Do You Hate Grammar?
Some people care a little about grammar. Some people care a lot about grammar. Some people don’t care about grammar at all. Personally, I had grammar drilled into me from a young age by my mother, who was an English teacher. In fact, I learned to deliberately make grammatical errors in my speech so that I would sound “normal” because I soon learned that speaking without grammatical errors was not a way to make friends at school.
At the present time, my knowledge of grammar is moderate. I have probably forgotten a lot of rules, and I definitely ignore many rules or accidentally violate them in the course of things. Sometimes, violating a “rule” of grammar or style can add to writing in some way. Other times, it is simply an oversight on my part.
I decided to begin a series of articles about grammar, vocabulary, and style. If these are well-received, the plan is to release one every week or so. I don’t pretend to be the last word on these matters, so please feel free to correct me, and, if you notice errors in my writing, please know that I am aware that my own writing is far from error-free. That is actually one of my motivations for writing about these things.
By writing about the nuts and bolts of writing, I can remind myself of the basic rules, which we often forget over the course of modern life, particularly as we see the language butchered, even by professionals. Incidentally, I am fairly certain that much of my writing is riddled with at least some minor errors, so for those strict grammarians out there rolling their eyes at me – I know!!!
Omit Needless Words – An Important Point of Style
For writing to move forward dynamically, it needs to be uncluttered. This cluttering is often a problem with my own writing. It is something that can be fixed on revision.
Here are some examples of editing out cluttered language:
|the question as to whether||whether|
|there is no doubt but that||doubtless|
|used for traveling purposes||used for travel|
|in an irritated manner||irritably|
|she is a person who||she|
|this is a subject which||this subject|
|Her car is a large one.||Her car is large.|
The classic example of cluttered language is the phrase “the fact that.” This phrase can nearly always be edited out. Here are some examples of that:
|owing to the fact that||because|
|in spite of the fact that||although|
|draw your attention to the fact that||point out|
|I was unaware of the fact that||I did not know|
|she is a person who||she|
|the fact that he had not been successful||his failure|
|the fact that Ben arrived||Ben’s arrival|
Phrases such as “who is” and “which was” can often be omitted.
|Her husband, who is a member of the same team||Her husband, a member of the same team|
|Red, which was next to orange in the rainbow||Red, next to orange in the rainbow|
These examples show how you can edit needless clutter out of your writing. In my experience, it tends to creep in.
Other areas where we can tidy up our writing: positive statements are more concise than negative ones. They also make writing more readable. Additionally, the active voice is more succinct. Some people take obsession with the active voice a bit far in my opinion, but it does tend to improve writing. I will discuss the active voice more in a subsequent article.
Lastly, sometimes people write a complex idea in a series of sentences that could be combined into one. This is best done in revision. We could easily drive ourselves insane trying to write sentences perfectly the first time. Easily. Insane.
Their, They’re, There
Maybe you know this, and maybe you don’t. Here it is, though.
- Their – It belongs to them. The word “heir” is in it, so it is like someone is inheriting! An example is, “Their car was so rusted that their feet were on the ground when they were driving.”
- They’re – The apostrophe stands for a missing letter. In this case it is the letter “a”. “They’re” means “They are”. An example is, “They’re waiting for us at the lake.”
- There – There is a location. It has the word “here” in it, which is also a location, so that is one way to remember. An example is, “You can meet them over there.”
Affect vs. Effect
Affect has two primary meanings, but, generally, we use “affect” as a verb to mean “to act on or cause a change in” (Merriam Webster). For example, “we affect people we meet in many ways.” It can also mean the set of “observable manifestations of an emotion” (Merriam Webster).
Effect is usually used as a noun. It means something that “immediately follows an antecedent” (Merriam Webster). In other words, it is the effect part of “cause and effect”. For example, “Poking a balloon with a pin has the effect of popping it.”
Your vs. You’re
This one is a very common error, and it drives me a bit nuts. “Your” is the possessive form. “You’re” contains an apostrophe, so we know there is a missing letter. In this case, it is the letter “a”. “You’re” means “you are”.
Example: “Your car is in the shop.”
Example: “You’re in a good mood today.”
Constant vigilance is needed if you want to keep your work easily readable. It is an uphill battle for me, at any rate. A second set of eyes to read your work helps. Also, reading your work out loud can really help to catch many errors and improve clarity and readability. If you are stumbling over your own words, you will notice right away!
It might seem to some that grammar is unnecessary and burdensome. I totally get that because the rules of English grammar sometimes seem arbitrary. They also can vary from American to British usage, and they change over time in ways that are unexpected. For example, most of my life, the word “irregardless” was used only by people who did not realize that it was simply not a word. However, then, in 2020, they suddenly made it a legitimate word. So, those of us who knew it was not a legitimate word were suddenly mistaken, and all the people using the word (and making the rest of us cringe) were suddenly correct.
However, grammar can increase clarity. For example, a couple of years ago, my sister texted my partner to thank him for some helpful things he had done for her and my Dad. He wrote back and said, “Well, your family.” My sister has a very strong knowledge of grammar, so she interpreted his text to mean, “Well… your family…” meaning “Ah, well, you know how nutty your family can be! Haha!” However, what he meant to say was, “Well, you’re family” as in “I helped you because I consider you to be family.”
My partner was surprised that my sister had not really responded to his heart-warming text. I was also surprised, and I mentioned it to her because I can’t help but communicate. Then she explained, and we had a good laugh about it. However, it really brings home the point that grammar actually makes a difference. It can be genuinely confusing when we neglect grammar.
Assuming this article is well-received, I will endeavor to write one grammar/style/vocabulary article every week. I realize that some people will be interested while others find the topic irritatingly reminiscent of grade school. For the latter crowd, please look away! Avert your eyes. I have no desire to traumatize anyone.
Have a great day!
Citation: The Elements of Style, Strunk & White, 1918 https://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk3.html