Thursday, March 4, 2010

TGIT (Thank Goodness It's Thursday)!

I have been confused about what day it is all week. I think being under the weather and fairly fuzzy-headed is to blame, but I got pretty excited when I realized that it was Thursday because that meant I could do my second Booking Through Thursday! (It's can laugh...but it's the small things that count, right?)

In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books?

More importantly, have you read them?

How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?

Ah, grammar. Everyone's favorite, right? Okay, so maybe not so much! To answer the first question, yes, I do have grammar books. Many of them, in fact (and yes, I know that this is a fragment, so don't freak out! As I tell my students, if you know how NOT to write run-ons and fragments, then--and only then--can you use them for effect!). I AM an English teacher, after all, and it wouldn't look too good if I didn't have some writing handbooks, style guides, and grammar books. The students even get their very own grammar handbook to use and love throughout the school year (*snort*).

I have not read all of the grammar-related books that I own, but I find them to be more intended as reference books rather than books to be read from cover to cover. I do own Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by Lynne Truss, but I haven't read all of it; I also appreciate Strunk and White's handbook, but, again, I haven't read it in its entirety. I also have numerous books from my college days that were helpful but referenced more than read. And who can forget that Holy Grail of Works Cited, the MLA Handbook?

Disclaimer: Remember that I'm an English teacher as you read this last bit!

What is my take on grammar? GRAMMAR IS IMPORTANT!!!!!! I firmly believe that proper grammar and good writing are extremely necessary in order to communicate effectively, and that is ALWAYS how I present grammar to my students: if you want people to understand you clearly, you need to know how to write/speak using proper grammar. Proper grammar = effective communication. Now, with that being said, I would also like to state that I do not think that standard grammar is some sacred untouchable that is above the daily usage of English speakers. Grammar should be largely defined by how it helps us communicate, and, clearly, the means we use to communicate are changing, so the grammar will (and probably should) change to accomadate. What does this mean for us as writers?

Spelling always counts. Spelling was standardized back in the day for a reason, so use correct spelling.

Commas are your friend; they are not the enemy. However, if you are unsure of how to use commas, do not, I repeat DO NOT, read Charles Dickens. The man knew how to use the British, Victorian species of comma, but the rules have changed!

Whether people admit it or not, bad grammar and bad editing DO affect opinions. Proofread your resume, or those errant commas COULD keep you from getting that job (it you don't know how to use a comma, why would anyone trust you with inspecting a nuclear power plant?).

This is my current pet peeve that makes me hit the ceiling when I read it in a student's paper: although IS NOT INTERCHANGEABLE with however!!

My perspective may be a bit skewed because I teach high school English, but I tend to fixate on proper punctuation. Proper punctuation seems fairly obvious to me, but that could be because I read so much as a child (and I read so many good writers) that I just sort of soaked in the good grammar along with the great stories and wonderful characters. I never really understood the rules until I started teaching (I would slide by with my ability to identify something as correct even though I didn't know WHY it was correct). Proper punctuation is deeply rooted in understanding how English functions, and this proves difficult (sometimes more for native speakers than non-native speakers) more often than not.

I will leave you with this: I think that grammar should be taught in the context of literature and writing. Too often teaching grammar has meant separating understanding of how language works from understanding what language says. I never (and will never) teach sentence diagramming, for instance, because sentence diagramming breaks down the sentence so much that it is no longer a sentence (but that's another soap box for another day!). Grammar is not essential unto itself; it is essential in the context of understanding and communicating.


Today I Read said...

I completely agree. However, I will point out that language and its rules change over time. In fact, we're watching it happen right before our very eyes. So, one day, the standardizations we live by today may too become obsolete (much like the Victorian and Olde English we studied in school).

Sometimes it makes me wonder if the authors and teachers of that era were as vehement about the subject as some of us are today and whether they're turning in their graves at evolutions in modern language.

In any event, for me it all comes down to one thing: communication. Good grammar aids communication, bad grammar does not.

It's late, but I managed to get my own BTT up. Feel free to pop over and say hi. :D

BTT: News Bulletin: Grammar Brutally Murdered, Suspects Still at Large

Lori said...

I try not to fret over grammar. Here's mine

Read the Book said...

Today I Read and Lori, thanks for stopping by!