Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Grammar Matters

Use proper grammar you must.
Its really good to see people use the right grammar when their writing expecially about books. Good grammer is really important, when your trying to be taken seriously. I think everyone should definately try, to check they're grammar alot everyday, when there writing for other readers and I. I cant bare it when everyone uses bad grammar

If the previous paragraph made your eyes bleed sixteen* times, congratulations! You already have grammar skills and do not need to read this post; however, you should anyway because it's awesome and has pictures. I promise that (almost) everything after this will be grammatically correct and apologize profusely for the blood leaking from your orbits. Sadly, I cannot be held liable for any damage to your physical or emotional well-being resulting from my intentionally atrocious writing. I'm quite certain of this because I consulted the lawyer I keep in my closet for emergencies like this one.

I'm guessing that the vast majority of people reading this post are book bloggers or readers. (And by vast majority I mean 10.99 of the eleven people who will actually read the entire thing. If you are the remaining 0.01 people, leave a comment! I want to know how one-one hundredth of a person reads. Do you have eyes?) Although everyone should be able to write in reasonably correct sentences most of the time, it's particularly important for book bloggers because you are talking about books. You would not trust a plumber whose pipes leaked. (I mean that in a completely literal sense. Don't give me that look.) Why would you trust a book blogger with poor writing skills? It demonstrates a lack of either knowledge or concern, neither of which bode well for the reliability of reviews.

If you're a writer who is or wants to be published, grammar is even more important. If the grammatical errors in your blog posts, tweets, and Goodreads comments are frequent and/or egregious, I'm not likely to read your book. Writing well in public fora, however, will reflect much better on your published works. I still may not read your book, but at least it will be because I don't think I'll like it rather than because assault charges will not advance my career (or so my lawyer keeps reminding me. He says the same thing, rather pointedly, about kidnapping, but I'm pretty sure he's joking).

Sometimes misuse of words can actually obscure what you're trying to say. For example, let's look at one of the most frequently misused words in the English language, nonplussed. Nonplussed really means "so surprised and confused that one is unsure how to react" [OED], but unfortunately, it's often used to mean the opposite, so much so that it's becoming accepted practice. Because of this confusion, sometimes it's not clear whether the writer wants the word to mean "aghast" or "unperturbed," which bothers me almost as much as the fact that so many people are using it wrong in the first place. Correct grammar and usage not only make your writing easier to read but also add clarity and certainty to your words.

Of course, I don't mean that you can't make mistakes. Just yesterday I noticed that I used "it's" instead of "its" in a recent review, causing a single tear to trail artfully down my cheek because I'm classy like that. Everyone makes mistakes occasionally, and that's completely understandable. The grammar police will not break down your door for a few mistakes. Unless you live in North Korea. The lawyer in my closet told me I couldn't make any promises about the grammar police in North Korea.

It's also perfectly acceptable to misuse grammar deliberately. (Look, I just excused my original heinous grammatical errors! Win.) Sometimes you want to make a point or be funny, and the best way to do it is with the grammatical skill of a drunken six-year-old. (My closeted lawyer says that I have to point out that six year olds should not be given liquor. I think that should be obvious, but he's the lawyer. He also says that he needs a drink, but I chose to ignore that because I only have one beer left, and it's mine.) For an example that wasn't written for this post, here is my Facebook status from the day I graduated from college:

I done got me a diploma so I kin shows other folks how good I'm edumacated.

See, it's funny because I had just graduated after four years of expensive schooling, and...never mind. The point is, it would have been boring had I just said "I graduated!" Fine, but boring. And I was a little freaked out, so I felt the need to joke about it.

I'm not going to tell you what proper grammar is because I can't think of a way to make that entertaining. Fortunately The Oatmeal has already done several amusing posts about it, and Hyperbole and a Half also has this hilarious post about surviving bad grammar on the internet. They are very funny, and you should proceed to read the rest of their posts if you haven't already.

I will freely admit to being an outlier on the grammar issue. I was one of those strange children who enjoyed diagramming sentences in middle school. I went through an extra book of diagramming exercises because I thought it was fun. Sometimes I still do it in my head to figure out whether or not what I want to say is correct. Despite that, there are a few grammar rules even I don't care about. The one that I can think of off the top of my head is not ending a sentences in a preposition (see the previous sentence, which was, believe it or not, entirely coincidental), but I'm sure there are others. If the grammatically correct way sounds really awkward, I don't think we need it. But otherwise, mistakes like "for you and I," "the narrator's thoughts effected my perception of events," or "a large number of books were read" feel like nails on chalkboard in my head. Nails on chalkboard in your head are much more problematic than they are in real life; you can't just cover your ears. I want to avoid the nails-on-chalkboard feeling in my head.

On the bright side, grammatical errors do provide virtually inexhaustible quantities of entertainment.
I should also mention that this post is not directed at anyone or any group of people in particular. If anything, avid readers do have better-than-average grammar. It's more the frequent occurrence of certain errors all over the internet that prompted this post. If you disagree with me, feel free to castigate me in the comments, or alternatively, point out any errors in my post in as scathing a manner as possible. Of course, if you are also a grammar freak, I would appreciate your comments as well. We could start a grammar freak support group.

*I'm almost positive that sixteen is the number of errors the italicized paragraph contains. I'm good at grammar but bad at counting. Numbers are hard.


  1. I do know what you mean about writing with bad grammar. To be honest, I am not someone who should be critiquing other people- I am horrible with making mistakes on my blog. I am constantly making spelling and grammar mistakes. I am in a hurry (trying to blog while my toddler is sleeping) and it is something I need to work on so I don't make as many mistakes.

    However, I can not stand text speak in blogging. If you cannot use capitalized letters and at least try to make full sentences- I will struggle visiting your blog.

  2. You get so many points for this post that I can't even begin to count them, Kate. It's always a struggle for me because I'm (obviously) not a native speaker and I'm mostly self-taught, but I still try to make my posts as grammatically correct as possible, even though I'm painfully aware that I'm sometimes unsuccessfu. So imagine my disappointment when I notice grammatical disasters in the work of a person who is not only a native speaker but also an author. *shakes head*

    What makes thing harder for me is that I'm a grammar teacher (professor), for my own language, naturally. :)
    I love that you wrote this.

  3. We so need a grammar freak support group! I hear incorrect grammar every single day and it drives me insane! Bad grammar is one of my biggest pet peeves. I think this is the worst pet peeve that one can have in America. It guarantees frequent annoyance. I blame the sham of an education system that we have in this country, and also the lack of any correlation between correct grammar and job success. I don't think most people even realize when someone else makes a grammatical error. This is really, really sad and unacceptable to me. Many other countries around the world are bilingual, yet we as Americans can't even manage one language?! Really?!!!


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