Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How Important Is Grammar?

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is an excellent guide to grammar.

If you’ve ever shared your work with other people, you’ve probably had at least one person make a comment about grammar.  I could hardly show anything to my parents without them pointing out a grammatical error. It drove me nuts. All I wanted was for them to look at what I wrote, not tear it apart.  Why did they have to point out the grammar junk? I knew that that grammar mattered, but what did it have to do with what I wanted from them at the time?  I frequently wondered, just how important is grammar, anyway? 

I have learned that the answer to the question is just one word: Crucial. 

When it comes to writing, imagine that you are building a house.  You’re going to need boards and nails to do that.  Now, the boards are the words. The words themselves are the most important part.  The nails represent grammar.  If the boards are going to make a house, they need to be held together in a meaningful way. So, the answer to the question of grammar’s importance is the same answer to this question: How important are nails when building a house? 

Crucial.  Grammar is absolutely crucial. That’s the answer, plain and simple, but it doesn’t help you one bit if you don’t understand why.

After all when people dont use good grammar you can still get the point right. so whats the big deal anyway. 

While it is true that you can read the two preceding sentences and still get the point of what I’m trying to say, there are some things that are vague.  Is it a statement, or a question? Am I saying that you can make the point of the sentence be correct, or am I asking if you can still understand the sentence’s basic message? 

So, while people can still read and comprehend grammatically poor writing, every time you don’t use proper grammar, you run the risk of being misunderstood. 

Imagine it like these four drawings.
Yes, I drew these myself. You didn't know I was so artistic, did you?
The first drawing represents a sentence with proper grammar.  You can immediately tell that it is a drawing of a house.  The lines are clean, and anyone can easily figure out what it is supposed to be. The second drawing represents a sentence with one or two grammatical errors. You can still tell that it is a house, but it’s a little shaky.  It sort of looks like a mushroom house, maybe where fairies would live or something.  It is not as unquestionable as the first drawing.  Furthermore, it doesn’t look professional. The third drawing represents a sentence with many grammatical errors.  Looking at it in the context of the other images, you can still probably see the house, but if you didn’t have that reference, would you still be able to tell?  It looks like a child’s doodling, just barely recognizable.  The fourth drawing, well, that represents a sentence with a lot of grammatical errors and spelling errors and such.  If you saw that by itself, you probably could not figure out that it’s a house.  You would look at it, think, “Hey, look at those childish scribbles,” and move on. 

As grammar worsens, understandability lessens.  It gets even worse when you misspell or use the wrong word. So believe me—it stings when you have people tell you that your grammar is bad.  But you have to understand that poor grammar does to writing what bad drawing did to the house picture.  If you want your writing to be respected, you’ve got to work on your grammar skills. 

Maybe grammar doesn’t come easily to you.  Maybe you just want to write your ideas without worrying about all the “nitpicky” stuff like grammar.   All right, but would you try to build a house without nails? Of course not!  There is, unfortunately, no way around it. If grammar is hard for you, that’s okay.  It’s a learning curve.  I won’t tell you that grammar is easy, because it isn’t always. 

What I will do, however, is feature a post every Wednesday to help you master grammar and writing: Word-Craft Wednesdays!  We’ll explore grammar, usage, writing styles, and more. 

I’ll offer encouragement along the way, as well as toss in a few personal stories.  If you love writing but struggle with learning grammar, you are definitely not the only one. On the other hand, if you love grammar and are awesome at it, you might enjoy the refreshers!  You can also be my grammar police, because hey, nobody’s perfect.  And I really have a tendency to start sentences with conjunctions. 

Is grammar easy or difficult for you?  What sort of things really trip you up? 

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  1. In my case, grammar is relatively easy, and I love learning about it- to the point where I become one of those people who'll correct anyone with about as much tact as a wooden club. At the same time, though, I know that my own grammar is far from perfect. In fact, starting sentences with conjunctions IS the biggest issue in my writing. That's actually something I really enjoy about writing dialogue. The rules loosen between those quotation marks. Peple talk the way they talk, and depending on the character, gramnar mistakes can be considered realistic to a point. Of course, it doesn't work that way in Honors English, so I'll be looking forward to these Wednesdays!
    -Lizzy :)

    1. Oops. *grammar was what I meant there. Touch screens are not my favorite...

  2. Oh, yeah! You've got to watch that gramnar! :) It is so true that quotation marks give a lot of freedom when it comes to things grammatical. In the future, I will be talking about ways to break the rules effectively. Good luck with your Honors class!

  3. Although I know the last sentence was intentionally written that way, it was difficult for me to read without cringing.