Grammar. Ugh. Gross.
That’s the attitude I used to have, and the attitude most people of my acquaintance still have, toward grammar.
I grew up prejudiced against this subject, indoctrinated to view it as a convoluted conglomeration of stupid rules and pointless terms meant to box me in. Like any good American, the refrain of my writer’s heart was, “Don’t fence me in.”
I never learned grammar in school, a truth which I blame on my attitude more than on my teachers. I did just enough to get by, but as soon as the test was over I wiped it from my head. “I don’t need to know the terms,” I used to protest. “I have a strong practical understanding of grammar because of how much I read and write, and that’s more important.”
Yeah, I was wrong.
I started teaching grammar and reading Mark Forsythe’s Elements of Eloquence (a beautiful book about ways to make your words more powerful) at roughly the same time, and that combination radically changed the way I view grammar.
Friends, the terms aren’t pointless. Noun, verb, antecedent, independent clause–these are words that give us a shared language so that we can talk about one of the most important things in life: how to communicate most effectively.
That gives me tingles, because isn’t that the goal of every writer? Don’t we all want to use words to help others share our thoughts, to paint vivid pictures in readers’ minds, to make our audience feel something lasting and real?
Well. Grammar is how we get better at just that.
Clear communication is why the rules of grammar matter. If you’re a rebel, though, here is good news: only when you know the rules can you really be good at breaking them. Master the rules of language and you can twist them to your will.
Now, let’s be real for a moment. It’s one thing to realize the importance of grammar; it’s quite another to embark on a mission of writing dozens of posts about grammar. Which, to be clear, is what I’m doing. More on that in a moment.
Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of books by my indie author friends. On the one hand, I love it, because everyone is creative and tells cool stories I haven’t heard before. On the other hand, the more I learn about grammar, the more I feel frustrated when books that are otherwise gorgeous are littered with grammatical errors. It’s like presenting the world with a gourmet meal that took days to make, and then dousing it with ketchup.
Gross. Sadness. What a way to degrade a masterpiece.
Even worse, though, is when I see friends thanking editors for fixing their grammar, and then I read their book and realize their editor missed blindingly-obvious, repetitive errors. It makes me sad for my friends, who didn’t get as good of services as they thought they paid for, and it makes me sad for the editors, who probably never learned any better.
It made me so sad that I knew I had to do something about it.
That’s not to say that I’m the best at grammar. I am, admittedly, self-taught. I did, admittedly, start teaching myself just a couple short years ago. I do, admittedly, still make many mistakes all the time.
For all of these reasons, I invite you on this journey through the terms and conventions of language with me. Learn with me. Help me learn. Help others learn.
At present, my plan is to approach grammar in this order:
- Rules of Usage
- Principles of Style (aka Ways to Play)
Things might get messy along the way, so I reserve the right to stray from this outline.
There you have it.
Internet, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for.
I’m asking you, begging you, to come correct my grammar…
and to maybe learn something along the way.
Grammar with Beth posts will be published the first Monday of every month (starting in October).