Why Grammar?

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Why Grammar?

Did you recognize that that is not a complete and proper sentence? It’s not, but who cares?

Grammar enthusiasts, please turn away from this post today.

There are things I am going to say that true grammar fanatics will vehemently disagree with.  I’m going to tell you that sometimes it’s ok not to be grammatically correct.   I am NOT an English Major or Journalist.  I can’t even claim to have a greater than normal understanding of our language. What I am is an everyday person who reads devotedly, writes professionally, and occasionally speaks to large crowds. Through it all, I’ve never been convinced of the need for rigid adherence to all the rules of grammar in all situations. If you are not a grammar authority, please continue reading.

The purpose of this blog is to explore how we express ourselves, focusing on verbal expression. This generally refers to the spoken and written exchange of ideas. The English language has an unending list of rules that enhance the clarity and understanding of the exchange.

If our intent is really the spoken and written exchange of ideas, is it necessary to obey each rule?

I contend that determining which rules are significant and which ones aren’t depends on the formality of situation. Let’s consider the scenarios in the table below:

Formal
  •  Spoken expression allows a degree of flexibility even in the most formal of situations
  • Writing business letters.
  • Writing to a broad unknown audience.
  • Writing books, reports, articles.
  • A speech to a large audience.
  • A discussion with a supervisor or someone of elevated status.
  • A note, email, or text to a friend.
  • Writing dialog as it was or would be spoken.
Informal
  • A group of friends sitting around chatting together
  •  Written expression requires at least some degree of attention to format even at its most informal.  Without other nonverbal, words must be put together in such a way as to communicate an idea
Spoken Written

 

Yesterday’s Football Game

When you are sitting around with a group of  friends discussing the  yesterday’s football game, no one is going to be overly sensitive to diction. In this environment, the others are paying attention to WHAT you say with little regard to HOW you say it. Your nonverbal clues, your facial expressions and the changes in your posture, carry more of your meaning than  your words.

As your audience changes from familiar to unfamiliar, from small to larger groups, from peers to more senior people, the importance of grammatical correctness increases. You don’t want to come across as poorly educated or perhaps disrespectful to those outside your small sphere of associates.   But even in the strictest of situations, there has to be a degree of flexibility from Standard English so your sentences do not sound robotic or stinted.

Writing is a different matter

Writing starts with far less freedom even in the most informal situations. When speaking, no one will notice if you have no understanding of punctuation, but its need becomes painfully clear in your writing. Written word lacks of voice inflection and pitch, other nonverbal clues that help communicate meaning. So even the most informal writing requires some acknowledgement of the “rules.”

For example, have you ever received an email that didn’t contain any punctuation or capitalization?   There is a good probability that the meaning  changes just by guessing where one sentence ends and the next begins. I’ve received emails like that and was extremely frustrated by the time I reached the end. At times I don’t even bother and just hit the delete button.

Text messages are meant to be short and concise, so lax grammar is often preferred over complete sentences. In formal business and report writing, anything less than strict adherence detracts from the meaning and reduces the author’s credibility.

So back to the beginning:

Why Grammar?

Depending on the situation, your audience might care.

And if your audience cares, you should care too.

So any exploration of verbal expression must include an examination the fundamental mechanics – a reminder of the grammar Mrs. Ramsey taught you in 5th grade. In future weeks, I’ll dive into some of the common and more noticeable stumbling blocks. We’ll focus on the written expression, only because errors are much more obvious. Hopefully, when we see these errors in the written word, we will start recognizing them in the spoken word as well.

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