Grammar, grammar, grammar!

Happy Sunday everyone!

One of the biggest things we’re always getting asked about at the Writing Center is grammar.  This should surprise absolutely no one, since English grammar is pounded into our brains from the moment we step into kindergarten until…well, to be honest, people will never stop hounding us about our grammar.

If your first language is English, you’re lucky enough to have what’s called “native speaker intuition,” meaning you can spot and hear major grammatical mistakes, often without being able to explain WHY you know it’s wrong.  However, this doesn’t often cross over to smaller grammatical aspects, such as homophones, punctuation, and verb tense.  If English isn’t your first language, well, you’re learning with the rest of us!

But let’s get real here, you say, when does knowing the difference between affect and effect become obvious in a conversation between two friends?  When is your mom going to notice if you don’t put a semicolon between two independent-but-tightly-related-like-that-one-annoying-couple-you-know clauses?  The quick answer: it won’t!

And yet, we’ve all got that friend who corrects grammar on Facebook.  We all had that eighth grade teacher who drilled subject-verb agreement into our heads.  So what’s the big deal?

It’s easy to believe that grammar doesn’t matter at all, but it’s not a very practical opinion.  English, like every other language, has grammatical structures that are unique and essential to it.  These grammatical structures mean the difference between saying something like “I ate dinner with my dog,” to “I ate my dog with dinner.”  (Sorry Fido!)

Although it may seem easy to write off ALL grammar, the fact of the matter is, you need grammar to communicate.  Sure, it might still be readable if you use the wrong form of a word, but it will take away from your meaning.  And less meaning means less effectiveness.  And, in the end, less effectiveness may tell some readers that you are less intelligent, less worthy, less important.

THIS IS NOT THE CASE.  

You are a intelligent individual, regardless of your educational training, and you should be able to use whatever language is needed to make a strong and effective point in any situation.  It’s easy to think of grammar as a punishment, but try thinking of it as a tool instead.  When having a debate on Facebook with a friend, your grammar doesn’t matter, but your content does.  However, in academic writing, both are equally important.  Your content may be fresh and powerful, but if your delivery lacks, readers may be confused or even turned off by your paper.

This isn’t just an English skill.  You will have to write papers for every aspect of your life.  You will apply for things, you will write romantic/funny/friendly things, you will NEED to have the skills that will allow you to pound out a few amazing and effective sentences on a page instead of a mash of text speak.  Sometimes text speak is amazing.  Sometimes it’s not.  That’s just a fact of our lives.  So, learning grammatical points and knowing which situations to use them in is a key skill to developing yourself not just as a writer, but also as an individual.

With this in mind, I recommend Grammar Girl‘s wide array of grammatical lessons.

Mignon (like the filet, but much funnier) publishes tips and tricks under a wide variety of methods.  She has a blog, she has a podcast, she has an APPLE IPOD APP (how cool is that?!).  She is here to help you, not to preach a rule or slap your hand with a ruler.  Her topics range from homophone usage to comma splices to silly English idioms and where they come from.

Grammar Girl (and the WKU Writing Center) are here to help you kick grammar’s butt!  Take advantage of that!

–Teresa

This post was originally published on September 29, 2013.

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