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Embracing a New Dialect – Part 2: English

Oct 02, 2014

What do you mean I shouldn’t start a sentence with “because?”

We all remember  grammar classes:  a lot of our commonly used phrases that we spoke out loud were actually “incorrect.” But is that still the case? Some of those formerly incorrect phrases are now more widely accepted .

Let’s see if you’ve noticed.

Here are a few recent changes in the English language:

  1. The Word like

Twenty-five years ago, the word “like”  emerged… Like, out of nowhere!  Typically only found in Southern California, it had a strong tie to the “Valley Girl” stereotype. The “quotative like,” as linguists call it, has rapidly spread from the valley girl to the rest of the country and it looks like it’s here to stay.

  1. Complementing Verbs

Verbs that often complement another verb in both the “-ing” and “to” forms, such as “They like to walk” and “They like walking”. There has been a steady shift away from the “to” form and moving more in the direction of the “-ing” form. “To start with” and “to begin with” declined in popularity over “starting with” and “beginning with” in the 1940s and other verbs like “love,” “hate,” fear,” and “like” followed suit in the 1950s and 60s. Some other verbs, such as “intend” and “cease,” are still on the “to” side of things, such as “They intend to finish the project today” or “You never cease to amaze me”. You’ve never been so excited about verb phraseology!

  1. Progressive Verbs

The progressive form of the verb (“They are speaking” instead of “They speak”) has seen a large increase in recent years. Passive progressive (“It is being held” vs. “It is held”) and modal verbs like “should,” “would,” and “might” have grown radically. The use of the “be” verb has also more recently started to follow this progressive trend.

  1. Helping Verbs

Words like “shall” and “ought” are used by fewer and fewer people these days, but that doesn’t mean all helping verbs will die with them. Other words like “will,” should,” “can,” “going to,” “have to,” “need to,” and “want to” cover a lot of the same meanings and are doing just fine. They were first only seen in casual conversation, but have recently experienced an enormous increase in written and printed language as well.

  1. The “Get-Passive”

The get-passive is nothing new, dating back at least 300 years. However, it didn’t become popular until about 50 years ago and since then it has been quickly rising. It is usually associated with negative news for the subject with phrases such as “he got fired” or “they got robbed,” but can also bring beneficial news like “she got promoted” or “they got paid.” The rules and restrictions on the get-passive seem to be getting more relaxed, potentially allowing for even further expansion on the future.

There has been some disagreement to these changes since English is no longer as proper as it used to be. Words like “bestie” and “selfie” have certainly faced more opposition than others, but that is just proof that the English language is thriving. The only language that isn’t constantly changing is a dead one. Check back to read about another language’s evolution in our next installment of this series!