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Macmillan Dictionary Real Grammar

Real Grammar

Everyone has an opinion about grammar. Some people get upset about what they regard as bad grammar, and believe we must all 'follow the rules'. But where do these rules come from? And are they all valid?

In our Real Grammar series we re-open the debate, this time insisting that the only reliable way of understanding English grammar is to study the evidence of language in use. We analyse corpus data and observe how people use English, around the world and across the whole spectrum of text-types.

For more information, follow #realgrammar on social media or read the prescriptivism and real grammar series on the Macmillan Dictionary Blog. There is also a classroom poster with 10 quiz items about grammar and vocabulary which you can download from our resources page.


To start off, we're encouraging you to do our 'real grammar' quiz.

Do the quiz here

An introduction to real grammar

Editor-in-Chief Michael Rundell introduces 'real grammar' and explains how it's defined.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Real Grammar – accept no substitutes!

"… language is more complex than this. Context and register are important: what might be inappropriate in a very formal setting may be perfectly acceptable in a conversation between friends."

Can I start a sentence with however?

Watch Michael's latest video about using the word however. Is it OK to use however at the beginning of a sentence?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

"Can I use "however" at the beginning of a sentence?

"[H]owever is commonly found in any position in a sentence, from first word to last, and sounds perfectly natural wherever it is."

Can or may?

This video and article asks the question: should I use can or may when asking for permission to do something?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

"Can I …" or "May I …"?

"Corpus data shows that may – when used for asking permission – has been declining for several decades, and in present-day discourse can is over ten times as common in this use."

Can I use like as a conjunction?

Have a look at the video or read our blog post to see if like can be used as a conjunction.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Can I use like as a conjunction?

"Like must be one of the most versatile words in the English language. […] [I]n contemporary texts, corpus data provides numerous examples of like-as-conjunction[.]"

Different from or different to?

This video and accompanying blog post looks at the prepositions used with the adjective different.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Different from or different to?

"Corpus data shows that different is typically followed by one of three prepositions: from and to (as in our question), and also than. […] Prescriptivists are united in their condemnation of two of these options[.]"

Which pronoun should I use?

This video and blog post looks at using the non-gender specific pronoun they when referring to a person.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Which pronoun should I use?

"You can say he (when referring to a man) or she (when referring to a woman) – but what do you say when the gender of the person you’re referring to is not known or not relevant?"

Is impact a noun or a verb?

This video discusses the word impact. For more information also have a look at the blog post.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Using impact as a verb

"It is not clear why some people get so upset about these conversions, but of all the peeves beloved of prescriptivists, this must be one of the most misguided."

Split infinitives

Is it OK to split infinitives? Watch the video and read the blog post to find out.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Is it OK to split an infinitive?

"We can say unambiguously that you should ignore the so-called rule against split infinitives. What matters is the clarity of the message and the elegance of the sentence […]."

Bored with or bored of?

This video and associated blog post look at the prepositions used with the adjective bored: with or of?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Bored with it, or Bored of it?

"[A]lthough "of" is increasingly the preposition of choice, some people still regard it as incorrect. This seems like a reasonable compromise […]."

Would or should?

If you want to know more about the modal verbs would and should, have a look at this video and blog post.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Would or Should?

"Analyzing our most recent corpus data, we find just over 5,000 instances of "I should like" and "We should like", but that compares with over 275,000 cases of "I would like" and "We would like"."

Who or whom?

Choosing between pronouns who and whom can be difficult. This video and blog post explain it all.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Who or Whom?

"On the basis of the language data for the past half-century, it is reasonable to predict that "whom" will continue to decline in all its uses – except where it is used after a preposition […]."

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