I am not a grammar goddess

I am not a grammar goddess.

Mistakes in syntax and spelling do not magically jump off the page and dance before my eyes when I read. I do not diagram sentences in my sleep. I can never remember the difference between “that” and “which” and I am unable to use the word “whom” with any amount of confidence.

Perhaps that’s just as well. To quote one of my college professors, “If you use the word ‘whom’ in everyday conversation, you’ll have no friends.” She was kidding, of course. But the truth is, if you’re one of those people who is overly pedantic about grammar, it will start to wear on your friends.

That’s not to say that I don’t care about grammar. I do. I notice when people say “I could care less” instead of “I couldn’t care less” and when people spell the possessive form of “its” with an apostrophe.I have passionate opinions about the Oxford comma (use it, please, use it).

(Quick tip regarding “its” versus “it’s”: the apostrophe means that a letter has been left out, in this case the “i” in “is.” When you use the word “it’s,” the sentence should still make sense if you replace it with the words “it is.” You’re welcome.)

There are two reasons to care about proper grammar: using it helps people to understand you and gives you credibility. When you’re writing a paper, creating a resume or polishing a business proposal, you want people the take you seriously and not be distracted by errors you’ve made.

If I had used “your” instead of “you’re” in the previous sentence, some of you might not have noticed, but I guarantee at least one person would have been seriously bothered by the mistake. I don’t get a lot of “grammar Nazi” comments on my blog posts (thanks guys!), but you only have to scan the comments on a YouTube video or a news article to see the denizens of the Internet correcting other people’s grammar (and usually ignoring everything else they have to say).

Using correct grammar helps you create the best possible impression, but sometimes, especially in a low-stakes context like the Internet, we’re going to type faster than we think. We’re going to post comments without rereading them. We’re not going to have perfect grammar. And that’s okay.

My philosophy has always been that if you can understand someone (that is, if their writing is legible to you) and you aren’t in a position where grammar feedback is requested, why do you care? No one appointed me the grammar police of the Internet (or of offline life either, for that matter).

I am not a grammar goddess. However, if you do want to improve your grammar, my advice is READ. Knowing how to diagram a sentence or name the parts of speech is good, but it may not be as helpful to you in the long run as the ability to read a sentence and hear whether it “sounds right.”

Read people who craft their sentences with technical accuracy, and mimic them. Don’t be afraid to look up the answers when you have questions about usage. There are good reference books and lots of online resources as well. (You may be surprised at the number of people who have googled “there vs their” or “well being vs well-being”). Then write, and put your best self on the page. That’s all you can ever hope to do.

 

 

Punctuation is writing’s body language

“When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly — with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow.
In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.” Russell Baker, via Goodreads