Grammar Rules for good English

Free book covers grammar topics, highlights common errors made by Singaporeans

How many times have you been told to "please off the tap", instead of "please turn off the tap"?

Then there is the officious-sounding "please revert to me", which really should be "please reply".

To avoid such gaffes, the Speak Good English Movement has published a free guidebook to help people speak and write better.

Grammar Rules is a pocket-sized book which covers topics in grammar, including tenses and the use of adverbs and conjunctions. It also highlights common English language errors made by Singaporeans and provides the correct words and phrases.

The book was officially launched yesterday and there will be 10,000 copies available.

Most of the material had originally appeared as short excerpts in notebooks issued by the movement over the years.

But this is the first time that such a comprehensive guidebook has been launched.

"The popularity of the notebooks and the grammar tips they contained motivated the movement to compile the material into one volume," said a spokesman.

"Through Grammar Rules, the Speak Good English Movement hopes to draw attention to the importance of grammar so that Singaporeans may be encouraged to improve their standard of spoken and written English."

The movement was launched in 2000 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong over concerns that widespread use of broken English involving "ungrammatical and truncated" expressions would affect Singapore's ability to do business and communicate with the world.

At that time, popular TV sitcom Phua Chu Kang, which featured artist Gurmit Singh playing the lead role of a Singlish-speaking contractor, came under fire.

Over the years, the movement has roped in various partners to promote the use of standard, grammatical English, including food and beverage outlets, the National Library Board and the British Council. But concerns about how the use of Singlish may displace the mastery of standard English by Singaporeans still remain.

Responding to media queries, the movement's chairman, Mr Goh Eck Kheng, said that while Singlish is a "cultural marker" for many Singaporeans and comes with its own syntax and vocabulary, "it is important to be aware of the differences between Singlish and English because there is a time and place for each of them".


  • Wrong: Please off the tap

    Standard English: Please turn off the tap

    Wrong: With regards to the matter, I think...

    Standard English: With regard to the matter, I think...

    Wrong: He scored eight upon 10 for the math test

    Standard English: He scored eight out of 10 for the math test

    Wrong: Lisa is taking writing classes to upgrade her skills

    Standard English: Lisa is taking writing classes to improve her skills

    Wrong: Today is my off day

    Standard English: Today is my day off

    Wrong: Please revert to me as soon as possible*

    Standard English: Please reply as soon as possible

    *However, using revert to mean "reply to" is common in some varieties of English, e.g. Indian English

He added that the movement will be organising a symposium in the second half of this year to discuss the English language in Singapore. More details will be released at a later date.

Those who would like a copy of Grammar Rules may collect it from the Singapore Philatelic Museum and Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall during opening hours.

It will be given out on a first come, first served basis, while stocks last.

Technician Basheer Ahmed, 48, obtained a copy of the book earlier this month. He said it has encouraged him to pay more attention to his sentence structure when he speaks English.

"Sometimes, we say things like 'why you never do this' or 'on the light', that are actually incorrect," said Mr Basheer.

He added that he will encourage his nieces and nephews, who are still in school, to take a look at the guidebook as well.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline Grammar Rules for good English. Subscribe