The Glory of Grammar: From Musty to Must
16 March 2017

The Glory of Grammar: From Musty to Must

Grammar is in every sentence you read or write, speak or hear. ‘Grammar’ is simply the word for the rules that people follow to communicate with each other. Be aware of grammar. Think about grammar as you listen to ‘English natives’ speak and when you read their books. Read a lot of English books – in so doing, you are reading ‘natural’ English, (and listen to ‘natural’ English), to take-in models of correct grammar that will help with your own writing and speaking.

The voice is the instrument for your communication – whether this is your speaking voice or writing voice. There are rules and guidelines about how to make the best use of your voice to express your ideas most effectively. Although this depends on the purpose of your communication.  Therefore exceptions to the rules also come into play. For example a party political broadcast will have a different voice than a television advert or a prosecution barrister in court. A sentence written in the active voice, shows the subject of the sentence as the taker of the action. However, a sentence written in the passive voice shows the subject as receiving the action, (having something done to them).

There are also rules to convey how and what people say directly and indirectly:

A pair of quotation marks encloses a direct quotation and must be the exact words of the person being quoted. Anything which is not part of those exact words must be placed outside the quotes, even if, this means using two sets of quotes because the quotation has been interrupted.

Quotation marks are also used to distance yourself from a word or phrase or to show that you are using a word or expression ironically. Single quotation marks are needed around a word or phrase which you are talking about, (as in the example above, ‘grammar’ is enclosed in single quotes because its meaning is then described). Indirect quotes are used to convey in your own words what someone else said. There’s no need for quotation marks when making an indirect quote.

Just as a good driver uses gears appropriately according to the type of road, nature of traffic and weather conditions, a good writer uses different types of sentences in different situations.  The various types of sentence have a particular purpose which are listed below:

  • a short simple sentence will grab a reader's attention
  • a compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses (or simple sentences) and will create a sense of balance or contrast between two (or more) equally-important pieces of information
  • a long complex sentence will show what information depends on what other information
  • a loose sentence will tell the reader in advance how to interpret your information
  • a periodic sentence will leave the reader in suspense until the very end
  • a declarative sentence makes a statement that will avoid any special emotional impact
  • an exclamatory sentence, used sparingly, will jolt the reader and convey strong emotions
  • an interrogative sentence will force the reader to think about what you are writing
  • an imperative sentence will be a call to action; to make it clear that you want the reader to act right away.

Because sentences are determined by the way in which independent and dependent clauses are combined, the various types of sentences can be viewed in terms of them being either independent or dependent clauses. Independent clauses are simple, complete thoughts expressed as a single sentence. They stand alone or can be combined with other independent clauses; making longer complex sentences. Dependent clauses are unfinished thoughts that cannot stand alone; they are a type of sentence fragment and must be joined to independent clauses.

Punctuation indicates different parts of a sentence to help us understand and access the information we get,  Just as traffic signals and road signs help us find our way on the roads...using punctuation incorrectly could create the same sort of confusion as traffic light failure or placing the wrong road markings on a motorway.

There are many brilliant websites and books available to help us understand and use both grammar and punctuation correctly. Learning this skill makes a huge difference in our confidence as well as ability to express ourselves and relate effectively with others.  Some might even say honing this skill provides the seat to our personal power.



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