Thursday, March 4, 2010

BTT: National Grammar Day

The question that Rebecca poses today is:

In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books?
More importantly, have you read them?
How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?


Oh boy - I wasn't sure whether to write on this subject or not, as I am afraid my blog posts will now be read with much scrutiny and I do not think I will measure up.  See, I am a grammar teacher.  I like grammar.  Diagramming sentences used to be one of my most favorite school activities.  It is conducive to my left-brain perspective on the world.  However, I understand that the nitty-gritty details of grammar are not for everyone, and I do think there are times when grammar can be overdone (I tell students that I am not trying to change the way the speak, only the way they write).

I tell my students that the first draft of a project is written for the writer; all subsequent drafts are written for the reader.  It is the job of the writer to communicate to the reader in a way that the reader does not have to work to comprehend the message.  And that, in my humble opinion, is the primary purpose of grammar:  to facilitate communication.  Fragments, run-on sentences, and comma splices make it difficult for the reader to follow the train of thought.  Verb inconsistency makes it difficult to understand the time progression of events (I tell students I feel like I am in a time machine -- going back to the past, then being transported to the present -- I get whiplash).  Pronoun antecedent agreement is key to understanding who is doing what.  Double negatives give the impression of illiteracy (a false impression for my students of affluent Johnson County).  These I believe are some of the mainstays of a grammar curriculum, and I find that they are really not all that difficult for students to grasp.  I believe that most glaring errors can be identified if the writer would just take the time to proof-read (and spellcheck) the work before submission.  Unfortunately, many are either too lazy or too indifferent to do that final review.

I suppose I would state that good grammar is like good manners for writing.  It is the polite thing to do for our readers, and I do think they appreciate it.

Let me leave you with a little funny.  A student of mine has this posted on her facebook wall:
GRAMMAR SAVES LIVES!
Let's eat Grandma! (which means, let's carve up Grandma and have a nice meal of her)
OR.....
Let's eat, Grandma! (which means, come on, Grandma, let's have a meal together) 
The use of a single comma has indeed saved Grandma's life.

14 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I love the Grandma example! I saw a book that contained lots of similar sentence pairs - all with funny cartoon examples. I wish I could remember what the book was called

Jennifer said...

Brilliant example. My answer: http://www.rundpinne.com/2010/03/booking-through-thursday-grammar.html

Lori said...

If proper grammar was formal and slang was informal, I believe I would be semi-casual. Here's mine.

Bibliobabe said...

Too funny! I love your example. My punctuation does suffer - so I wonder how many I've killed? Hehe.

Here's my answer:
http://www.bibliobabe.com/

everybookandcranny said...

I love your thought about grammar as a communication tool. A writer's message can be lost if the reader has to try too hard to decipher the meaning.

Do you think that technology has influenced grammar? It seems like communication has gotten worse since the takeover of email, twitter, and facebook feeds.

Michelle (my books. my life.) said...

You should check out Cori's blog She uses that example as her title. http://c2rcc.wordpress.com/

Suko said...

"I tell my students that the first draft of a project is written for the writer; all subsequent drafts are written for the reader."

Great to keep in mind! And I love the Grandma example. :)

Barbara said...

great example!

here's my BTT

http://blog.readinggroupchoices.com/content/blog/barbara/10/march/writing-style-grammar-and-punctuation-important

Read the Book said...

As a fellow English teacher, I concur! And I love that you tell them that the "first draft is written for the writer". That is such a hard concept to grasp for people learning to write well. I tell my students that the first draft is their opportunity to get their ideas down on paper. They have say what they want to say before they can worry about how they say it. I also love that you compare good grammar to good manners. All in all, a great post!

Andy said...

National Grammar Day was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter today http://bit.ly/9Tl8dd

Beth said...

I love grammar too! Whenever I correct a student in class they always say "So and so other teacher said you would correct me if I kept talking like this!". Too funny.

Michelle said...

Excellent answer, as always! Yours is so much more eloquent than mine as well, even though we have similar thoughts on the subject. I look at grammar from a business perspective though, and it never fails to shock me at the number of presentations, e-mails, letters and the like that have some form of grammatical error in them. What does it say to our customers? I know what I think, but apparently, I am in the minority.

Kim said...

Grammar! We can't write without it. While diagramming sentences was never something I enjoyed, I do cringe when I see bad grammar. Sadly, I don't see it being taught all that seriously in the public schools here and it shows. My family always jokes that I am the comma queen because I use so many of them, but I don't want a "Grandma" situation on my hands! ;)
*smiles*

Jenners said...

I love the Grandma example!!! : )

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