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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Thank you, Sandra, for voicing my thoughts so well. Being a lawyer, I write for a living. I diagrammed sentences and first started learning grammar in the third grade. And I watched my son, who just graduated from college, have an exceptionally hard time learning to write at a high level due to the whole language/inventive spelling bugaboo that was the rage when he was first learning to read and write.

Being creative is a thought process. But grammar is the structure. And I couldn't care less how creative someone is, if he cannot spell or form a sentence.
The reality is I'm talking about 8th graders, I'm pretty sure I've said that already. By 8th grade you should have a grasp of simple grammar. You should know subjects and predicates and how a sentence should sound.

Let me put it this way, WRITING is always about something. So it doesn't matter if you write a sentence correclty if you don't write what you mean. Meaning always takes precident, whether you are writing a story, an essay or a law document. You have to know what you mean and you have to be able to put what you mean on paper. Then you can go back and fix the grammar.

Writing is a process and grammar should be fixed last. I could write a perfect essay, but if I don't say what I want to say it is moot. This argument is not moot. It is a key focus of writing. If I sit and focus on writing the perfect sentence, and worry about how I say it and what I say, it's not going to matter if it's the most artistic sentence of all time. I'm communicating for nothing.
it doesn't matter if you write a sentence correclty if you don't write what you mean.

Yes, but...the converse is equally true - it doesn't matter if you mean something if you don't write the sentence correctly.


Writing is a process and grammar should be fixed last.

I agree with both parts of that statement - the fixing of spelling and punctuation, etc should be last in the process - in getting your thoughts together, you may want to cut out whole sentences, whole paragraphs even. Foolish to put in the comma and take out the whole paragraph.


If I sit and focus on writing the perfect sentence, and worry about how I say it and what I say...

You'll be a poet. :-)
I could write a perfect essay, but if I don't say what I want to say it is moot.

You couldn't write the perfect essay unless you knew what you wanted to say.

If I sit and focus on writing the perfect sentence, and worry about how I say it and what I say, it's not going to matter if it's the most artistic sentence of all time. I'm communicating for nothing.

The kind of thinking you describe here usually improves a sentence, improving communication in turn, unless the writer second-guesses himself to the point of not writing anything. I think that mental paralysis is what you (Dave White) are opposing.

Again, I don't think you can teach writing by separating grammar from thinking. You have to show how grammar reflects thinking; otherwise, as Jude wrote below, you perpetuate the fear of grammar.
Lew Archer, I believe, is the greatest private detective of all time. His cases are wrapped in the past, and these secrets always find a way to haunt the victims of the story. What interests me, however, is Archer's role in the case. While he ultimately solves the crimes, he is hardly a character in his own series. It seems he is the conscience of the story, and these crimes hardly affect him long term.

Oh, wait, is that not what we're talking about? Too bad, because I wrote that paragraph really clearly.
Is this becoming a chicken-or-egg debate? In the beginning, meaning/thinking was established before grammar and channeled through grammar. After that, grammar became part of the thinking process, part of how we express logic to ourselves before we write. We want students to be able to think grammatically. For instance, if you genuinely know you wrote that paragraph clearly, you also know it doesn't apply to the discussion.
Oh and in case I haven't made it abundantly clear, I believe that simple grammar is important to writing. Obvioulsy if someone writes a sentence where a verb is missing, that is a big problem and needs to be corrected immediately. However, the missing verb is going to impede understanding the sentence, so it hurts meaning as well.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid ...

aoccdrning to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae the rset can be a taotl msse and you can sitll raed it wohtuit a pboerlm tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef but the wrod as a wlohe azanmig huh? yaeh and i awlyas tghuhot gamremr was ipmorantt...

Well, I got my idea across. Eh?

I'm pretty sure I wouldn't try that with a query letter, though. Or even a seventh-grade essay.

Expect your students to use proper grammer and they'll learn it. Treat it as secondary, and they'll take the path of least resistance. You're promoting a generation of literary cripples by not stressing grammer as an essential tool in written communication.
Amazing! You're right, Jude. I CAN read that graph and pretty easily, too.
This is actually the first post I've taken offense to. Mostly because I still say simple grammar is important and I do have my students fix grammar. I am not promoting literary cripples. You're insinuating that I'm not doing my job and that is just not true. In fact, I tend to think you didn't read my entire post.

Simple grammar is needed.

Complex grammar is not. You need to be able to write well enough to make your point clear. Beyond that, grammar is outdated.
Simple grammar is needed.

Complex grammar is not. You need to be able to write well enough to make your point clear. Beyond that, grammar is outdated.


I'm not sure what you mean by simple grammar. If you mean simple sentences, they can limit one's range of expression. Sometimes a complex sentence is the only way to express a complex thought. Again, grammar should reflect thought--neither be too simple to really show it, nor be so complex as to distort it.

As long as people need to communicate, they will need grammar rich enough to express all they need to communicate. Grammar should be stressed in step with the level of thought we expect students to show.
I wasn't attacking you personally, Dave. I just think the system is broken, and has been for a long time.

Who decided that writing well enough to make your point clear is good enough? Who decided complex grammar is outdated? I'm pretty sure it was some "progressive" thinkers in the seventies when I went to school. Grammar is boring. Students hate it. So let's just all sit in a circle and write some free verse and call it a day.

Ask any college English Comp 101 teacher what kind of crap lands on his/her desk every semester. It shouldn't be their job to go over things that should have been learned in middle school, but that's exaclty what they have to do. They have to deal with kids who skated by on national exams because of a system with the attitude of "who cares?"

Why is it so difficult to take one year out of the thirteen required for a high school diploma to teach grammar? If you take a foreign language, you have to learn that grammar. So why is the grammar of our native tongue not important?

The kids don't care because the system doesn't care.

Literary cripples is what we have, and I think that's a shame.

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