Skip to main content

Why is grammar important?

Wouldn't it be nice if you could just speak and write as you like, without having to learn the rules of grammar?

When you have something to express, you want to express it accurately, don't you? You don't want to be misunderstood -If everybody spoke and wrote perfect English, and everything you heard and read was expressed in perfect, accurate English, you probably wouldn't have to study grammar!

Grammar teaches you what corrections to make in your speech and writing and why the corrections should be made. And the study of grammar helps you improve the way you express yourself by using English which is accurate, clear, varied, and interesting.

Correct grammar differs, of course, according to the language. Even the basic principles of grammar are different for different languages. But it goes beyond that. Language is a living thing, changing with the years. When certain forms of speech are "worn out," they are thrown away and no longer used. When the needs of people change, the grammar changes.

In other words, grammar grows and changes, and there is no such thing as correct use of English for the past, the present, and the future. For example, in Shakespeare's play Hamlet, there is the line: "The door is broke." Today, only an uneducated person would say, "My arm is broke." Yet this would have been correct in Shakespeare's time!

All the words that man has invented are divided into eight classes, which are called parts of speech. These are: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. By studying grammar, you learn how to use each of these correctly and effectively.

Grammar may seem like a nuisance to study, but it will help you to express yourself better and more accurately.

Traditional Grammar

The traditional approach to English grammar, which is still reflected in many textbooks, was based on the assumption that there is one correct form of English grammar. The belief was that grammar could be codified into a set of rules, and any departure from these rules was considered bad grammar. Behind this prescriptive, or normative, approach was the notion that there exists a single, Universal Grammar, which applies to all languages. Since grammarians thought that Latin and Greek were the best languages, they accepted classical grammar books as revealing good, or uncorrupted, grammar, and they tried to write grammar books for English that would resemble Latin grammar books as closely as possible.

These books served moderately well because both Latin and English were Indo-European languages. However, the books were not entirely accurate because both Latin and English had changed through the centuries and had changed in different ways. For example, Latin continued to make extensive use of inflection, whereas English came to rely on it less and less. The major development in English grammar during the last 2,000 years has been the replacement of inflection by a greater dependence on word order and on relationship words.

Latin grammarians had identified eight parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, and interjection. Following this example, English grammarians also tried to identify these parts of speech in English. Their system became the basis of parsing, a method of grammatical analysis that was widely taught in schools until recent times. It involved identifying and defining the parts of speech in a sentence, pointing out their function, and then fitting them into a set diagram. Modern grammarians find parsing inadequate and often misleading.

During the late 19th century, scholars known as philologists greatly improved the study of language, including the study of grammar. They studied grammatical uses from the earliest records and tried to understand modern grammar in the light of its growth. Their approach is called historical grammar, which is a part of historical linguistics. Philologists also tried to understand how language works by comparing the grammar of a language with the grammars of related languages, such as comparing English grammar with German grammar and Gothic grammar. This method is called comparative grammar.

Some 19th-century philologists also tried to describe English grammar according to English usage rather than Latin usage. They gave more emphasis to the function of words than previous grammarians had. This permitted them to say, for example, that a noun is a noun because it serves as the subject of a sentence, that a verb can be recognized because it works with the subject to form a predication, and that a word like "however" is a sentence modifier because it modifies the whole sentence. Although they wrote much better grammars than their predecessors, in practice their books tended to be complicated and sometimes inconsistent. At best their work left much of English grammar unexplained. .

The grammars written by the philologists were meant to be scientific, but they were not strictly so because they did not rely on firm definitions and used no precise measurements. Language is difficult to measure. Although students of language knew that sound could be measured, the measurements taken by physicists were so complicated that the results were not useful for grammatical study. Then, in the early part of the 20th century, linguists developed new techniques of describing sounds. As a result, many new methods of analyzing grammar have been developed.

Most of the new approaches to grammar rest on the belief that speech provides the best and most scientific basis for describing grammar. The older studies of grammar were mainly based on written language, partly because early languages have survived chiefly through writing. Although new grammarians analyze written language to some extent, they depend primarily on speech, which is the basic form of language.

An important concept in modern linguistics is that of the phoneme. Linguists define a phoneme as a number of sounds recognized as a unit by the users of a language. The branch of linguistics that concerns itself with identifying speech sounds is known as phonetics. Although in phonetics k and q are described as two different sounds, in English speech they are considered as only one phoneme because no distinction is made between them.

Related Articles