Today is National Grammar Day – an appropriate time to think about the role that grammar plays in our lives.
I’ve been thinking – a lot – about an intriguing statement by James Harbeck in his Sesquiotica blog. Harbeck is a writer who specializes in language issues. Here’s what he said: “Not everything you do with language is a matter of grammar.”
Spelling mistakes, for example, aren’t grammar errors. I have trouble spelling words with double letters. All the grammar instruction in the world isn’t going to help me spell Cincinnati correctly.
Clumsy sentences, poor word choices, and boring ideas aren’t grammar issues either.
Revising a weak article or essay takes multiple skills. (I know all about this, having done plenty of weak writing myself.) You need a strong thesis, powerful examples, and the ability to organize and develop ideas. You have to know how to grab your readers’ attention – and how to hold on to it.
Here are my favorite remedies for poor writing:
- a friend who takes your writing seriously
- a voracious reading habit
- a sense of curiosity and wonder about language
I’ll be wearing my Grammar Police t-shirt today to honor National Grammar Day. But I’ll also be reminding anyone willing to listen that grammar should be only one of many tools in a writer’s toolbox.