Last week a friend suggested that it is grammatically correct to say “I go to the bar now”, even if it’s more usual to say “I’m going to the bar now”. We suggested that in English as spoken in the UK the first would be considered wrong, even though it’s understandable. My friend insisted that this is down to usage rather than grammar; that the first version is grammatically correct, and that in varieties of English spoken in Uganda and other parts of East Africa, the first version is more common. We then had quite a discussion about the differences between grammar and usage.
For me grammar is a description of how a language is used, rather than a set of rules on how a language should be used. Rules in a descriptive grammar arise from usage and can change as usage changes, whereas in prescriptive grammar the rules are seen as absolute and unchanging and are based on a theoretical ideal of the language that few people actually use. What is your view on this?
The simple present tense in standard English is often used to indicate a habitual action, e.g. “I go to the pub every Thursday night”, while the continuous present tense is used for current action, e.g. “I’m going to the pub on Thursday night” (a specific instance). I hadn’t thought much about this distinction until I learnt Irish and found that there are different tense for habitual and non-habitual action: “Tá sé ag dul go dtí an teach tábhairne ar oíche Déardaoin” (He’s going to the pub on Thursday night); “Bíonn sé ag dul go dtí an teach tábhairne ar oíche Déardaoin” (He goes to the pub on Thursday night). The second version might be rendered as “He does be going to the pub on Thursday night” in Hiberno-English.
If you have learnt English as a second/foreign language, do you find the differences between the simple and continuous tenses difficult to grasp? This is likely to depend on whether there is such a distinction on your native language.