Why do we care about grammar? Among clauses, modifiers, pronouns, transitive and intransitive verbs, punctuation, and gerund phrases, it seems like the English language is unnecessarily over-complicated. However, it only appears useless to those of us who grew up immersed in the language, hearing it all around us without an additional voice saying “Mommy just used an adverbial clause!” Hell, in elementary school the most we got was the definition of a noun as a “person, place, or thing” and a verb as “an action word.” As an aspiring book editor with a keen interest in grammatical structures, these basic definitions weren’t enough for me. I always wanted to deconstruct language, figure out why sentences can be pieced together with the simplest words and yet hold some kind of meaning that can resonate with a variety of communities. So, why should anyone else without these strange interests actually care about grammar?
One reason to take grammar into consideration is that proper grammar creates an air of professionalism in any writing. Whether the work involves mythical creatures and spiritual journeys or outlines the properties of thermodynamics, grammar that is glaringly incorrect takes away from the seriousness of the piece. After all, the effort to create an easily-readable piece was not contributed. This is not to say that everyone has to be perfect with every comma or know how to use a semi-colon. Instead, the intention is to take the audience into consideration and make sure the ideas are conveyed in not just a jumble of words, but a well-punctuated jumble of words.
Another reason to pay more attention to grammar is for the sake of language-learning. As someone who has been taking Spanish for eight years, I can attest to the fact that knowing English grammatical structures has contributed to my knowledge of Spanish grammatical structures and, in turn, has improved both my writing ability and speaking ability of the foreign language. Although not everyone learns a foreign language, for those of us who are, grammar is the template we shove all of that vocabulary into so we can communicate our thoughts.
One last point I’d like to make about grammar is that it contributes to our relationships and understanding of the world around us. After all, there is a large difference between “I’m sorry I love you” and “I’m sorry; I love you” or even “Twenty five-dollar bills” and “Twenty-five dollar bills.” To some, these distinctions may seem too strict about how we use language. To me, on the other hand, making simple errors like these leave me mortified because the meaning I wanted to convey was completely overlooked. Once you have mispronounced “brazier” in front of an entire class, context begins to matter more.
To those who wish to improve their grammar, there are two useful sources that I would personally recommend, for the sake of learning the technical aspects of grammar, as well as having a place to turn to when you are unsure of a grammar rule.
First, I recommend Understanding English Grammar by Martha Kolln and Robert Funk. This book served as a textbook for one of my English classes and I found it extremely useful, seeing as it goes through sentence patterns and diagramming, as well as rhetorical grammar and punctuation.
Secondly, I would recommend a grammar dictionary, such as Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner. Although it is a large book, it defines words, shows how to use them grammatically, offers alternative spelling if an alternative spelling exists, and often gives the proper plural forms of words. An example of one of these interesting nuggets is how the book explains the difference between “stalactite” and “stalagmite” and tricks to remember the difference, so that you use them properly.
We are in the 21st century and, while technology allows for programs that correct grammar for us or phones that automatically fix our spelling mistakes, there is still a purpose for learning the basics. For me, this purpose will become my career and I’d like to think that my work will positively impact the literature of the future.
– Amber Bush