Language Functions vs Grammar

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English as a Foreign Language (EFL) By: Tutor no longer registered
Subject: English » English as a Foreign Language (EFL)
Last updated: 07/06/2017
Tags: functions, grammar

Human beings have evolved to use sophisticated written and spoken languages for all sorts of reasons. The most obvious and simplest explanation is so that we can communicate our thoughts and feelings to other humans, and our pets - even if they sometimes ignore us!

Grammar, (oh no! Not the dreaded g-word!) exists for a reason, and that is to help us communicate better. By that I mean “clearly”. Forget the convoluted grammars based on Latin and the arguments about whether you can or can't split an infinitive or end a sentence on a preposition. Grammar is your servant, not your master.

So how does grammar relate to the functions of language, and what are the functions anyway? Some examples include talking about the past or future; describing objects, people, pets and politicians; making suggestions etc. I think you get the picture. Functions are what we use language for.

Let's link some functions and grammar. Don't worry, much of it is quite straightforward, up until the upper intermediate levels anyway. So, talking about a completed event in the past, requires the “past simple” e.g. 'I ate a bar of chocolate yesterday.' To make a prediction about the future, we can use “will” e.g. 'I'll have a bar of chocolate after lunch.' If, instead, I'm planning on having a bar of chocolate after lunch, I'll probably use "going to", like this: 'I'm going to have a bar of chocolate after lunch'.

Describing objects and people? Adjectives are the obvious choice, e.g. 'It was a cold, dark night when I almost died of fright. I saw a ferocious animal with enormous teeth, prowling in the deserted graveyard...' I like adjectives, they're fun.

Here are some more functions with examples: 

Making suggestions: If you are looking for something to read this summer, why not read a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

Describing past habits: I used to listen to Bruce Springsteen's music every day when I was a student.

Expressing possibility and uncertainty: Maybe it's because my grandfather owned a restaurant, or maybe it's just an attitude of mine, but the truth is that I love having people at home as guests.

Eliciting further information and expansion of ideas and opinions: In my opinion, meeting people from other cultural backgrounds can broaden our horizons and make us richer inside, what do you think? 

Expressing agreement and disagreement: If you think that only Americans can become famous in Hollywood, you're wrong. What about Nicole Kidman? She's an Australian.

Speculating: (Contemplation or consideration of a subject.) If a cure could be found for cancer, would the world change overnight?
(Reasoning based on inconclusive evidence; conjecture or supposition.) If Nicole Kidman is a vegetarian, she probably eats eggs and cheese.

Expressing regrets, wishes and hopes: - I wish I had never read that book!
- I hope to improve my English pronunciation by conversing with her.
- I wish I could spend an evening with my hero.
- I expect you regret having made that stupid comment on live television, don't you?

Expressing assumptions: I expect Ms Minelli to arrive looking very glamorous.

Evaluating options: On the one hand, pasta is cheap, quick and easy. On the other hand, it's not a very original dish to serve an Italian American. 

Evaluating past actions or course of events: In the past I used to drink wine with every meal, but that was a mistake. Looking back I realise that alcohol made me eat too much and it often disguised the poor quality of the food.

I think that's enough for now, don't you?

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