I mentioned in the last article about the existence of different types of grammar, and yes, In English, there are different types of grammar. The use of one over the other will greatly depend on the context and situation we are. Some of the types we can mention are historical (how language has changed through the centuries), comparative (the similarities or differences between languages), theoretical (studies the essential components of any human language), and so on.
I can see you scratching your head already and thinking if you should have studied Italian instead, but don’t despair. Although there are different types of grammar, you only have to know two of them in order to improve your speech and your writing.
Descriptive grammar gives name to things – the parts of speech and parts of a sentence. When you learn descriptive grammar, you understand what every word is (its part of speech) and what every word does (its function in the sentence). To put in in simple terms, it is a set of rules that are based upon how a language is actually used.
Be careful though, if you study it beyond a certain point you will find yourself saying things like “balloon” is the object of the gerund, in a gerund phrase that is acting as the predicate nominative of the linking verb “appear”. Trust me, you don’t want to get to be in this position. However, there is one important reason to learn some grammar terms, and that is to understand why a particular word or phrase is correct or incorrect.
Functional grammar tells you how words behave when they are doing their jobs properly. Whilst traditional grammar on a set of rules and the way words are organized, functional grammar focuses on the way language is put together to communicate meaning for specific purposes. This grammar guides you to the right expression, the one that fits what you are trying to say, by ensuring that the sentence is well structured. When you don’t know whether to say I or me, you are actually solving a problem of functional grammar.
The key to building well-structured sentences in English is: A little descriptive grammar plus a lot of functional grammar equals better grammar overall.
Now on what we came here for…
Now that you understand the grammar foundation of the three types of English, we can start studying them. Although using good grammar is great, this term depends greatly on the context we are in. For example, imagine that you are hungry. What do you say?
- What do you wanna do?
- Do you feel like going to the cinema?
- Will you accompany me to watch a movie?
These three statements illustrate the three types of English we use every day. Although called in many ways, in this article I will refer to them as friend speak, conversational English, and formal English.
Before making a choice, you need to know the context you are in and the audience you will be talking to.
What do you wanna do? Friend speak
Friend speak is informal and filled with slang. It is basically a linguist’s worst nightmare, as it breaks all the rules they love. In this level of speaking, the speakers are at the same level. They do not owe any formalities to anyone and are comfortable with each other’s mistakes. Actually, they make this mistakes on purpose, just to distinguish their conversation from the one they would have in any other situation. Here’s a conversation in friend speak:
Me and him are going to grab something to eat. Wanna come?
He’s like, I eat three sandwiches and two sodas, and I’m like, no way you did that.
Do you feel like going to the cinema? Conversational English
A step up from friend speak is conversational English. You will use this English a lot when you are communicating with your friends at the office for example, where you have to maintain a certain amount of formality but not quite. This type of English includes some friendliness and does not deviate that much from traditional English rules, although it does break some. It is the tone of most everyday speech, especially between equals.
Will you accompany me to watch a movie? Formal English
You are now at the highest end of the language spectrum: formal, grammatically correct speech and writing. Formal English shows your knowledge of etiquette, advanced vocabulary, and a command of standard grammar rules. You will usually use this English when talking to someone whose hierarchy is higher than yours in a completely formal context, such as a business meeting or presentation. This English is the equivalent of using a suit, it gives the other person the idea that you have prepared your best and you understand the context is one of extreme formality.
Which one to use?
As you become more proficient in the use of English, you will get a natural feeling to understand the context you are in, and use appropriate English for the occasion. Still, you will find yourself switching between Englishes all day long, and, like everything in life, it is just a matter of practice to master each one.