Grammar & The English Language


grammar-police-imageAs a textual content editing professional we are often, affectionately or otherwise, referred to as the ‘Grammar Police’! Guilty as charged but then again we are hired to make sure each client’s written content is well-conceived and constructed, makes sense and is highly engaging to its targeted audience. I wear the badge proudly!

In this article I will share some of the more glaring grammatical issues frequenting written content whether in book publications of fiction or non-fiction, advertising and marketing copy, technical writing and any other form or source of written content.

Dictionary.com defines ‘grammar‘ as follows:

1.  the study of the way the sentences of a language are constructed; morphology and syntax.

2.  these features or constructions themselves:

English grammar.

3.  an account of these features; a set of rules accounting for these constructions:

a grammar of English.
4.  Generative Grammar. a device, as a body of rules, whose output is all of the sentences that are permissible in a given language, while excluding all those that are not permissible.

6.  knowledge or usage of the preferred or prescribed forms in speaking or writing:

She said his grammar was terrible.
7.  the elements of any science, art, or subject.

Grammar, as applied in its many forms within the English language, is indeed complex and confusing. Established standards of grammatical correctness have been developed and modified over the years to best represent acceptable application of English rules. The standards include proper word usage, punctuation, capitalization, clarification of words and homonyms, numeric vs written form of numbers within the context of textual content and more.
 
Why the big worry about grammar and punctuation when nobody seems to care anymore? In the course of normal conversation it is one thing to hear misused words and still be able to understand what the speaker is referring to. It becomes quite another issue when the printed or digital forms of written content contain typos, spelling and grammatical errors and riddled with wayward or misused punctuation. Consider the negative impression we would leave with a human resources manager reviewing our cover letter and resume; if the content is riddled with mistakes would you want to hire that applicant?
 
For written content that is produced for publication, informational and/or professional purposes, there is every expectation that the content is error-free and grammatically correct. This becomes especially true for any written content that forms part of a purchased product. The consumer has every reasonable right to expect clean, properly constructed and edited content that is clear and concise in its intent and meaning. The same can be said for written compositions developed and submitted for grading in an educational institution.
 
I recall back to my days in journalism school where the college instructor was, as expected, extremely critical of any paper submitted with even a few errors. We would type our papers on a manual typewriter (yes, I am dating myself but there was purpose in the manual typewriter use – we did have electric typewriters by then!). If we submitted our article or story containing even one single mistake of any kind the instructor would share the errors with the entire class and then tear the paper to shreds and angrily toss the destroyed evidence into the trash can and instruct us to start all over again and not waste the scholar’s time with such sloppy work!
 
Using the manual typewriter was slow, tedious and painstaking but that was the whole point of the exercise. With a manual typewriter, the very construction of the machine forced its user to slowly and methodically strike firmly on the desired keys, thereby demanding a more focused attention to chosen keys for optimum accuracy. We were NOT permitted to use whiteout for correction purposes! Had we been working with an electric typewriter the tendency was to type much faster yet there was greater potential for errors because we were less attentive to the keys we were striking.
 
The whole point of this analogy is to illustrate the necessity for a clean, error free paper. In today’s marketplace the onus is much more on the author of the written content to ensure that it is error-free and grammatically correct as in many instances budget allowance is minimal to non-existent for editorial staff to take over content for final copy readiness.

GRAMMAR RULES

Grammatical rules are indeed complex and widely varied. Complexities of the English language have been passed down through the generations in the form of established and accepted standards, most often found in ‘style guides’ which have been developed in specific countries around the world. Editorial and proofreading professionals use such guides as reference materials when reviewing and revising written content for their clients or in-house staff.

The complexities of the English language demand that we study in great detail the definition, applications and intended usage of specific words or word groups such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, subjects and more to ensure that we apply correct wording in our written compositions in the appropriate form such that those words, combined together, are in grammatical ‘agreement’.

Subject-Verb Agreement

  • single subjects require the compliment of a single verb and plural subjects require the compliment of plural verbs i.e. The list of items is/are on the desk. In this example the ‘list’ is the subject (singular), therefore ‘is’ would be the correct verb used.

Who Vs Whom

  • Rule: Use this he/him method to decide whether who or whom is correct:he = who
    him = whom

    Examples:
    Who/Whom wrote the letter?
    He wrote the letter. Therefore, who is correct.

    Who/Whom should I vote for?
    Should I vote for him? Therefore, whom is correct.

Who, That, Which

Rule 1. Who and sometimes that refer to people. That and which refer to groups or things.

Examples:
Anya is the one who rescued the bird.
“The Man That Got Away” is a great song with a grammatical title.

Lokua is on the team that won first place.
She belongs to a great organization, which specializes in saving endangered species.

Rule 2a. That introduces what is called an essential clause (also known as a restrictive or defining clause). Essential clauses add information that is vital to the point of the sentence.

Example: I do not trust products that claim “all natural ingredients” because this phrase can mean almost anything.
We would not know the type of products being discussed without the that clause.

Rule 2b. Which introduces a nonessential clause (also known as a nonrestrictive or nondefining clause), which adds supplementary information.

Example: The product claiming “all natural ingredients,” which appeared in the Sunday newspaper, is on sale.
The product is already identified. Therefore, which appeared in the Sunday newspaper is a nonessential clause containing additional, but not essential, information.

Prepositions

Definition:  A preposition is a word or set of words that indicates location (in, near, beside, on top of) or some other relationship between a noun or pronoun and other parts of the sentence (about, after, besides, instead of, in accordance with). A preposition isn’t a preposition unless it goes with a related noun or pronoun, called the object of the preposition.

Examples:
Let’s meet before noon.
Before is a preposition; noon is its object.

We’ve never met before.
There is no object; before is an adverb modifying met.

Rule 1. A preposition generally, but not always, goes before its noun or pronoun. One of the undying myths of English grammar is that you may not end a sentence with a preposition. But look at the first example that follows. No one should feel compelled to say, or even write, That is something with which I cannot agree. Just do not use extra prepositions when the meaning is clear without them.

Correct: That is something I cannot agree with.

Correct: Where did you get this?

Incorrect: Where did you get this at?

Correct: How many of you can I depend on?

Correct: Where did he go?

Incorrect: Where did he go to?

Rule 2a. The preposition like means “similar to” or “similarly to.” It should be followed by an object of the preposition (noun, pronoun, noun phrase), not by a subject and verb. Rule of thumb: Avoid like when a verb is involved.

Correct:
You look like your mother.
That is, you look similar to her. (Mother is the object of the preposition like.)

Incorrect:
You look like your mother does.
(Avoid like with noun + verb.)

Rule 2b. Instead of like, use as, as if, as though, or the way when following a comparison with a subject and verb.

Correct: You look the way your mother does.

Incorrect: Do like I ask. (No one would say Do similarly to I ask.)

Correct: Do as I ask.

Incorrect: You look like you’re angry.

Correct: You look as if you’re angry. (OR as though)

Some speakers and writers, to avoid embarrassment, use as when they mean like. The following incorrect sentence came from a grammar guide:

Incorrect: They are considered as any other English words.

Correct: They are considered as any other English words would be.

Correct: They are considered to be like any other English words.

Remember: like means “similar to” or “similarly to”; as means “in the same manner that.” Rule of thumb: Do not use as unless there is a verb involved.

Incorrect: I, as most people, try to use good grammar.

Correct: I, like most people, try to use good grammar.

Correct: I, as most people do, try to use good grammar.

NOTE

The rule distinguishing like from as, as if, as though, and the way is increasingly ignored, but English purists still insist upon it.

Rule 3. The preposition of should never be used in place of the helping verb have.

Correct: I should have done it.

Incorrect: I should of done it.

Rule 4. It is a good practice to follow different with the preposition from. Most traditionalists avoid different than. Although it is an overstatement to call different than incorrect, it remains polarizing: A is different than B comes across as sloppy to a lot of literate readers. If you can replace different than with different from without having to rewrite the rest of the sentence, why not do so?

Polarizing: You’re different than I am.

Unchallengeable: You’re different from me.

 

Rule 5. Use into rather than in to express motion toward something. Use in to tell the location.

Correct: I swam in the pool.

Correct: I walked into the house.

Correct: I looked into the matter.

Incorrect: I dived in the water.

Correct: I dived into the water.

Incorrect: Throw it in the trash.

Correct: Throw it into the trash.

The foregoing ‘rules’ have been extracted verbatim from GrammarBook.com and are but a few of the standards of the English language effectively and properly applied. The publication also addresses proper punctuation which is equally as complex.

Punctuation

This list of punctuation used in the English language is extensive and includes (not entirely):

  • spacing with punctuation
  • periods
  • commas
  • semi-colons
  • quotation marks (including single quote)
  • parentheses and brackets
  • apostrophes
  • hyphens
  • dashes
  • ellipses
  • question marks
  • exclamation points
  • slashes

There are a multiple of on and offline resources that address the English language, grammar, punctuation, sentence composition and more such as GrammarBook.com, Grammarly.com, many of which also incorporate punctuation, grammar and spell check and plagiarism detection.

MS Word documents have a spelling and grammar check which also provides a readability scoring analysis; an effective way to determine whether the content will be readily understood by its targeted audience.

The advantages of a full working comprehension of established rules of grammar and punctuation cannot be understated. Studies in the English language with grammatical elements incorporated in the programs are highly recommended for anyone who will be required to perform at a high skill level from post secondary school studies through to their chosen career path. The greater your comprehension and application of the language, the better qualified you will be to advance your career based on that exceptional performance level.

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