Back To CourseEnglish 105: Technical Writing
8 chapters | 69 lessons
Some people consider grammar to be a dry or unimportant topic, but don't believe the hype! Grammar is important, and it can be fun with the right approach. Grammar rules help you communicate clearly and efficiently, and they'll help you put your best foot forward when it comes to your written work.
We also recommend watching Grammatical & Contextual Correctness in Technical Communication and Identifying & Correcting Errors in Your Own Speaking
First, let's start by looking at why grammar matters. Consider these two sentences:
Let's eat, Grandpa.
Let's eat Grandpa.
At first glance, they might not seem too different. You probably notice the first sentence includes a comma, which is absent from the second - but beyond that they look identical.
Further consideration, though, reveals the importance of that single comma as the only line of defense between a lovely family meal and a tableaux of terrifying trauma...
In the first sentence, the comma indicates the speaker is addressing Grandpa directly; inviting Grandpa to join the speaker in eating a meal.
In the second sentence, things have changed! The absence of the comma indicates the speaker is suggesting to a third party that they eat Grandpa!
So, don't ever let anybody tell you grammar 'doesn't count!'
In grammar terminology, that one little comma determines whether Grandpa is the addressee or the direct object of the sentence, and you can see what a big difference that makes for Grandpa!
The above example was chosen for effect, but the point is that grammar is important to ensure your meaning is accurately conveyed. Also, rightly or wrongly, many people judge the intelligence and seriousness of a writer by his or her adherence to the traditional rules of grammar.
First, let's be clear what we're talking about when we talk about grammar. A lot of people use the term grammar generally to mean 'all the technical rules of writing.'
In actual fact, grammar rules are the specific subset of rules that deal with parts of speech, number, person, tense, and word order. (Don't worry, we'll talk more about exactly what each of those terms means in a little bit).
By contrast, rules that deal with spelling, punctuation, quotation, and capitalization, technically fall under the category of mechanics instead of grammar.
You're probably saying to yourself right now, 'Wait a minute! The 'Let's eat Grandpa' example was a punctuation error that effected the words' parts of speech!'
Good catch! Grammar and mechanics often work together to make meaning.
Every word in English can be classified into a category called that word's part of speech. A word's part of speech determines the role it plays in conveying meaning. For example, nouns name people, places, things, and ideas. Verbs name actions like 'run,' 'walk,' and 'cogitate.' You want to make sure you're using the right part of speech at the right time.
Here's an example of a very common part of speech error:
Wrong: You have a choose to make.
Right: You have a choice to make.
Note that 'choose' is a verb, while 'choice' is a noun.
'Number' in grammar refers to whether a word is singular or plural. Nouns and their related verbs should agree in number. For example:
Wrong: They is coming over later.
Right: They are coming over later.
'They' is a plural noun. 'Is' is the singular form of the verb 'to be,' while 'are' is the plural form of the verb 'to be.' Since you want the number of the noun and verb to match, you would go with the plural form of the verb.
In English, there are three categories when it comes to person, and each category can be either singular or plural. Here's how that all breaks down:
First Person Singular: I
Second Person Singular: You
Third Person Singular: He, She, It
First Person Plural: We
Second Person Plural: You
Third Person Plural: They
People sometimes shift person when they are writing, but you don't want to shift person when it's not appropriate. For example:
Wrong: I try to exercise every day. If you don't exercise, you'll never reach your fitness goals.
Right: I try to exercise every day. I know if I don't exercise, I'll never reach my fitness goals.
In the first example, the speaker shifts person when he goes from talking about himself ('I' or first person) to directly addressing the reader ('you' or second person). If the writer's goal is to address the reader, this is OK, but in this context it seems more likely the writer is really talking about himself and his own fitness goals. So, first person throughout is more appropriate.
Tenses explain when in time an action occurs, will occur, or has occurred. There are technically seven basic verb tenses in English, but the three most common are present tense, past tense, and future tense.
Past: I walked to the store.
Present: I am walking to the store.
Future: I will walk to the store.
Shifting tense without a good reason can be confusing, so you want to be consistent. For example:
Wrong: After he joined the club, Tim appears at a party and tells a bunch of jokes.
Right: After he joined the club, Tim appeared at a party and told a bunch of jokes.
There are particular rules for word order in English. Here's the basic framework:
Subject - Verb - Object - Place - Time
A sentence that follows this order would look like this:
Patrick returned the videos to the store yesterday.
Object: the videos
Place: to the store
Here are some examples of common word order errors and how to fix them:
Wrong: I was in Canada fishing.
Right: I was fishing in Canada.
Wrong: He always is early.
Right: He is always early.
It's important to know each of the grammar rules, but the best way to really internalize them is to read as much (good) writing as possible and practice in your own writing.
Keeping track of all the rules can sometimes seem daunting, but it's important to keep in mind that there's a reason behind every rule. The overall goal of grammar is not to get bogged down with rules, but to keep language as clear and consistent as possible. If that's not enough motivation for you, do it for Grandpa!
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Back To CourseEnglish 105: Technical Writing
8 chapters | 69 lessons