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A gripe with grammar

March 17, 2010
Abuela - Grandmother
A Gripe with Grandma? hummm wrong one.

Active and passive voice, direct and indirect objects, prepositional phrases, compound and complex sentences ……urrggghh!!!!

Whilst I understand that grammar is more than spelling works correctly and placing them in appropriate spots within sentence , it makes me wonder if anyone truly enjoys grammar?  Why does it have to be so darn confusing and hard?  Isn’t it enough to get a  story ‘down’  and for it to have believable or identifiable characters without having to be concerned about all of this?

Along my journey as a writer I’ve bumbled along with scant knowledge of the rules of grammar. This is a bit of a dark secret between you and I as despite graduating as a teacher with English as my minor, I ‘got through’ my education on raw talent, derived from functional language rather than a formal or textbook style of learning.

I spent my formative years in an education system which promoted functional language structure. (that is to say, spelling and grammar came second to the way in which the language flowed.  So long as others could understand the concepts, the structure was ‘unimportant’) Whilst I understand that this style of learning was in reaction to the lowering standards of literacy and to allow literacy to be more accessible; there is now a generation of people whose grasp on the basics of grammar is at best, low.

Just for fun, consider these common grammatical mistakes

“If I would have known about the party, I would have gone to it.”

Certainly something that many people would say aloud. When written, a large percentage know there is something wrong with it – but perhaps might not now what – or how to fix it.  The issue here is past principals.

The correct form for this sentence would be:

“ If I had known about the party I would have gone.”

Bring verses Take

“When we go to the party, let’s bring a bottle of wine.”

The issue with this is the movement of the verb. When viewing the movement of something from the point of arrival – it is correct to use the word “bring”.

“When you come to the party, please bring a bottle of wine.”

If viewing the movement of something from the point of departure, it is correct to use “take”

“When we go to the party , let’s take a bottle of wine.”

With the editing process of anthologies and half written novels along with inevitable rewriting of  long tracks of work ahead of me this year, the realisation that I need to go back to basics with grammar makes me want to whimper in the corner. However, I am made of tougher stuff, and will arm myself with the Grammar Girls wisdom.

Many people associate grammar with errors, correctness and following a set of unbending rules. One thing I have learnt along my way is that relearning grammatical terms down’t make one a better writer, but it does deepen your understanding on how words are arranged to create better sentences.  With this knowledge, I believe, I will be able to become a more versatile and confident writer.

Do you have a pet peeve with grammar?

Do you let grammar stand in the way of a good story?

Image by Seryo via Flickr

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Annie Evett thinks we should just have the darn party and be done with it…Follow Annie here on Twitter and start your escape into her world here

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6 Comments
  1. March 17, 2010 2:22 am

    Ah grammar, the bane of so many lives.

    Speaking from my own experience, grammar was like spelling and handwriting. A deathly dull lesson in primary school that involved sitting upright in positions we wouldn’t normally sit in, writing in a style we wouldn’t normally write in, learning rules without any appreciation of why it was important to learn this. It simply wasn’t fun.

    I don’t think I began to appreciate grammar until I started to learn a foreign language, and as part of that had to consider tenses, prepositions, conjunctions, participles, voice and the myriad other rules.

    A second problem could be the fact that the rules of English grammar are many, tedious and often wrong. Unlike many other languages, logic and common sense have been thrown out of the window with English, a testimony to the fusion of so many other languages to create it. For example, many of the standard rules of “correct” grammar are beholden to Latin. Take the rule against splitting the infinitive. This is “incorrect” in English because you don’t split the infinitive in Latin. Yet in Latin it is impossible to split an infinitive, since it is one word. In English, the infinitive is two words, easily split, and often to great effect (eg “To boldly go…” sounds superior to “To go boldly…”)

    It is complex, and each “rule” is peppered with exceptions. And so most people switch off when you try to teach them it.

    It doesn’t have to be that way of course. Eats, Shoots and Leaves is an entertaining primer, and any newspaper styleguide ought to give a good grounding. I have a copy of The Times Writer’s Guide by Graham King. It is a monster of a book, but it is incredibly entertaining.

  2. March 17, 2010 8:21 am

    I will persevere…. I must.. if I am to become a better advocate for the beauty of our language.

    thanks for your insightful comment Paul…

  3. March 17, 2010 8:48 am

    In your second example, “lets” should be “let’s” because it is a contraction of “let us.” “lets” means to allow something.

  4. March 17, 2010 9:33 am

    You and I have the same dark secret Annie. Your article made me conjure up vague recollections of chalkboards and diagramming sentences. Those memories always end the same way, with me staring glass-eyed at the chalkboard and giggling whenever the teacher mentioned dangling participles. Now I wish I had bucked up and paid attention.

  5. March 18, 2010 3:05 am

    *grin* thanks Michael – noted and fixed!!

  6. March 18, 2010 5:47 am

    I think good grammar is the key to writing that others will understand. That said there is a vital need to define what is good grammar. A question which throws up at least two problems.

    The first is the one Paul mentioned above. Good grammar is based on the language as it is used by those who speak and write it. Other considerations, such as appropriateness, or the way other languages work, are not important here. Appropriateness is, of course, important but has nothing to do with grammar as such.

    The second is that languages are dynamic; they are always changing. What might have been bad grammar yesterday, may become accepted over time. By nature style and grammar books are reactionary; changes are made and very often used, possibly even for years, before they become acceptable and find their way into such books. So, using ‘cutting edge language’ may be correct, but will our reader see it in this light. Any writer needs to keep this in mind.

    So please, do learn how to use our beautiful language. And let’s not forget, only once we’ve learnt the basic rules can we bend them to our purposes.

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