College Prep Writing
What Is Good Grammar?
Is your grammar good enough?
How much grammar do you know?
And what is grammar, anyway?
Grammar is rules, and you probably know more grammar rules than you can imagine. You don't think about them when you use them, of course.
We know the grammar rules necessary to speak our own language perfectly well with those who are members of our language community—those who speak our variety of English. Members of a language community use similar pronunciation, grammar, and general range of vocabulary. A language community may be based on tradition, culture, age, ethnicity, or a combination of those characteristics.
No One Set of English Grammar
Not all speakers of English use the same rules for spoken English. There are many kinds of English, and each may have different pronunciation rules, different grammar requirements (some do not require an -s on third person singular verbs, for example), and some variations in vocabulary.
Varieties of English range from Melanesian Pidgin, Jamaican English, Cockney of East London, and the English of New Zealand, to the varieties of English in the United States, including African-American vernacular, Northeast Pennsylvania English, and many others. Among the many varieties of English, there are also many subgroups.
All of these varieties of English are correct. Each variety of English is just as effective as another because each serves its own community of speakers perfectly well. Each variety has strict rules, and when speakers are communicating with others of their language community, miscommunication is uncommon.
The issue of grammar and pronunciation arises when an English-language speaker wants to communicate with members of a different English-language community. That might require the person to learn new grammar and pronunciation rules to communicate effectively. For example, the pronunciation rules of the Yorkshire dialect in England contrast quite strongly with the pronunciation rules of the Midwest speech of a native of St. Louis, Missouri. There are grammar and vocabulary differences as well between these two dialects.
Why Do We Learn Grammar From Textbooks?
We learn grammar because we have written language. Writing almost always takes us beyond our parochial variety of spoken English, and to write effectively, we have to learn some rules for writing that may be different from the rules we use for speaking. Although this might mean that we have to study stodgy grammar books, the standardized English of writing has advantages.
Think of the inconvenience we would be subject to if printed material were all written in dialects—if books were all published in different varieties of English. This would make tax forms, medical information, traffic laws, and software manuals difficult to read, increasing the possibility of miscommunication. The advantage of the universal rules of writing is that we can reach audiences outside of our local language community.
Some people believe we should also have standard English speaking rules that all speakers use, but this is not going to happen. Spoken language is always evolving to reflect our changing cultures, societies, and environments.
It is convenient, however, to be able to use the conservative language of writing to communicate in a standardized way with a broad range of people in certain situations—including business and education. This is especially important for English users, who are distributed so widely all over the world.