When talking about language and linguistics, we often talk about what is grammatically correct, and what is grammatically incorrect. But deciding whether something is grammatical or not is harder than it looks at first. Take a look at the title of this post. Most people would say that’s an ungrammatical sentence; after all ‘tomorrow’ refers to the future and ‘ate’ is past tense.
When deciding just how ungrammatical something is, context plays a big role. This sentence came from an excellent article I read over the weekend about consumer data-mining by large corporations, by Charles Duhigg over at the New York Times. A staff writer at the Times is hardly likely to write something ungrammatical (and the editors aren’t going to let it stand). It’s a lovely example of how context is so important when looking at whether a sentence is grammatical or not:
I had got into a bad habit of going to the cafeteria every afternoon and eating a chocolate-chip cookie, which contributed to my gaining a few pounds. Eight, to be precise. I put a Post-it note on my computer reading “NO MORE COOKIES.” But every afternoon, I managed to ignore that note, wander to the cafeteria, buy a cookie and eat it while chatting with colleagues. Tomorrow, I always promised myself, I’ll muster the willpower to resist.
Tomorrow, I ate another cookie.