I couldn’t help smiling when one of my Facebook friends expressed her dismay at the poor grammar used when she gets to read what people write (an example used was mixing he’s and his), and this despite people writing more these days, presumably as a result of the popularity of e-mails, text messaging and social media as a means of communication, although I suspect the nature of these methods is such that accuracy is not high on the list of priorities, compared with letter writing for example, that is nowadays a lost art. A lively discussion followed, which got me thinking about one my gripes in my grumpy dotage – the misuse of grammar!
Some years ago, while I was running my own business and, at the time some of my work was to do with technical authoring, I signed up for a one day course, titled “The Grammar Game”. One of the reasons for doing so was in order to crack this whole business of grammar correctness, although I always knew it would be a major undertaking. One of the areas covered was (what for me was a challenge) where to place the comma? English Language (as opposed to Literature) was not my particular forte at school. I recall my English teacher’s exasperation when marking my English composition and finding, yet again, I had made the same grammatical errors the last time he had marked my work, even though he thought I wrote well. I recall, I had trouble distinguishing “there” (in that place) from “their” (belonging to them) – and all these years on I still do, despite being clear on the difference.
While I tend to put my difficulties down to a form of dyslexia, as opposed to carelessness, it is not through want of trying, and I know, having seen what people write, there are many worse. It is easy to blame schools. I did my English learning when teaching formal grammar was just about on the way out, and that trend has continued, with it seems more emphasis of people being able to express themselves. I don’t have a magic solution as to what ought to be taught in schools, although I would like to see more formal grammar taught, more emphasis on wider reading and trying the extend children’s vocabulary and, for those who can, a return to learning Latin, in order to help reinforce those grammar rules.
But I agree with my friend, and I would appeal to those who write to respect the English language and delve further into its richness when they are about to write. For my part, that is what I try to do and, as a result, I tend to go back and check what I have written, often several times, while still trying to maintain that inspirational spark. But I still find myself a long way from writing grammatically correct prose, as I discover when I revisit what I have written and spot more than the odd mistake. And before I post, I will go back and check! Now, where should I place that comma?