfect aspect. Further, it must be clear to him that the perfect aspect tells us that the action is/was complete while the imperfect aspect tells us the action is/was still going on. This is elementary English which I have no doubt a child of six is familiar with even if he does not know the names. But the SGEM doesn't know this and its new grammar book teaches something quite different. It says the action in the first sentence is not yet completed. This contradicts the most rudimentary rule of English grammar. The SGEM has absolutely no knowledge of what the perfect tense is.

I have a lot more to say but I can't spend my entire life correcting the countless errors of the SGEM. This is an arduous task and a tedious job because every publication, speech, online posting and seminar by the Movement is sure to be riddled with all kinds of unbelievable egregious grammatical errors. I have been correcting the Movement's errors for the past 4 years in my blog (click here for all related blog posts). All I can say is if you don't want to be taught a new language devised by the SGEM which is totally different from Standard English, throw away the SGEM's Grammar Rules and stay away from all its publications and website. The only decent thing to do is to dissolve the SGEM. I have been saying this for the past 4 years.


  1. You love to criticize but your do not tell the readers the exact corrections . You pontificate and beat around the bush in many of your posts. Be direct with what is wrong and offer the exact correction. State the exact corrections. Do not just comment. This will be far more useful then asking to dissolve the SGEM. Correct the 10% or less errors instead of throwing everything away.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Have you read the above article? Are the corrections not clear to you? And where did you get the '10% of less' from? In Part 1 I addressed the errors made by the Movement in its grammar book in two chapters: 'Subject-Verb Agreement' and 'Pronouns'. In the above article, I addressed its errors in the chapter on 'Tenses'. There are only 8 very short chapters of grammar rules in the book. I have already highlighted mistakes in 3 of them and there are many more. As you can see in this article, the Movement's mistakes span over almost every page. You may have your own reasons to defend the SGEM but you are wrong to fix the errors at only 10% of the entire book. The Movement's thick fog of impenetrable ignorance is far more pervasive throughout the entire book than what most people think. Read the last paragraph of this article again. I explained in that paragraph why it's so difficult to correct the SGEM's mistakes. The SGEM makes countless mistakes. I have written many blog posts that expose these mistakes but I have only managed to deal with the tip of the iceberg. There are many more errors that I have not had the time to address. I have screen-saved them as evidence and my folders are full of the Movement's mountains of errors. What you have suggested is only practicable if the mistakes are not so many. You must also remember that correcting the SGEM is not my full-time job. Since the mistakes the Movement makes are of astronomical dimension, we really need a whole panel of English experts with the full-time job of correcting the SGEM's mistakes. Isn't it much easier to dissolve the Movement since it obviously doesn't even understand basic grammar rules?

      There is one more problem I face when I try to correct the SGEM's errors. It should be obvious to any language student that the SGEM really doesn't know much about grammar. In some parts of the book, crucial points of grammar are not even mentioned but the SGEM talks instead about trivial matters that shouldn't concern the language student at all. Discussing trivial matters and ignoring crucial points of grammar are just what you won't find in any respectable book on grammar and usage. To address this properly, I will have to re-write the entire section. This is why it is impossible to correct EVERY mistake the Movement makes in its grammar book. A proper correction demands a re-writing of the entire book. The SGEM's 'Grammar Rules' is really that bad.