Grammar Monster: Introduction

We have to do hard things in life.

Especially in places like school or at completely new jobs, we find ourselves introduced to a lot of hard things.  So many new things are thrown at us that we want to throw some of them back.

We find it extremely difficult to see the reason we have to plow through all of the ticky little details involved with that hard thing.

And we look and pray and hope and wish for the end of it.

Grammar is one of those hard things that we encounter in school.

It is necessary.

One mark by which we all are judged, whether we are speaking or writing, is our grammar.  Make one mistake, and people automatically assume that we’re ignorant.  Or that we didn’t learn it.  Worst of all, they think we can’t learn it.

Those people judge our level of intelligence as well as the credibility of what we are saying.  It’s not right, but it happens.

Quite frankly, credibility–the believability that others accord to our statements, our opinions, our standing in the community, our businesses, and so much more–is all we stand on.

Each small nick in credibility costs us.  Those small increments build over time until the statue of “us” falls.

What is the point of grammar?

What we call “grammar” is actually divided into three disparate realms:  grammar (the way words work together to form complete thoughts), usage (the way words are used), and mechanics (the punctuation coding that helps us read groups of sentences).

We call it GUM:  grammar, usage, mechanics.

Use the wrong “their/they’re/there”, and people think you weren’t educated.  Slip the wrong verb form in the wrong place (“have tooken”), and people cringe.  Plop an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong, and opinions go downhill.

We say “grammar”, but we actually are talking about communication.

Whether spoken or written, we are communicating.

You may have heard of the “7 38 55 Rule of Communication”  or that verbal communication (speaking or writing) is only 10% or 20% of all our communication.  That’s not quite right: This Psychology Today article clears it up.

What is right–and non-quantifiable–is that we judge the speakers and writers (whether casual or informative) based on how they use the language.  GUM guides that judgment.  No errors, and we continue blithely along with that person.  Lots of errors, and those little nicks in their credibility start being applied.

What would happen to your belief in my ability to understand grammar if I had an error in this writing?  Down, down, down it would go, and nothing I wrote afterwards would have any effect.

It doesn’t matter if I tell you that no one is absolutely 100% perfect.  That mistake sits there, glaring at you, glaring at me, glaring at everyone.

The nick happened.  We can’t move on from there.

You say, “The computer will find the errors for me.”

Maybe.  It can’t now.  It may never be able to do so.  Grammar rules, especially in English, dependent on what are called fluid factors.  To encode all those fluid factors would create a massive computer program.

Take this simple spelling rule:  I before E except after C or as sounded as A as in neighbor and weigh, and weird is just weird.  This one rule has four fluid factors.

Think of all the unusual forms of sentences where the subject does not occur first.  The first sentence of this very paragraph has an understood subject.  We also have modifiers that come first.  Questions throw the subject out of position.  Sentences are sometimes inverted.  That’s four more fluid factors.

Now add in all the words of the English language, which is twice as large as any other language in the world.

Do you see the problem?

Students in my dual enrollment college composition courses tried to defeat the monster that grammar can be by using an online grammar checker for essays.   This is a much more sophisticated program than the simple grammar/spelling checker in word processing programs.

Word processing software doesn’t find every error.  However, surely something online can find every error?  Sorry.  Not possible.  Not yet.

The students used the online grammar checker because they didn’t want to learn how to avoid the Type I errors.  More than three Type I errors would fail an essay (not my rule but the rule of the college).  Invariably, more than a handful of Type I errors would be missed by that online grammar checker, and they would fail the essay.

Maybe your grandchildren won’t have to learn grammar–but I doubt it.  English has too many variables.


Misktakes do happen, don’t they? 😉 (That was deliberate, BTW.)

I do understand a lot about grammar, much more than the average English teacher, but I will add that I don’t understand everything.

What I do know and how I know it, these things I will share with you.

So, here are the Grammar Monster blogs, provided for anyone wanting more information about GUM and specifically as Home School Helps.

Starting on August 8 will be the first Grammar Monster blog.  Enjoy.

(Grammar can be enjoyable.  Truly.)