“These notes are a miscellany of grammatical rules and explanations, comments on style, and suggestions on usage I put together for my classes. Nothing here is carved in stone, and many comments are matters of personal preference — feel free to psychoanalyze me by examining my particular hangups and bêtes noires. Anyone who can resist turning my own preferences into dogma is welcome to use this HTML edition. Feedback is always welcome.
I should be clear up front: I’m not a linguist, nor a scholar of the history of the language. (If you’re curious about who I am, you can look at my CV and decide whether I’m worth listening to.) Linguists are wary of “prescriptive” grammars, which set out standards of “correct” and “incorrect” usage — grammars that usually insist correctness reigned in the good old days, whereas we’ve been on the road to hell ever since. Professional linguists are adamant that the language isn’t “declining,” and that many usages censured by self-styled grammarians are in fact perfectly reasonable, whether on historical grounds, logical grounds, or both.
And they’re right. I reject any model of linguistic decline, in which the twenty-first century speaks a decadent version of the language of some golden age. I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the decline of “proper” English. (In my grumpier moods, I’m convinced the whole world’s going to hell — but then, I’m convinced the whole world’s been going to hell since time out of mind. In my more sanguine moods, I wonder whether hell isn’t such a bad place to be after all.) I know, too, that many things offered as “good” grammar or style have little basis in history or in logic.”