This article discusses recent attempts to describe English as a lingua franca (ELF). In it, I will consider claims made for ELF as a variety of English ‘with a life of its own’, which is said to be emerging among users of English for whom it is not their mother tongue. I examine a number of weaknesses in the case made for ELF by a school of thinking in mainland Europe, focusing on: the role of the native speaker in ELF; the relationship between ELF and Standard English; and the search for a grammatical common core for contexts in which English is used as an international lingua franca. The article draws on research which suggests that the aspect of Standard English which may be inappropriate for ELF is not in the grammatical system but the area of idiomaticity. I conclude with a consideration of the pedagogic implications of the ELF debate.