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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Well, I do cringe if I see very bad grammar or typos -- for example, when I saw the title of this posting -- "in" grammar instead of "is." I see that all the time in books, and it does stop me. It takes me out of the story for a few seconds. But that may also be because I'm a copy editor, so it's especially vexing to see something hasn't been fixed. I do agree, though, that in writing, a writer should just let words flow, and go back later to fix the grammar. That said, I don't think you should just let grammar slide -- judging by signs I see on businesses and other public displays, we need to teach more grammar, rather than less.
I enjoyed someone's previous comment likening writing to carpentry, so I'll continue in that vein: if a writer doesn't have good command of grammar, he's building with substandard materials. Everyone needs to be able to communicate clearly, whether they write more than the occasional Christmas card or not, and bad grammar will derail whatever they're writing. If I read something with flawed grammar that isn't intended to be flawed, it's all I will remember -- the content becomes secondary to the mistake.

I couldn't agree more that dialogue is an exception, though.


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