06/12/2014 07:48 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2014

You Won't Believe Some Of These Old School Grammar Rules Used To Exist

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The following is an excerpt from The Art of Good Manners [Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, $15.00], a handbook outlining proper etiquette and grammar in 1920s Britain.

If we examine the reasons for correctness in speech, we find once more that it is because we have consideration for others. We desire to cause them no annoyance or inconvenience by sounds that offend them or make it difficult for them to understand us. The best guide is to listen to well-educated persons and imitate them.

The Aspirate
One great difficulty that is found is the proper use of the aspirate -- the initial letter h. When used, it should not be forcibly sounded as though to impress others with your knowledge. Let it be pronounced easily and clearly. A few words beginning with h omit the aspirate, as, for example, “heir”, “honour”, “honest”. Others, such as “hotel”, “hospital”, “humour”, and “herb”, are occasionally pronounced with the aspirate omitted. Be careful to avoid the use of an aspirate where it does not occur. It sometimes happens that an h is sounded as the result of a forced emphasis.

It is difficult to define slang. It is perhaps equally difficult, unless great care be exercised, to avoid its use altogether, as some slang insensibly becomes incorporated with the language. It will help if you always choose simple, easy words. Think first clearly of what you mean to say, and use those words which cultivated persons would use. Some slang is
perhaps permissible. But most of it is merely vulgar. If in doubt, do your best to avoid it altogether.

Do not use expressions which are practically meaningless or profane: “My hat!” “Oh, lor’!” “Goodness me!” “By Jove!” “What ho!” “Loads of time”, and many others which will readily recur if one thinks for a moment.

Every word has a proper sound. Make yourself acquainted with its correct sound by looking it up in a dictionary if in doubt. Speak always with a distinct enunciation. Do not clip your words, swallow them, nor smother them. Your purpose is to make yourself understood. Do not impose an unnecessary strain upon your listener. Give each syllable its fair value. Sound letters like r in “arm”, “warm”, “horse”, “government”, “Parliament”, etc.; like the final g in “singing”, “dancing”, “skating”, etc.; like the w in “window”, “fellow”, etc. Do not say “sentunce” for “sentence”, nor “seperate” for “separate."

Be moderate in your use of adjectives. If a thing is merely pretty, do not say it is magnificent; do not use the word “awful” except in its proper sense. A thing is awful only when it inspires awe -- this does not often happen. A much-abused word is “smart”. This has a very limited meaning, and should not be used to convey the idea of cleverness, intelligence, or business capacity. There are very few synonyms -- words which have the same meanings. Be sure, therefore, before you speak, of exactly what you wish to convey, and use only that word which most clearly expresses your meaning.

"Me" and "I"
There is often some difficulty as to the correct use of "I" and "me". The one is the nominative case -- the other ("me") the objective. The latter is governed by a preposition or a transitive verb. “Between you and me” is correct. “This belongs to you and me”, “This is for you and me”, etc., are all correct. But where the personal pronoun is the subject, such as "You and I will go to the races", "She and I are going to the theatre", the nominative is always used.

"Who" and "whom"
The same difficulty is experienced with who and whom, she and her, he and him. The rule should be learned from a grammar, and all the prepositions governing the objective cases, “whom”, “her”, and “him”, committed to memory. “This is the man to whom I gave a shilling”; “I gave (transitive verb) her a shilling also”; “This shilling is for him.”

"Lie and lay"
A hen may lay an egg or a bricklayer a brick. But one should say to a dog, "Lie down", or "I will lie down." "Lay" is a transitive verb: the action is carried over to an object. It is correct, but not now usual, to say, "I will now lay me down to sleep."

"Teach" and "learn"
"I will teach him, and if he is a good pupil he will learn." One must not say, "I will learn him this or that."

"Fewer" and "less"
Of a number one should say fewer: "There were fewer fish to be bought in the market today”; “There were fewer visitors yesterday at the exhibition." "We ought to burn less coal,” and "We ought to drink less wine," are correct. "Less than a gallon", "Fewer than a dozen", shows the difference.

This is a much-abused word. Most sentences are stronger for its admission. “I have got an umbrella” is better said as “I have an umbrella.”

“What" and “WhIch"
"The reasons what you mentioned" is much better expressed as “The reasons you mentioned"; or, if one wishes to be emphatic, “The reasons which", etc.

"Woman" and "female"
It is not courteous to speak of females. There are females amongst the lower animals. If one wishes to indicate the human being, “girl” or “woman” is correct.

"Lady" and "gentleman"
And here a word may be said about the indiscriminate use of the words “lady” and “gentleman”. In a personal sense, “Show this lady or this gentleman to the door, please,” is quite correct; but to speak of one’s gentlemen or lady friends is not the best form. Ladies always speak of themselves generally as women and gentlemen as men.

"Saw" and "seen"
To begin with, be careful about the pronunciation of “saw”. Do not say sawr. “I saw him” is often incorrectly expressed as “I seen him.” “I have seen him” is, of course, correct.

"Hung and hanged"
Pictures are hung, but sometimes men are hanged. Do not confuse the two.

This is a word that no well-bred individual ever uses. Speak of a thing as pleasant or tasteful, or of a person as well-mannered, if this is what you mean to convey.

"Its" and it's"
“Its" is the possessive form of “it". “Every flower has its own colors” is right. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is”. “It’s a fine day" is not wrong; but it is better to say or to write, in full, “It is a fine day.”