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Why Grammar?

Why Grammar?

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson explains the value of studying and using correct grammar.

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Welcome back to English Composition. My name's Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? Today, we'll talk about grammar-- why it matters, and how it can help you. Then we'll compare two texts to demonstrate how adherence to grammatical rules can help both readers and writers.

We've all been taught grammar in some form or another. Clearly, teachers find it important, but why should you? In order to discuss this, let's first our terms straight.

Grammar refers to the rules that govern a language. But it's important to note that these rules, like the languages they're applied to, are always changing. Languages evolve constantly, as we add new words and stop using other ones, as some word's meaning shift, and others begin to be used in different parts of a sentence than before.

Don't believe me? Try reading Shakespeare's English, even his prose, and see how many sentences you could find that wouldn't break some kind of modern grammarian's rulebook. You won't find many, and you wouldn't even have to look that far back. Even the English spoken 100 years ago is noticeably different than what's taught in schools now. And there's no reason to believe this trend won't continue.

So you may ask, if language is always changing, why bother with rules? Well, having a set of agreed upon standards creates a conventional language, which makes it easier to learn. If there were no rules, how would anyone learn to read or write? With difficulty-- that's how.

Grammatical rules also help streamline communication, since readers of dramatically accurate texts don't have to spend much time or effort deciphering the language itself and can give more of their attention to the ideas, the images, and the arguments that the language is meant to convey. Grammar also helps writers, in that once they internalize the most important grammatical rules, they don't have to worry as much about whether their readers will understand their paragraphs, sentences, and words. And they can also pay more attention to what they're trying to get those paragraphs, sentences, and words to convey. So even though things change-- for example, in 50 years I'll bet no one will care whether you start your letters "to who" or "to whom it may concern"-- even though languages are fluid, it helps to have grammar to calm the waters.

So besides the broader implications about how and why grammar helps writers and readers work together to create the wide range of academic conversations out there, how can a functional understanding of grammar help you specifically? First, it'll help you by making people think you're smarter. It's an unfortunate truth that people are judged, among other things, based on the way they speak and write. And while there isn't anything empirically better about any one form of English, or any other language, than another, people will judge you because of the way you write. And being able to demonstrate the academic normative English taught in colleges across and beyond the country will signal to employers, potential employers, coworkers, customers, clients, and all other kinds of people in the business world, that you have been educated, and that as an educated person, you're capable of whatever else they might expect of you.

Grammar tends not to be noticed unless it's deficient, unfortunately. And having bad grammar is one of the easiest ways to get people in many different walks of life to disregard you. And finally, if you possess a functional grasp of grammar, you'll be capable of generating more effective texts, because your readers will be able to focus on what you're writing, instead of how.

Now, let's take a look at two very similar paragraphs. The only real difference between them, as you've probably already guessed, is their adherence to grammatical rules. First, take a look at this one. Give yourself a minute to read it, and don't be afraid to go through it once or twice more. Got a sense of what it's saying or trying to say? Probably, but since, at least as I anticipate, the grammar rules this text follows are either consistently applied or inconsistent with what we've been taught, you probably had to work pretty hard to get the understanding you did.

Now, look at this version. It should be a little easier. So what do you think? As a reader, which do you prefer? It's a loaded question, I know, since the first version of the paragraph was a deliberately bad text. But it's meant to demonstrate just how much you and me and everyone else are already invested in the grammatical rules of academic English. It's a language that you speak. So it makes sense you should take the time to understand not only what you're saying, but how.

What did we learn today? We learned about grammar-- why it matters to writers and readers, as well as what I can offer you as both. Then we looked at a couple texts that demonstrate the difference grammar can make. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

The rules that govern a language.