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May 9, 2003

English Toolbox
Posted by Teresa at 10:37 AM *

I don’t doubt David Appleyard’s English Toolbox is useful if you’re an ESL student, but anyone else who’s tussling with the language might want to take a look. It’s not infallible, but it’s clear and well organized, and it’s been boiled down to just the stuff you need, like the names (with examples) of all the parts of speech, or the difference between forbear and forebear or assure, ensure, and insure.

Comments on English Toolbox:
#1 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 04:15 PM:

He doesn't quite mention my favorite bit of English vocabulary trivia: effect is usually a noun, but less often a verb; affect is usually a verb, but sometimes a noun (to psychologists).

He also doesn't mention the distinction between "infer" and "imply", which so many people seem confused by.

#2 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 08:44 PM:

Chad & I were just wondering if there were actual rules behind the use of articles in American English. Hopefully this will help--cool!

#3 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 09:30 PM:

Appleyard's site is a good one, but I would also like to recommend a book, specifically, Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference. It's the most practical, understandable guide to English grammar, syntax and usage I've seen. It's well organized and it includes special sections on citation style (Chicago, MLA, APA) and ESL, in addition to concise understandable grammar explanations.

My undergraduate students have been known to voluntarily read Hacker because she's interesting. You can see the publisher's puffery here:

The downside is that textbook publishing is such that Diana Hacker has essentially cornered the market on English handbooks.

#4 ::: Plig ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 09:54 AM:

He doesn't mention (as neither does anyone else I've tried) why we use a capital letter for the personal pronoun "I".
Any ideas?

#5 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 11:56 AM:

>He doesn't mention (as neither does anyone else I've tried)
>why we use a capital letter for the personal pronoun "I".
> Any ideas?

The use of uppercase for the first person singular is aa manuscript convention that appears in Middle English to differentiate the first person singular from an ordinary lowercase letter; otherwise the first person singular often appears to be part of the preceding word. It's pretty easy to be confused this way, especially since word spacing isn't always optimal in manuscripts, and in very early mss., there is no word spacing.

I can't give you an exact date for capital "I" becoming formal practice. I can tell you that "I" isn't capitalized in the Cotten manuscript of Layamon's Brut, which is roughly 1208, (where I is still often "ich") but it is capitalized by the late fourteenth century Auchinleck manuscript. These are the two extremes that I have readily at hand.

#6 ::: David Appleyard ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 06:29 PM:

Thank you for your comments about my "English Toolbox" 97 site stats led me to the URL for this fascinating forum and I hope you don't mind my dropping in. I'd like to contribute a fuller explanation for capitalization of "I" that I've found in an article by Mark Israel at
Also, in response to Lisa, I believe that OE "I" was "ic" rather than "ich".

#7 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 08:46 PM:

In Layamon's Brut, it's ich. Really. I'm looking at photographs of the manuscript.

Now, I was referring to Middle English, not Old English, since Layamon is technically Middle English, but you do see ich in manuscript (not in nicely edited editions, mind, but in the manuscripts) of Old English texts. You'll even see ich listed as a dialect marker in Mosse9's Handbook for Middle English. Ich is the stressed form in the South, and in the Midlands (where the scribe who copied Layamon lived). Scribes, just in order to give people like me something to do, also use ih, i, I, ic, and y, and once printers got involved, printers even employed J and j for the first person singular pronoun.

#8 ::: David Appleyard ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 11:52 PM:

This tallies with what Mark Israel says:
"In the northern and midland dialects of England the capitalized form "I" appeared about 1250.
In the south of England, where Old English "ic" early shifted in pronunciation to "ich" (by palatalization), the form "I" did not
become established until the 1700s (although it appears sporadically before that time)."
Dutch "ik" and German "ich" seem to have mirrored this development.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 03:27 PM:

Lisa, I've seen ich times withouten nombre; also hic and hi.

Hic hic:

Quanne hic se on rode
Jhesu, my lemman,
An besiden him stonden
Marie an Johan,
And his rig iswongen
And his side istungen
For the luve of man -
Wel ou hic to wepen
And sinnes forleten
Yif hic of luve kan,
Yif hic of luve kan,
Yif hic of luve kan.
Hic and hi aren't mutually exclusive, as in this slightly different version of the same poem:
Wenne Hic soe on rode idon
Iesus mi leman,
And bi him stonde
Maria and Iohan,
His herte duepe istunge,
His bodi scurge issuenge
For the sunne of man,
Hithe Hi mai wepen
And selte teres leten
Ief Hic of luue chan.
And in yet another penitential poem (they're a good place to find first-person pronouns), you get hic, hi, and I swapping off:
Hayl Mari,
Hic am sori;
Haf pite9 of me and merci.
Mi levedi,
To thee I cri:
For mi sinnis dred ham hi,
Wen hi thenke that hi sal bi,
That hi haf mis hi-don
In worde, in worke, in thoith foli.
Levedi, her mi bon.

Mi bon thu her,
Levedi der,
That hic aske wit reuful cher;
Thu len me her
Wil hic am fer.
Do penanz in mi praier;
Ne let me noth ler that thu ber
At min endin day.
The warlais, thai wil be her
Forto take thair pray.
Fun, yes?

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 03:33 PM:

David Appleyard, I'm entirely pleased to see you show up here. Be welcome. Stick around, if you have the time.

#11 ::: David Appleyard ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 10:47 PM:

Thanks, Teresa. You inspire me to consider adding a few milestones in the evolution of English to my site...when I get some time.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 11:09 PM:

Naturally, for no good reason that I can see, I've just now happened to stumble upon yet another post-AngloSaxon first-person singular pronoun: y. This is from a dialogue between Christ and his mother:

"Moder, nu y may the seyn,
bettere is that ic one deye
than al man-kyn to helle go."
"Sune, y se thi bodi swngen,
thi brest, thin hond, thi fot thur-stungen --
no selli thou me be wo."

"Moder, if y dar the tellen,
yif y ne deye thu gost to helle;
hi thole this ded for thine sake."
"Sune, thu best me so minde,
with me nout; it is mi kinde
that y for the sorye make."

Note that this time around, y, ic, and hi are swapping off turns at being the singular first-person pronoun. If there's a rule for that, I can't divine it.

I must confess that I've never had enough difficulty with Middle English that I've had to take systematic notice of its grammar. I just read the stuff.

#13 ::: David Appleyard ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2003, 06:02 AM:

My "English Toolbox" now has this new URL.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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