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Why learn grammar?

blog-why-learn-grammarBy Mary Morel | April 2014

When extolling the virtues of learning grammar, some people take a ‘shame’ approach.

‘If you use poor grammar,’ they say, ‘you damage your own reputation and, if you’re writing on behalf of your organisation, you damage the brand.’

And today with social media, mistakes linger even if they are quickly removed in the real world. I still recall Myer’s signage blunder in January 2013. Like many other people, I chuckled and ‘tut-tutted’. (Early bird get’s the right size.)

But I also thought, ‘I’m glad I didn’t make that mistake’. I am capable of making plenty of grammatical mistakes and typos and could even miss a rogue apostrophe. Sometimes the more I look at something, the less capable I am of seeing it clearly. I am not alone in word-blindness – most of us find it hard to proofread our own writing.

So apart from shame, what are the compelling reasons to learn grammar?

Understanding grammar improves your writing

Understanding how the English language works, and having the tools to analyse it, increases your confidence in your writing. With a knowledge of grammar rules, you can use language for maximum impact and avoid ambiguities caused by sloppy use of the language.

Also, when you have a gut feeling that a sentence isn’t right, you can analyse it to work out where the flaw lies.

As the US National Council of Teachers of English says:

‘Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language. As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children – we can all do grammar. But to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences – that is knowing about grammar. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity.

‘People associate grammar with errors and correctness. But knowing about grammar also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.’ Read more

Appreciate how language evolves

Another reason for learning grammar is to dispel the grammar myths that many of us were taught at school and to appreciate how language changes. I guarantee some of you were taught that you must never start a sentence with But, And, Because, Hopefully, However or Therefore. All these words are now acceptable ways of beginning a sentence.

Through paying attention to language, you gain a greater appreciation of the richness of its ever-evolving nature. Twitter and texting are changing the way we communicate, but the language isn’t diminished; the rules just change to accommodate usage. For instance, changes I have noted lately include:

  • Words change – ‘nerd’ has more positive connotations than it used to, and ‘ought’, ‘shall’ and ‘brevity’ are seldom used.
  • Acronyms change their meaning – LOL, which used to mean ‘love of love’ and then morphed to ‘laugh out loud’, has again subtly changed its meaning to convey empathy.
  • Semicolons ( ; ) are used less frequently.

The inventiveness and robustness of the English language continues to amaze me.

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