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Dr Grammar

So beautiful this is!

Posted by peter   23 Mar 2014 2 20 am

Hi Alex,

I got a question related to a previous post in here:

The pattern: How + adjective + subject + clause is sometimes used for short exclamations:.

e.g. How beautiful this is!

Question: is it the same if we say "So beautiful this is!" ?

I'm studying grammar about Subject-Verb inversion in which I found one type of inversion is Copular inversion, and this comes across examples like:

e.g. So beautiful is Judy.

This example reminds me the exclamation pattern. I'm confused and so I want to clarify it...

Thanks in advance!


Posted by alex stringer   27 Mar 2014 11 56 am

Hi Peter

Apologies for the delay in replying.

This is the sort of question that students of linguistics might discuss. Very interesting no doubt, but do bear in mind that nobody would ever say, 'So beautiful is Judy' (Well, they might if they were drunk or stoned, or if they'd read too much Chomsky.)

In so far as you are studying English for practical communication, I would suggest you pay attention to what people actually say and write. We certainly don't base our utterances on what might be theoretically possible according to a study of syntactic patterns. I really don't think it works like that.

People say things like:
Judy is gorgeous.
Judy's a real stunner.
Don't you think Judy's good looking?
That Judy is definitely hot.

Not very polished or original, of course. But most of the time, we just repeat what we hear other people say.

Posted by peter   27 Mar 2014 1 06 pm

Hi Alex,

I guess I've mixed up something....

Let's take this as an example:
So strong was the wind that we couldn't open the window. (The wind was so strong that we couldn't open the window.)


Does this kind of inversion sound normal? (e.g. So.. that...)

Understand that language is for usage, but in some ways I'm also interested in knowing some stories behind (e.g. the inversion).

I will take your advice and hopefully don't get spoiled by these grammar stuffs.. :)

Thanks, Peter

Posted by alex stringer   27 Mar 2014 4 08 pm

'So strong was the wind that we couldn't open the window', is quite possible but uncommon outside of literature; nobody would say it.

More common forms of inversion sometimes occur:

Next to the fireplace stood a tall bookcase.
Sometimes called fronting, it's still pretty literary. See my notes here.

And then there is inversion with negative and limiting adverbials:

Not once did he thank us.
Not one dollar more will we pay.
Not until he apologized would she speak to him.
Only when I saw the answers did I realize my mistake.

That sort of thing. People actually use this kind of language sometimes, although I doubt it's very common in everyday conversation.
We used to cover this topic at this level. I made a class activity for it.Download
Posted by peter   27 Mar 2014 7 04 pm

Many thanks for the materials! That's useful in my case. I will bookmark it and read it later.

personal thought about grammar to share:
sometimes I find myself not able to understand some sentences or not able to present ideas in words correctly (in a not confusing way), so I tend to study more about basic grammars hopefully to strength the sense to it. i also hope i could improve my English language ability (esp. in writing , to be error free, or no big mistakes) through learning from both usage and grammar. But as you said, sometimes I may go too deep... and now with your advice, I know where I have gone too deep and hence I know where I can stop.

Anyway, i'll keep going to improve my language abilities in both usage and grammar areas.

Thanks Alex :) and see you later tonight.

Posted by alex stringer   28 Mar 2014 7 16 pm

Actually, Peter, I'm not really against the study of grammar. But I think it's better if you confine yourself to mastering the really strong patterns where the structures can be applied again and again in different situations. The main tenses for example.

When there are many exceptions and irregularities, I tend to wonder whether it is worth the effort, and whether there might not be other ways of familiarizing yourself with the language so that you understand and produce natural language that is easily understood.

Also, I think it's quite possible to use language naturally without fully understanding the grammatical principles that could be extracted. The vast majority of native speakers use language in this way.

The other thing is to make sure that you engage with the language regularly, either by reading (the easier option) or listening (the more challenging option). That way you will see and hear lots of examples and the patterns of the language will gradually become engraved in your mind and you will find yourself producing correct and natural language without thinking about it. Studying grammar in the laboratory-like conditions of the classroom is only the start and is no substitute for field work.

Just my two cents worth.


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