Tag Archives: National Grammar Day

Grammar costs nothing

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on March 2, 2012.

It’s National Grammar Day, the day each year when we celebrate grammar in all its glamour. Yes, the two words are related, and yes, grammar deserves a celebration. Grammar is what makes communication possible — it allows a person to convey ideas through language, and allows others to understand those ideas.

Why we need grammar

However, too often “rules” of grammar are used as a cudgel to bash anyone who steps out of line. The cudgel approach causes two problems, though: first, many “rules” that are used to smite the “barbarians” have no basis in English grammar and are just a bunch of peeves that have been passed down for generations; second, the division of people into the “civilized” and the “barbarians” — and the snooty correction of the latter by the former — doesn’t help the cause of clear communication but instead ticks off the people labeled as barbarians and distances them from the value of standard English.

This is not to say that grammar isn’t important, or that there’s no need for a standard of communication, particularly in writing. Good grammar enables readers to center on the message, rather than puzzling over what a sentence is attempting to say. Good grammar, correct spelling and proper punctuation lend credibility and authority to a piece of communication.

But the important thing is that grammar is not a “secret handshake” or code available only to those invited to the club — anyone can learn the rules of standard English. All it takes is time and inclination; like manners, grammar costs nothing. There are hundreds of books out there on grammar, language and writing, many of which are available at your local library or even free for download (make sure you don’t pick one that’s a collection of peeves). Plus, there are a multitude of websites, podcasts, videos and Twitter streams that offer tips and direction — all free.

While grammar costs nothing, ignoring it might cost quite a bit: Research has found that not only do readers notice mistakes, they engage less with websites that have language errors, and they are far less likely to buy something from a website that has even a single misspelling. (Spelling isn’t grammar, but it falls under the broad “rules of language” definition of grammar that many people use.)

So if for no other reason than the bottom line, grammar deserves a celebration. But while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and celebrate the beauty, richness and complexity of English for its own sake.

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Why we need grammar

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on March 4, 2011.

On this day each year, March 4, we celebrate National Grammar Day, a chance to honor grammar in all its glory. But why should grammar get a holiday? Why is it even important at all?

A couple of recent discussions inspired me to think about why grammar is important. Of course it is, or I wouldn’t waste a bunch of time writing about it. But I’ve always thought of it as a given, rather than something needing an explanation.

So when someone on Twitter asked, “How would you convince someone that understanding grammar is important? ‘I will never use it, I know how to spell without it’ ” I had to articulate an answer.

First, spelling doesn’t equal grammar. (It’s important too, though.)

Second, you do use grammar — we all use it, every time we speak or write. Most of us don’t even think about it if we’re speaking our native language. Grammar is why we know Yoda talks funny, why we are able to differentiate “Dog bites man” from “Man bites dog,” and why we can pile up modifiers and clauses and compound predicates and still come away with a sentence that makes perfect sense.

Grammar isn’t a bunch of arcane rules invented by pedants to trip students up. It’s a system of language — building sounds into words, words into phrases, phrases into sentences — most of which you already know. Grammar is what makes language work as a means of communication. It grows and changes; it bends to accommodate poets and philosophers and physicists.

But when grammar is ignored or abused, sentences come crashing down and meaning gets lost. Certainly sometimes people can figure out what you meant, even if it’s not what you said, but other times your communication fails. You’re not deliberately wasting breath or ink or bandwidth, but if you’re not being clear, you may as well be. And that’s why grammar is important.

Back to the figuring-out-what-you-meant part: Someone commented to me (in an e-mail lamenting, not encouraging, sloppy writing), “I suppose it’s true that language use is all about communication, so if you get your point across, it may not matter as much if you use proper grammar rules.”

Well, I suppose it may not. And “good enough” may be sufficient for texts and status updates and casual conversation. But if you’re speaking or writing professionally (this includes students), don’t you want to give your clients, bosses, colleagues, teachers and potential audiences — or, for that matter, your friends and relatives — better than “good enough”? Don’t all the people you communicate with deserve clear, smooth, meaningful language?

You wouldn’t show up for a job interview or a business presentation in sweats and a T-shirt. Your language shouldn’t either.

Cheers!

Celebrate National Grammar Day by spreading the word that good grammar puts you in good company.
The Twitter hashtag for today is #grammarday.
The National Grammar Day home page has all sorts of fun grammar facts, and a free e-card to boot.