Response to Frances Peck
West Coast Editor
November 2003

After reading Frances Peck’s mini-quiz in the September edition, I am convinced that militant descriptivism will be the death of English. It is not enough for Peck to argue for a laxer standard; she denies legitimacy to those who would disagree with her.

Take, for example, her allegation that preferring “as” to “like” in formal writing is a myth. Hmm. That would mean only a fool would draw a distinction between “Do as I say!” and “Do like I say!” even though the latter is clearly ungrammatical. “As I say” is an prepositional phrase of manner that modifies the imperative form of the verb “do.” “Like” is an adjective, and therefore cannot modify a verb.

Of course, one hears “Do like I say!” informally, but in formal writing—no. In writing there is no excuse for such a solecism. Nevertheless, I am to be branded a benighted mystic for insisting that adjectives cannot modify verbs.

The cause of this disrespect for grammar comes from the trite refrain that we should write the way we speak. Nonsense. Nobody writes that way. Speech is full of errors, broken sentences, disjointed phrases and other verbal detritus. We do not reflect these in print, so why should we willingly tolerate a correctable mistake.

I appreciate that language changes with time, but that does not mean we have to give bad grammar the imprimatur of acceptability. It is not wrong to challenge descriptivists or defend good English.

With this column, Greg Felton begins a regular feature on grammar and usage.  A former senior editor and award-winning political columnist with the Vancouver Courier, Greg now writes a media column for the Arabic/English newspaper al-Shorouq and the Alberta Arab News. He is also finishing a book on the anti-Arab bias behind U.S. Middle East policy. You can read his columns at