12 Oct 2017

Learning English

My Notes from “ How to Speak and Write Correctly” by Joseph Devlin

I was looking for a simple guide on English ever since the thought of somewhat serious writing occurred to me. I believe natural languages (particularly English) is more important than their coding counterparts for the ideas must first be described well in English. In a software project, for every single line of code, there are at least ten lines written in English. If the specs aren’t accurate, the product is bound to be an inferior outcome. In my quest to improve my language, I stumbled upon this great work from Joseph Devlin. It clicked.

This introductory paragraph won me over :

In the preparation of this little work the writer has kept one end in view, viz.: To make it serviceable for those for whom it is intended, that is, for those who have neither the time nor the opportunity, the learning nor the inclination, to peruse elaborate and abstruse treatises on Rhetoric, Grammar, and Composition. To them such works are as gold enclosed in chests of steel and locked beyond power of opening. This book has no pretension about it whatever, it is neither a Manual of Rhetoric, expatiating on the dogmas of style, nor a Grammar full of arbitrary rules and exceptions. It is merely an effort to help ordinary, everyday people to express themselves in ordinary, everyday language, in a proper manner. Some broad rules are laid down, the observance of which will enable the reader to keep within the pale of propriety in oral and written language. Many idiomatic words and expressions, peculiar to the language, have been given, besides which a number of the common mistakes and pitfalls have been placed before the reader so that he may know and avoid them.

First I thought to rewrite a summary in my own flow quoting few important paragraphs from Mr. Devlin, but soon I realized that retaining the broad structure is important. I am hoping that I will be able to concise this 50k + words book into 5000 words so that hurried readers of 21st century get a taste of this hundred years old master piece. Curious readers can get the complete book (text and audio) from archive.org

Essentials of English Grammar

Divisions of Grammar

Orthography - covers letters and ways to combine them. Etymology - looks at various classes of words. Syntax connection and arrangement of words in a sentence Prosody manner of speaking and reading and different kinds of verse.


Letters are divided into vowels and consonants. A vowel is a letter that makes a distinct sound by itself. Consonants need a vowel to make a sound. Vowels are a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y and w when they don’t begin a word or syllable.

Syllables and Words.

A syllable is a sound produced by a single effort - shall, dog, pig. Word combines one or more syllables.

Parts of Speech

All the words in the English language are divided into nine great classes. These classes are called the Parts of Speech. They are :-

  • Article An Article is a word placed before a noun to show whether the latter is used in a particular or general sense. There are but two articles, a or an and the.
  • Noun A Noun signifies the name of any person, place or thing, in fact, anything of which we can have either thought or idea.
  • Adjective An Adjective is a word which qualifies a noun, that is, which shows some distinguishing mark or characteristic belonging to the noun.
  • Pronoun A Pronoun is a word used for or instead of a noun to keep us from repeating the same noun too often. Pronouns, like nouns, have case, number, gender and person. There are three kinds of pronouns, personal, relative and adjective.
  • Verb A verb is a word which signifies action or the doing of something. A verb is inflected by tense and mood and by number and person, though the latter two belong strictly to the subject of the verb.
  • Adverb An adverb is a word which modifies a verb, an adjective and sometimes another adverb.
  • Preposition A preposition serves to connect words and to show the relation between the objects which the words express.
  • Conjunction A conjunction is a word which joins words, phrases, clauses and sentences together.
  • Interjection An interjection is a word which expresses surprise or some sudden emotion of the mind.


Noun = [Proper { Person (First , Second , Third) ; Number (Singular, Plural); Gender (Male, Female, Neuter, Common); Case (Nominative, Possesive, Objective) } ; Common { Number (Singular , Plural); Gender (Male , Female, Neuter, Common); Case (Nominative, Possessive, Objective)}]


Adjective = {Positive, Comparative, Superlative}


Pronoun = {Personal (Number, Gender, case ); Relative (case); Adjective (Demonstrative, Distributive, Possessive)  }


**Verb** = {Regular, Irregular, Transitive, Intransitive} [Number, Person, Tense{ Present, Past , Future}, mood{Infinitive, Indicative, Imperative, Subjunctive} ]