In defence of grammar
|Native Sabahan Erna is (not) Malay but loves Malay literature. Her hobbies: cats/gaming/blogging at ernamerin.com/Tweeting at @ernamh.|
SEPT 19 ― Sitting with a group of young university students, one of them said, “I don’t see why we need grammar. So long as people understand what we’re saying, okay what?”
I told her that the ghosts of a thousand editors were rising in indignation at that comment.
But I understand her frustration. In university, writing term papers are hard enough without your professor deciding to drop you a grade bracket or so because you exceeded the number of grammatical mistakes allowable.
English grammar is hard. The nonsensical rules flummox non-native speakers at times.
Why, for instance, must the plural of “foot” be “feet”? And the plural of “sheep” remain “sheep”? More than one house? Two houses. More than one mouse... is not two mouses, but mice.
There is no grammar rule to cover those exceptions to most other rules besides the statement: “That’s just how it is.”
Grammar can be annoying and people who get overly nitpicky about it can also be annoying. (I am annoying in that regard, too, but my excuse is it keeps me employable.)
Let us look at another way of looking at grammar: Think of it as the equivalent of standard notation in music.
Modern orchestras would find it hard to perform without those squiggly symbols that denote precisely how long the string section should go on before the guy with the tuba comes in.
It would be a tad embarrassing if tuba guy just came in on a whim before the violins, cello and bass viols had finished their group reverie.
The way music notation makes it easier to perform a composition as it was meant, is how grammar helps clarify passages.
There is a very big difference between “Its bacon” and “It’s bacon”, you know. Is it bacon belonging to someone/something else or a joyous declaration of what is on your plate? The apostrophe will reveal all.
One bit of advice I can give to people who are constantly making grammatical errors is to start using less-complex sentences. Instead of trying to stuff many clauses into a sentence, try breaking them up into shorter sentences. A long sentence has its place in writing but until you can write many grammar-free short sentences, avoid longer ones.
Sadly that is lost on academicians or lawyers.
If you see grammar as merely a tool to make your writing comprehensible, then it won’t seem like a burden. We don’t all have to know what “past participle” or “present perfect” means so long as we write with clarity in mind. Write to be understood, not to impress.
While you let that sink in, I will get back to making fun of people who can’t figure out apostrophes.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.