grammar: check, please.

In which I, yet again, turn to John Green to help me out with a blog post. This (spoken) quote of his pretty accurately sums up my own feelings about grammar: “Let me just acknowledge that the function of grammar is to make language as efficient and clear and transparent as possible. But if we’re all constantly correcting each others’ grammar and being really snotty about it, then people stop talking because they start to be petrified that they’re going to make some sort of terrible grammatical error and that’s precisely the opposite of what grammar is supposed to do, which is to facilitate clear communication.”

Bingo. Nail on the head, sir. Nail on the head.

As an English student (that is, a student of literature and writing, not a student from England—see where I’m going with this?), I love grammar. I know poor grammar when I see it, and yes, I do sometimes want to correct my friends on Facebook when they think “your” and “you’re” are interchangeable. (For the record, I never do. I’m not that guy. I really dislike that guy.) I rely on correct grammar to help me communicate my ideas both aloud and in writing, but only to a point. As a consultant at the CWE, I’m trained to help writers find grammatical errors in their writing and fix the errors, but you’ll never catch me speaking like, say, Frasier Crane. (Is that too dated a reference…? If you want to see a character who’s snotty about grammar, search for some clips of him on YouTube.)

And what about context? Take this completely grammatically correct sentence, for example: Flying planes can be dangerous. So… is it that planes in flight can be dangerous, or are we talking about the act of flying? Have another: Police help dog bite victim. Ouch.

That’s not really clear communication, is it?

My own personal jury is still out on the grammar debate. I don’t know if it should be taught in schools the way it’s been taught for the past however many decades — I had the terms hammered into my head just like you probably did, and just like you (probably), I don’t remember most of them. In spite of this, I like to think I’m a fairly decent writer. As long as my ideas are there and my reader understands what I’m saying, my job is done. The grammar can always be fixed later.

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1 Comment »

  • Kristine says:

    I love that John Green quote; it’s so true. I only vaguely remember learning grammar in elementary school…I remember a lot of worksheets, and being confused about said worksheets. Since English is our native language, grammar (to an extent) becomes unconscious after a while. I only started learning the rules and figuring out the “why’s” after I decided that I wanted to teach it.


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