Are YOU a NON-BINARY language learner?
An all-too-common question format on these pages goes like this: “Which of my two sentences is grammatically correct?” (Or, more typically, “*Witch* of my 2 sentences is *grammarly* correct?”). Over five years of experience on this forum tells me that the answer is more likely “neither”, or, “either” — depending on the context. The fact is that grammar is for communication, so different grammar structures will be chosen based on the intended meaning. If a “rule” held true all the time, it would be fairly irrelevant for communication. For example, if it were always correct to say “the dog ran” instead of “a dog ran”, the choice of article wouldn’t communicate anything, would it? From my perspective, this false belief that there is one and only one grammatically correct structure — one that will work regardless of context — is symptomatic of an attitude that does not facilitate learning. And believe me, when it comes to learning, attitude is everything. I love answering interesting grammar questions, but the fact is that it is beyond the scope of this forum to help learners with their attitude. For one thing, the learners’ belief that they’ve narrowed it down to just two options is extremely limiting, and shows that such learners don’t really understand that grammar is for communication.
For another thing, both options may well be correct. Unfortunately, since the learners haven’t provided any context or given us any idea of their intended meaning, it’s impossible to know which sentence is appropriate. Do learners really expect some kind soul to write a long treatise on the grammar points in question, explaining every possible nuance of meaning in all possible contexts? Will this really benefit the learners? More often than not, a quick look at their previous questions shows that they’ve never even acknowledged corrections with so much as a “thanks”. And when such learners continue time after time to use the (non-)word “grammarly”, it casts doubt on whether they will benefit from reading the essay carefully and painstakingly written by a well-meaning corrector.
Anyhow, my advice to learners is that they leave this binary mindset behind, and become aware of the beauty and magical possibilities of using grammar to express their ideas and communicate with people.
What about you? What parts do you agree with? Disagree with?