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Inconspicuous English Grammar Rules

Here are some English grammar rules you probably don’t even know you learned.

THAT vs WHICH

Even native English speakers do not know there is a difference between the use of “that” and the use of “which”.  Indeed, many native Robotel language lab

English speakers seem to think that the two are completely interchangeable when, in fact, they are not. It seems that some might think that “which” is more formal than “that,” and while that might be true, audibly, there really is a grammatical difference between the two.

Basically:  “that” defines somethings; “which” informs of something/adds detail.

For example: “This is the article that I wrote.  That article, which Ed wrote, is much better.”

In sentence 1, “that” is used to define or designate that I wrote an article. In sentence 2, “which” is used to introduce a new detail.

LIKE vs SUCH AS

Another similar mistake—also common—is the improper association between the use of “like” and the use of “such as”. Indeed, this is another instance when native English speakers might get the two confused and use them in place of each other.

Basically: “like” is used to include something while “such as” should be used to exclude something

For example:  “Citrus fruits like lemons and limes are high in vitamin C.  Some cruciferous vegetables, such as kale and broccoli, are also high in vitamin C”

In sentence 1, the implication is that all or most citrus fruits—which INCLUDE lemons and limes—are high in vitamin C. In sentence 2, the implication is that not all cruciferous vegetable—but particularly kale and broccoli—are, in fact, high in vitamin C.

AS vs SINCE

Another common misassociation, “as” and “since” can, in fact, be used interchangeably but the difference is formality. Basically, “as” is causal and “since” is temporal.

For example: “It has been many years since I’ve been to the doctor as I have felt very healthy.”

In this case, “since” designates some time has passed and “as” is used as a conjunction much like the causal “because.”

SENTENCE ORDER

English has an instinctive, intuitive adjective order. It is not something many of us remember learning (and, from what I can tell, it is not something that we teach in schools).  Regardless of how you learn it, adjective is crucial to the English language and the rule goes as follows:

opinion – size – age – shape – color – origin – material – purpose

In Mark Forsyth’s book, “The Elements of Eloquence,” he says, “you can have a lovely, little, old, rectangular, green, French, silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.”

Give it a shot: you’ll see.

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