Three (Less Obvious) Reasons Grammar Matters


In honor of Grammar Day, Grammarly took to social media last week to ask followers why grammar really matters. “Bad grammar undermines credibility,” one Facebook user defended. “I like eating my family,” a Twitter follower declared – sarcastically, we hope – in response to an example of why, in some cases, Oxford commas “save lives.”

To show our appreciation for the grammatically correct way of life, we’re filling this week’s slot with three reasons grammar is important to the modern writer, and probably not ones you’ve heard before.

Reason 1: Once You “Know” Correct Grammar, You Can Use It Incorrectly … On Purpose

Dialogue is a creative writer’s finest tool. The manner in which a certain line is presented, often as important as the words themselves, can make all the difference in a specific story. Using incorrect grammar can serve as a means of displaying a character trait or defining the differences of two fictional cultures. Simple phrases like “they were an uneducated band of hunters” can be eliminated by including a conversation between a more educated hunter, having trouble communicating with a less educated one.

Consider the portrayal of emotion in a certain character. Let’s call her Tiffany. Now, Tiffany is a very proper, very reserved young woman, never known to speak out of turn or with improper grammar usage in her sentences. Suppose a boy, who Tiffany happens to be quite fond of in secrecy, makes Tiffany angry. Suddenly Tiffany doesn’t see the need to act so proper, or speak so properly, when defending herself against his insincere nature. Suddenly her intellectually sound phrases become jumbled, syntax twisted, participles dangling every which way. This tactic can serve a literary purpose, sure; but before you can use grammar incorrectly for this reason, you have to know the right way to do it first.

Reason 2: To Build a Strong Defense Against “Bad Grammar,” You Need to Know What “Good Grammar” Is

This reason itself isn’t unheard of – after all, the concept of ethos and its two Greek companions was probably drilled into your head at some point in middle school or during ACT essay prep in high school. You need to know the basics before you can build a case for or against them. Here at Novelty Revisions, we’re all for advocating proper rhetoric both in speech and written forms. As defenders of correct grammatical usage, “training” begins with Grammar 101, which prepares us to go out into the virtual world and shoot down (er, correct) the false claims of proper English usage on the Internet.

The Oxford comma gets a bad rep: journalists shun it, while many advocates do their best to point out why it deserves a little more credit (the “let’s eat grandma” logic). Truthfully, it’s up to a grammar expert, or a well-educated writer, to point out that neither belief is right or wrong. Whether or not the Oxford comma should be used depends completely on the style of writing and intended publication medium. Diving in and taking sides before doing your research, as with any hot topic online, is dangerous, and not the kind of risk-taking that gets you a front-page byline you’d be proud of, either.

Reason 3: Communication Will Continue to Evolve; Remember Where It All Started

Language, and the way we use it, has morphed and reshaped itself drastically since humans started speaking to one another, and later, writing things down. An important part of appreciating and advocating for sophisticated literature in its many forms is to understand not only how to adapt to changes in communication over time, but also recall the various stages it has transitioned through previously.

When you were younger, did you ever write letters? Now we compose emails that are as concise as possible, as fast as we can while we’re waiting for the train to reach our stop. Passing notes “in code” to your best friend in grade school has turned into texting shorthand under a desk when you think your teacher isn’t watching (she is). These newer forms of communication aren’t necessarily of any less value, but if you do still have a box of letters you wrote back and forth with a pen pal, there’s something about pulling them out and examining their contents that makes you appreciate the change. We may not write 10-page narratives to strangers in our spare time, but when we do write an extensive comment on a YouTube video, we don’t have to stifle the same careful way in which we used to compose a letter. Truth: many people have gotten lazy, letting their fingers do all the work while their brains shut down. Don’t be one of them.

Part of refining your work is going back to the basics. You may not think you need to review a simple grammatical concept every now and then, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to fall into a bad habit and not realize you’ve done so. Pay attention to the grammar with which you engage others. No matter your medium, it will always, without a doubt, matter.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

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