Most people believe that English grammar is simply English grammar. There is a right way and a wrong way to construct a sentence, a right place and a wrong place to put a comma, words that go together and words that don’t. For the most part, this is true. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of tiny rules that native speakers instinctively know and follow when communicating. What most people don’t realize is how mutable some of these rules are, and how others are not, and where the differences lie.
For example, did you know that types of adjectives are nearly always used in a certain order? Take a look at this phrase: the big yellow Chinese vase. There are three adjectives, big, yellow, and Chinese, all of which describe a vase. Try speaking the same phrase with the adjectives in a different order.
On the other hand, consider the sentence, “We might could go out tonight.” It sounds strange to a large portion of the English-speaking world, because there are two modal verbs, might and could, when normally only one is allowed. However, to natives of the American South, it sounds perfectly fine, and, in fact, carries shades of meaning that are different from either of the phrases might go or could go. If meaning is accurately conveyed, isn’t it still “proper English?” (more…)