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Getting along with Grammar

On World Grammar Day, how to handle the old girl

In the 1970s, schoolkids learned grammar by osmosis. I didn’t know Good Grammar existed, what she looked like or that she was reaching into my brain from the BBC and books. She was kept secret, I presume, because she’s not much fun, and has a habit of putting people off writing with all her pernickety objections from a rulebook written in her own language.

That said, I had heard of Good Grammar's evil twin, Bad Grammar. Falling under her influence, I’d speak and be answered, ‘That’s Bad Grammar’, as if she'd put the words in my mouth. Bad Grammar, I was told, made me look a bit stupid. Naturally, I didn’t like her.

Know you're onions

When I fell out with adulthood and restarted writing, well-meaning friends finally introduced me to Good Grammar. She got on my nerves. I wanted to write instinctive, felt-out sentences, with the words dancing freely into natural formations. Like cars, computers, and love, I didn’t want to worry about the workings.

On one occasion, a friend tried to explain why my use of whom was incorrect and when I could use it and all the rules and reasons. She might as well have been talking to me about particle physics in Esperanto with her mouth full of marshmallows. I tried a book about grammar, but reading it made me so furious I didn’t learn a thing.

Sometimes I write myself into a syntactical or morphological muddle that I can’t dance my way out of. Luckily: the internet. I don’t need to have learned stuff in advance, I just need to know how to find it. When I ask Mr Google he’s usually most obliging.

There, they're theirs

Even though I don’t understand her ways, Good Grammar’s got herself inside my head and is slowly bending me to her will. When I read a sentence she doesn’t like, I have a reflexive response. Sometimes a brief pomposity ensues. She’s made me ridiculously sensitive to exclamation marks.

Dave Blazek via

The truth is, I need to respect her if I’m going to persist in calling myself a writer. If there were no Good Grammar, we’d have no way to talk about language; drawing pictures to explain tenses would probably be awkward. I admit, she makes phrases more meaningful and, somehow, more beautiful. Without her, imagine the mischief Bad Grammar would make:

Students cooked and served their grandparents.

Hunters should use caution hunting pedestrians on walking trails.

No smoking aloud.

It’s probably wrong to blame Good Grammar for all the pesky rules; she doesn’t make them, she just notes our linguistic habits. Our Good Grammar’s a peach compared to her colleagues in Finland, Korea and Georgia. Besides, she gives us some delicious words like ellipsis, participle and pluperfect.

In the final analysis, zilch grammars only me never keyboarding goodest tellings of.

Enjoy your day, Grammar, you deserve it.

'Perfect grammar—persistent, continuous, sustained—is the fourth dimension, so to speak, many have sought it, but none has found it.' Mark Twain

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