One poll highlighted by the Huffington Post revealed that most people are okay with using improper grammar in texts and emails. And then there are those of us who cringe every time a word is misspelled, a pronoun is misused, or an article or period is missing from a sentence … yes, even in text messages.
While we could blame technology for the downward spiral of proper grammar usage in everyday writing and communication, one could also argue that a lot of improper grammar usage boils down to how we understand, learn, and teach core grammar concepts (also known as the dumbing down of our culture).
Here are eight tips and reminders for understanding, learning, and teaching grammar concepts. Think of this blog post as your helpful cheat sheet when you’re trying to figure out a grammar problem. (Keep in mind, though, this is not an exhaustive list of every grammar rule or technique out there.)
1. Remember the Eight Parts of Speech
Every real word is a “part of speech.” The function a word serves in a sentence is what makes it whatever part of speech it is. And it is possible for one word to serve as more than one part of speech even in one sentence.
Example: Babe Ruth would run across all the bases after he hit the ball out of the park, resulting in a home run.
Here are the eight parts of speech, as identified by traditional grammar rules:
Also, don’t forget your articles: “a,” “an,” and “the.”
2. Know What Makes a Complete Sentence
Avoiding sentence fragments is a great way to ensure proper grammar is being used. Every complete sentence should include at least one main or independent clause that contains an independent subject and verb or predicate (the part that modifies the subject in some way) and expresses a complete thought.
3. Recognize Phrases
Phrases are typically subordinate clauses in a sentence that cannot stand alone and don’t usually contain the subject and the predicate of a sentence. For instance, the phrase “the tall gymnast” doesn’t mean anything on its own without a predicate, verb, or further context provided by additional words or parts of speech in the sentence, or an additional supporting clause.
4. Focus on Clauses
Clauses are the true building blocks of sentences, and they come in many forms. There are conditional clauses, relative clauses, restrictive relative clauses, nonrestrictive relative clauses, and noun clauses. For more detailed information about clauses, read Understanding Clauses, the Building Blocks of a Sentence.
5. Understand What’s Debatable and What’s Not
It’s important to know what grammar ‘rules’ are debatable and not set in stone when you’re trying to understand or teach someone else a grammar concept. For better or worse, the English language is fluid and constantly changing, and there are various style guides and resources out there that are used to explain grammar concepts. While the core parts of speech will likely never change, there are other grammatical concepts or rules that are hotly debated. Here are a few of them:
- The Oxford or serial comma
- Possessive apostrophes for words ending in “s”
- Prepositions at the end of a sentence
- Splitting infinitives
Read Grammar Drama: The 10 Most Hotly Debated Topics in Grammar for more.
6. Be Able to Differentiate and Rely on the Appropriate Sources
Because there are quite a few debated and different grammar rules, depending on which writing source or style guide you decide to use, make sure that you can accurately identify what source you’re using when you’re trying to understand or teach a grammar concept. Otherwise, confusion will ensue, and the grammar concept will not stick. For instance, the MLA Style Manual will have grammar guidelines that differ from the AP Stylebook because it’s typically used for academic research, while the AP Stylebook is used mostly by journalists.
7. Always Use Correct and Incorrect Examples
When trying to understand or teach a grammar concept, write (and clearly label) correct example sentences and incorrect example sentences to further illustrate the concept. For instance, if you’re trying to demonstrate how to use quotation marks with punctuation in a sentence, you could use the following set of example sentences:
Correct: Tom said, “I am starving. I want to eat my lunch.”
Incorrect: Tom said “I am starving. I want to eat my lunch”.
8. Avoid Using Sentence Diagrams
If you’re over 40, you were probably instructed to use sentence diagrams in grade school so that you could learn the structure of a sentence and what parts of speech should go where in it. However, some research indicates that using sentence diagrams to learn grammar concepts can hinder one’s ability to learn grammar or to like grammar. Many teachers these days think the best way to learn grammar is through writing and reading, completing more writing exercises, and reading more material that is relevant to one’s everyday work routine or daily life. Your author believes that while reading grammar books is important, diagramming sentences is and always will be a valuable exercise.
Do you have any tips for understanding, learning, or teaching grammar concepts? Share them with us in the comments below. And, if you're so inclined, please review our services and information by clicking on the graphic below.