The delights and frustrations of off-road grammar

The rules of English grammar don't always provide a clear A-to-B linguistic route. Be prepared to take some detours.

The off-road approach.
(Image credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

One of the amazing things about language is that it lets you express thoughts that have never been expressed before and describe situations that may never have been imagined.

Even so, in any language there are some kinds of thoughts, and not necessarily new or unusual ones, that the grammar rules don't give you an easy way to state. If you think of your language as a vast and sprawling place, then your grammar is the network of roads that allows you to get to where you want to go. And these troublesome thoughts are areas that are just beyond where the sidewalk ends, just past the Dead End sign in a subdivision. To express them, you can take a detour and use circuitous but established routes to get there — or you can go off-road, making a more direct path to the destination, using rules of grammar that don't quite exist yet.

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