Using good grammar involves speaking or writing in a lucid and comprehensible manner. It also entails following the basic rules of spelling, punctuation, and sentence construction. A writer with good grammar knows how to use words and punctuation to convey meaning while putting their point across in a way that most readers would understand.
Grammatical errors can make spoken language confusing and hard for listeners to follow the speaker’s intent. In a nutshell, having good grammar denotes the ability to both understand as well as apply the commonly accepted rules and tenets of grammar. Though these dictums are not always set in stone, it is essential to understand and use them effectively.
Four Important (and Inflexible) Rules of English Grammar
English grammar has a lot of rules but four of these are especially important for people striving to speak and write the language with perfection.
- Using Commas Correctly
The humble comma is a small punctuation mark that plays a big role in language. It is easy to both overuse as well as underuse and is sometimes omitted altogether.
Here are some common mistakes involving commas:
- Run-on sentences: Run-on sentences occur when two independent clauses are incorrectly joined due to the lack of proper punctuation or the use of appropriate conjunctions. Commas paired with coordinating conjunctions can help avoid run-on sentences.
She got bored over the weekend, so she went over to her friend’s house.
Jack came home early, so he could celebrate his son’s birthday.
The students could ask their teacher a question at any time during the lecture, but they would have to raise their hands.
- Introductory clauses: Introductory clauses—also known as dependent clauses—provide background information for the main part of the sentence or the independent clause. Introductory clauses should be followed by a comma to avoid confusion.
Because Bozo was getting restless, we took him for a walk around the block.
If they want to win, baseball players must practice every day.
- Coordinate Adjectives: These are multiple adjectives used to modify the noun whose order can be modified without affecting the meaning of the sentence. Coordinate adjectives must be separated with a comma to prevent the reader from considering them as a singular modifier.
She was inordinately proud of her thick, gorgeous hair.
The order of coordinate adjectives can be reversed without changing or losing the meaning of the sentence.
She was inordinately proud of her gorgeous, thick hair.
Their usage can be tested by placing the conjunction “and” between the adjectives to see if the sentence still makes sense.
She was inordinately proud of her thick and gorgeous hair.
No comma is needed between the last adjective and the noun it precedes.
She was inordinately proud of her thick, gorgeous hair.
She was inordinately proud of her thick, gorgeous, hair.
- Names of Direct Address – A comma must be used when the speaker is directly addressing the person they are talking to.
Let’s eat, grandma.
Could you pass the butter, Jason?
- Subject-Verb Agreement
The subject and verb must agree in number (singular and plural.) If the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular; if the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural. This is an important rule that ensures writing remains consistent and retains uninterrupted flow.
The cat chases the mouse.
The cats chase the mouse.
This can get tricky in sentences where the subject does not immediately precede the verb.
Sentences with a singular subject must also have a verb that describes the action of the subject as singular.
My dog always growls at the mailman.
On the contrary, sentences with plural subjects must have verbs that agree with the subject to be accurate.
My dogs always growl at the mailman.
When sentences have their subjects as collective nouns, it becomes important to identify context to understand whether the collective nouns act either in unison or independently. Singular forms of verbs are used when collective nouns act in unison, whereas plural forms of verbs are utilized to signify collective nouns that act independently.
The bouquet of roses lends color and fragrance to the room.
The team members are in disagreement over the plan of action.
- Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
An antecedent is a word that is replaced by a pronoun.
Caitlin went to the store because she ran out of milk.
In the above sentence, the antecedent “Caitlin” is replaced by the pronoun “she.”
The antecedent and the pronoun must agree in gender and number. They must also be clear about who or what is being replaced.
Caitlin and Jane went to the store because she ran out of milk.
The above sentence is incorrect because it is unclear who the pronoun refers to.
Homophones are two or more words that have the same sound but different meanings and often have different spellings. It is important to learn the appropriate usage of homophones to remain grammatically correct.
Does Grammar Matter in This Day and Age?
A large number of people now consider grammar to be irrelevant and redundant. In a world where millions communicate via texting, slang terms, and emojis, it is argued that as long as the recipient gets the gist of the message, a few grammatical errors should not matter.
While this line of thinking sounds logical, it fundamentally ignores the many benefits enjoyed by someone who uses proper grammar. Grammar is the basis of effective communication; poor grammar affects both the meaning and clarity of a message. Regardless of its detractors, grammar still remains a core component of the English education system and is also an important marker of learning outcomes. Grammar is also helpful to:
- Communicate Effectively and Efficiently in Any Situation
Being able to articulate in a personal, professional, or public environment is a critical skill. When both sender and receiver have a good grasp of grammar, messages are delivered and received promptly, leaving no scope for misunderstandings. Good grammar reduces confusion and saves time that would otherwise be wasted on translations, clarifications, and follow-ups.
- Maintain Good Interpersonal Relationships
In the professional or academic arenas, using good grammar (or bad) affects how people feel about, respond to, and communicate with each other. For professionals, using proper grammar can help them make a good impression on co-workers and customers, and demonstrate that they care about their job.
- Save Time and Money in a Globalized World
Most business organizations today are global and work with geographically dispersed teams. Written communications in the form of emails, business reports, internal newsletters, white papers, and company blogs have therefore become critical to the daily operations of an organization. In this context, a grammatically incorrect document could be disastrous since it could present false or misleading information and potentially cost the company in terms of time and/or money.
- Demonstrate Professional Competency
Studies have shown that employees who use good grammar are more likely to succeed in the workplace. Good grammar in speech and writing reflects professional competency and is likely to get employees noticed by their superiors and clients. It might also lead to better pay and/or promotion in the future.
As the above points demonstrate, good grammar is a life-changing skill that boosts personal and professional success. Unlike what a few subjective opinions might state, grammar remains crucial to the effective understanding and practical applications of language and communication as a whole.
Author bio: Sophia is an online ESL/EFL instructor and a passionate educator. She found her true calling — teaching — while she was juggling writing and a 9-5 desk job. When she is not busy earning a living, she volunteers as a social worker. Her active online presence demonstrates her strong belief in the power of networking.
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