25 Writing Is Not About Grammar

Sabrina Landsman

In high school, I was a perfectionist when it came to writing. English was (and still is) my favorite subject. I can read for hours, and I love to write. Once the gears in my brain start turning and the creative juices begin to flow, I write and write until either my hands cramp or I run out of things to say. That being said, every time I had an essay or other writing assignment due for my English class in high school, I would reread it a few times until I couldn’t find any flaws. Spell check was my best friend (although I think I’m a pretty good speller naturally), and I would drive myself crazy over grammar errors. Grammar is very tricky, and they say that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. Even with English being my first language, I still sometimes struggle with sentence structure and punctuation. Whenever I handed in essays to my teachers in middle and high school, I was seldom worried about the content I had written. I never received a grade lower than a C on an original writing piece. The two or three times I did receive a C on my writing assignments, it was because I didn’t meet the requirements or follow the prompt correctly- the teacher had a specific vision in mind for the assignment and I simply didn’t fulfill it. Most of the time when I received my graded papers back, the red pen marks were directed at a misused semi-colon, a run-on sentence, a sentence that has misplaced modifiers, a paragraph where the tense isn’t consistent (past and present both used for example), and other common grammatical mistakes. I tried not to beat myself up about it, especially since I would talk to my teacher after class and he or she told me how I could fix these errors and why it was an error in the first place.

I know I’m a good writer. I’ve known that since I was roughly 15 years old. I’m smart and I’m full of ideas and brilliance. Some people may say that grammar and spelling are a huge part of the writing process. Although spelling and grammar are certainly important, they are not the be-all-end-all of a well-written piece of work. Hannah J. Rule, an English professor at the University of South Carolina, discussed the importance of grammatical terminology. She is an English teacher and throughout her chapter, she emphasized the need for good writers to have conscious knowledge of grammar. I completely agree with Rule, as she stated that, “an effective writer cannot be measured by her ability to identify and define grammatical parts.” She also said that “an individual’s ability to define grammatical parts is at best a neat party trick, but ultimately not related to one’s abilities or potentials as a writer.” As I previously nodded towards, I found it quite silly that I received lower grades and a plethora of red marks simply because my teacher at the time did not like the route I went with my paper, or because I had grammar errors. I know I am a good writer, and many of my teachers and professors over the course of my schooling have also stated that I am a good writer and I can one day be very successful in that field. As time has passed and as I’ve written more essays, I’ve gotten better at recognizing grammatical mistakes. I’ve been able to avoid making the same mistakes as I did when I was in high school. Rule also points out that, “research has shown that complex grammar knowledge is already in us, in every one of us, in both shared and idiosyncratic ways. As English professor  Patrick Hartwell has written, the “grammar in our heads” – the largely untaught, subconscious tacit system of grammar installed in us at an early age– is precisely how we make our life through language.” I completely agree with Hartwell, and regardless of how smart or capable someone is as far as writing goes, we (native English speakers at least) all have some knowledge of what is proper and improper grammar. We learn it from school when it is actively being taught to us, and we learn it from listening to people around us speak from the moment we enter this world. We also learn basic grammar knowledge from reading and having books read to us by our parents at a young age.

Professor Rule has also stated, “it’s not that I’m against cultivating the ability to see a pronoun or against learning some of the general conventions of comma use. But what I am against is the still pervasive belief that these abilities are of significant value.” She points out that although knowing the proper grammar is important for good writing, it is not the most important thing. At the end of the day, content is significantly more valued than the little things (grammar and punctuation). Most people who are fluent in the English language can read past spelling errors and will pay no mind to a writing piece that is only flawed by its grammar and punctuation. However, if a book/article/essay et cetera is not well received by its readers, most of the time it is due to the content. The readers either did not like what was written or the writing did not make sense overall. There also could be issues with flow, awkward construction, use of cliches, emphasis, evidence, generalizations, paragraph design, and redundancy- none of which are related to grammar. Of course, proper grammar and punctuation are vital. But before any writer (whether you’re writing professionally or just for school), worries their pretty little head about whether that comma belongs there or not, or if that sentence is a run-on, or if their paper is too wordy, they must read what they’ve written and maker sure it sounds great overall. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader and pretend you are reading this for the first time ever, and you are completely new to the topic and are reading to gain new information. Once you read your writing piece (and you might have to read it two or three or even more times to geta good grip on how you feel about it) and can confidently say it sounds professional, well-written, and smart, then and only then should you go back and check for grammar and punctuation errors. I would not suggest driving yourself crazy over these type of mistakes, speaking from experience. It is certainly a good idea to check for obvious errors before consulting with another writer or perhaps using Grammarly for the more hidden errors.

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Writing Is Not About Grammar by Sabrina Landsman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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