Thursday, June 18, 2009

Topic: Grammar with a Purpose

10-second review: Base the teaching of grammar on problems that can be predictably expected in compositions. These problems involve sentence structure, punctuation and usage. Composition should be taught at the same time as grammar so that students can apply their knowledge of grammar to their compositions. The purpose for a knowledge of grammar in composition? To polish writing.

Title: “Grammar and Composition.” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 164-206.

Grammar with a Purpose.

Grammar and Usage

Grammar seems to have its greatest effect in helping students learn correct usage. Should the pronoun be “he” or “him”? What about the expressions used by that famous all-star, millionaire basketball player Allen Iverson, “I should have went to practice”? Subject-verb agreement: “Each of the kids have one” (from a Cellular One TV ad). Formation of the possessive. How many people confuse “it’s” the contraction with “its” the possessive form of “it”? Comparison of adjectives and adverbs: “She was the younger sister” (of two sisters), but “She was the youngest child” (of three or more children). Confusion of adverbs and adjectives as in “You did real good.” The confusion between “lie” and “lay” as in “I’m going to go lay in the sun” or “Fido, lay down” or “The building is laying in ruins” (recent Action News WPVI local newscast). Some of these points of usage may seem “nit-picky,” but, fair or not, people are judged by their language and mistakes in usage can bring judgments of “uneducated” and “illiterate” from employers and colleagues who respect the correct use of language.

Beyond usage, punctuation and basic problems like run-on sentences and sentence fragments, a knowledge of grammar is useful for resolving problems in coherence, the flow of expression: active and passive voice; dangling and misplaced modifiers; parallel structure and faulty coordination; sexist language; style—needless repetition of words like “it,” “thing,” “get,” and “there”; clear reference between pronouns and antecedents; consistent tense in the use of verbs in complex sentences; and clear and awkward expression, all of which interfere with coherence, the ability of the reader to start at the beginning and to read through to the end without distraction.

Avoiding distractions and achieving “flow”: they are two effects of a knowledge of grammar on writing. They help writers polish their prose.

Next Blog: Problems in Teaching Grammar.

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