How important is Grammar?
There's a conversation going on on Crimespace about pet peeves of incorrect grammar. Everybody has one. Mine is people saying "I could care less" when they mean "I couldn't care less." But I have another argument as well.

Grammar is not important.

Well, I'll back off of that... simple grammar is something everyone should learn young and grasp. But after that, who really cares?

What is important, and what I stress when I teach, is meaning. A student has to be able to put together an argument or a storyline or a sentence that has meaning. They have to learn how to put together a logical progression and THEN you can go back and fix grammar.

Hell, look at a lot of writing in books these days. People break grammar rules all the time, whether to sound colloquial or to create effect. I understand that you have to understand grammar to break the rules, but grammar should still not be the end all be all of writing.

It should be the least important thing.

National tests these days do not grade on grammar and spelling. They let most errors go as long as it does not affect meaning. Hence, meaning is where we should focus. That's what I work on.

If a story starts:

"Me and you went to the store. Your a giraffe and heads spilld across the road."

I am not going to sit there and help fix the "me and you" and the correct "your" first. I'm going to ask why is there a giraffe in this story, why were there head's spilling across the road, and what does that have to do with the store you went to.

I want to get to the point where someone will write "Me and you went to the store. You bought skittles and I bought a soda."

Then we can go back and fix grammar.

I think people worry about grammar because it's easy to fix. You can--when you edit someone's piece--say well this is wrong and this is wrong and it's easier than saying, but there's a plot hole here on page 202 and I don't know how you can fix it. That involves a back and forth and a conversation.

I'm always willing to talk about writing, be it with students or with other writers. I'm always willing to brainstorm plot ideas and why a paragraph works as a thought. But folks, what it comes down to is this: Whether you are in 8th grade or writing for ten years, most grammatical errors can be fixed by just reading your sentence out loud.

Meaning, however, takes work.

What do you think?

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I noticed that right away but didn't want to embarrass you.

This discussion has been very interesting and eye-opening, to see how different writers approach the writing process. But I'm still firmly planted in the "grammar is very important to be a good writer and communicator" camp.
Of course, I'm sitting there thinking "I better not make a mistake or they are going to jump all over me." And what do I do... choke...
I thought the typo was an attention-getting device, and you were being exceptionally clever!
Well I am exceptionally clever subconciously (the "n" is no where near the "s" on the keyboard, so it is an awful typo), most of you knew what I meant.
In grammar are very important, Dave. That's why my giraffes is all ways spilled.
The "spilld" typo was intentional.
Oh, sorry. I spilld it wrong.
Well, I for one thought it was your intention to put that boo-boo out there. I guess I misunderstood what you were getting at. If I misunderstood your intention, but still got some meaning out of the line, does it still prove your point?
I'm not sure about national tests not scoring poor grammar. I used to read SAT English essays every semester and, while the scoring was holistic, we certainly did include reactions to poor grammar (and diction). In fact, it was most likely to disqualify a student.
On the rubric for the eighth grade state mandated tests, it states they grade upon few errors. Obviously if the text is littered with errors or they interfere with meaning it's going to hurt your score. However, it is the last thing that's graded on and on the rubric the errors don't start to hurt your score until your essay is good enough to pass... It is a 1-6 rubric and good or bad grammar (not interfering with meaning) is the difference between a five and a six.
Not in my state, Dave. And "state" is different from "national," which was how you initially framed your argument. In my state they grade on conventions (grammar) as an integral part of whether or not a student passes our state-mandated, standardized tests.
This is a topic that is moot without correct context, at least from the teaching perspective.

Are the children six or are they twelve? Next question: Is the class creative writing? Or is it what we called language arts?

One of the more memorable discussions we had in my college class on teaching language arts centered around experimental teaching philosophies. My college instructor for this class had some strong opinions about using unproven educational fads in class, and her feelings could best be summed up in one four-letter word. She cited the 'inventive spelling' phase as one of the most damaging experimental teaching philosophies that had made its way through schools. The educational community seemed to decide spelling wasn't important and as long as it was clear an attempt to sound the word out had been made it didn't matter how the word was spelled.

The result? She struggled with her own spelling. I have actually seen people on book discussion lists blame whole language for their lack of proper grammar, and seen them voice their own embarrassment at their poor writing.

I worked in education. In fact, one of my jobs was to undo damage done. We humans are creatures of habit. As we mature uncorrected mistakes become more entrenched and harder to break. Ask the average person how hard it is to quit smoking. Read about accidents from people driving on the wrong side of the road when they go on a holiday... So much of what we do ends up becoming instinctive. If we do not learn to do things properly by a certain point it can become exceptionally difficult because first the person must unlearn the bad habit and then learn the new proper method.

As a person who enjoys the creative arts I have a certain level of appreciation for trying to focus more on ideas and concepts over structure all of the time - but that's the key. All of the time. I'm notorious for not running checks on my blog posts but when I read other blogs by authors filled with typos and grammatical errors I wince. And yes, in a few cases it's undermined my interest in reading the person's work.

I agree with Karen - there are many people who have no interest in creative writing at all who write as part of their job. And poor grammar/spelling can be a serious issue when it comes to producing a coherent company report. I'm sorry, but when Kevin's at work (day job: business analyst & software developer) his bosses really don't give a crap if he says, "All that matters is I conveyed the idea." They want a report they can take to their bosses that's professional, and if it got too many dem dare errs and stuff int theys dont care how gud his ideas r.

I have to say one of the most impressive emails I ever got from an author was an explanation of why their spelling may be about to go on hiatus. They were emailing late at night and had just been out for a dinner and had a bit to drink. They also took the use of the written word so seriously that they didn't even like to make generic errors in emails. It's someone I have a lot of respect for, and my admiration only increased when I saw how seriously they took their use of language.

I guess the thing is, even when I took art I had to learn about primary and secondary colours and styles and techniques. I didn't just get to paint or draw all day. In fact, we spent a lot of time talking about art and doing reports.

Frankly, I think the lack of emphasis schools in general put on proper spelling and grammar is atrocious, and I think many of us do make assumptions based on the writing of others. I tend to assume people who can't form a sentence or spell words properly aren't well educated. In the next decade that may just become 'normal' though, and that's a shame.


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