Knowing Just Enough Grammar to Go Wrong1
Many Chinese learners of English know just enough grammar to go wrong. “It seems2 I have seen such an expression several times”, they say to themselves3, “but surely it is not grammatical. I must alter it so as to make it grammatical.” Their narrowly grammatical conscience4, however, often causes them to change idiomatic English into unidiomatic English. For example, they may find “The boy acts contrary to his parents’ wishes” ungrammatical, and to make the sentence grammatical change the “contrary” into “contrarily”—with the result that5 the sentence would not read like an English sentence to an Englishman. It is true that from a narrowly grammatical point of view, the adjective “contrary” here should be replaced with the adverb “contrarily”. But idiom has decided that the adjective is the word required here, and idiom there is no disputing6. (Perhaps it would be better to say that here idiom insists on the use of the adverb “contrary” instead of the adverb “contrarily”.)
许多中国的英语学习者只知道足够的语法从而犯了错误。他们想：“似乎我见过这样一个表达方式好几次，可是它当然是不合语法的。我必须把它改成合于语法的。”可是这种狭隘的语法观念往往使他们把合于习语的英语改成不合习语的英语。举例来说，他们可能把“The boy acts contrary to his parents’wishes.”看作不合语法，要使这句变成合于语法，就把“contrary”改作“contrarily”——结果是这句话对于英国人读起来就不像一句英语句子。的确，从狭隘的语法观点来看，这里的形容词“contrary”应该换作副词“contrarily”。可是习语已经决定这里需要的是这个形容词，而习语是不能被反对的。（或者这样说更好：在这里习语坚持要用副词“contrary”而不用副词“contrarily”。）
There are several forms of expression that are purely idiomatic and do not admit of7 grammatical analysis. The word “busy”, for example, may be used immediately before a gerund looking like a participle, as in “He is busy writing letters”.
有许多纯粹合于习语却不可能用语法来分析的表达方式。例如“busy”这个词可以直接用在看来像分词的动名词前，例如在“He is busy writing letters.”中。
In your reading, reader, take care to note down8 those idiomatic constructions that you do not find grammatical enough. Commit them to memory and try to use them in your writing. Above all9, remember that you may happen to be one of those who, as I said in the above, know just enough grammar to go wrong.
You must not think, however, that idiom and grammar are always incompetibles. What is idiomatic is far more often grammatical than ungrammatical. I mean simply that not every idiomatic construction is grammatically explainable, nor is every strictly grammatical construction idiomatic.
- Go Wrong 错误
- It seems=It seems that
- say to themselves 想
- narrowly grammatical conscience 对于语法的狭隘的观念
- with the result that … 结果是……；以至于……
- idiom there is no disputing=there is no disputing idiom 不能反对习语
- admit of 可能；容许
- note down 记下
- Above all 尤要者