Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Grammar: It's Not Just For Kids Anymore

Okay, this is for everyone who feels a bit lame on the grammar end.  As in, words like "gerund" and "conjugate" and "nominative case" might as well be in an ancient Egyptian dialect.

Know what? A LOT OF US MISSED THE GRAMMAR BOAT IN SCHOOL.  Bad teachers, or bad study habits, or the age-old problem of having to cram things for a test instead of actually learning them has left a lot of adults fairly handicapped in the grammar area (not to mention other areas).

I want you to know that it's totally okay if that happened to you.  So long as you do something about it now that you're a writer.  Yanno?

I posted a new THE BASICS in Write On! yesterday.  This one's on possessive pronouns and gerunds.  And a tweet from one of my sweet followers on Twitter was filled with a measure of embarrassment at her own level of grammar knowledge.  I don't want her to feel that way, and I don't want any of you to feel that way.

Here's the truth:  I did not struggle with grammar in school.  But neither did I master it.  All those terms and rules and such?  I HAVE LEARNED MOST OF THEM AS AN ADULT.

And so can you.  And really?  If you can talk intelligently about why a sentence is correct, that's great. But as a writer, what's MORE important is that you are WRITING SENTENCES CORRECTLY.  Even if you're not able to pen a thesis on the reasons.


There are lots of resources out there.  My teen posts are one small offering.  You don't have to take a college course (which might easily produce the same lame results you experienced in school) or spend time memorizing lists.  (Though, really, you should know your prepositions. And all cases of pronouns. And... *grin*)

Just troubleshoot.  Learn to fix each error as it comes up.  Find out what's wrong with what you've been doing, and make sure you understand how to do it correctly.  Then, apply it.  Forever.

And don't bash yourself.  Learning is lifelong.

That's that.  It's really -- REALLY -- all right for you to learn grammar that you feel you "should already know."  If you don't know something at 1:00, you can make sure you know it by 2:00.  Any day, every day.

I mean, you guys write STORIES.  And that's HARD! (No, really. Sometimes it actually sucks.)  So picking up a new grammar rule here and there is cake.

No shame. Just learn what you need to know.

And keep writing.



  1. As someone who's tutored ESL (English as a second language) students, I can tell you that those of us who grew up learning English as babies tend not to know as much about all those terms as folks learning English as adults. We learned by immersion. Someone who grew up speaking Chinese needs to deliberately learn the rules of how to put sentences together and what all the tenses are called.

    Think of it this way: if you learned to play piano without any lessons, just taught yourself by banging around on the keys, you might become good at it, maybe even great. Maybe you'd be able to play along with Mozart by ear. But you wouldn't necessarily know the names for the types of chords you were playing. There's no shame in it. You just learn as you go.

  2. Wow, this post made me feel so much better. I am one of those people that can put the sentence together correctly but can't explain all the rules.


  3. @Shakier - I just brought this up yesterday! My boyfriend is a native Mexican who came to the US at 10 speaking no English. And you know what? He knows grammar and spelling better than I do. Especially spelling! Which makes him the most awesome of proofreaders. :)

    Authoress - thank you for sharing your wisdom with the youth and the not-so-youth.

  4. I made straight A's in English only because I had an ear for it and knew how things are supposed to sound. I write now the same way. I know how it's supposed to be...I know what a possessive pronoun is...I know what adverbs are...but tell me to conjugate a verb and you'll see a blank stare. I could no more tell you what that means than I can scale a building with my toes. LOL. And gerunds? I'd have to Google it. :)

  5. And native English speakers who learn another language in school (grade school, high school) also have a better grasp on the parts of speech, tenses, etc. Yet another argument for requiring kids to learn a second language. Just sayin'.

  6. Ha ha! Only five worthy comments on grammar so far! Shocker. :) But seriously, my copyeditor put me on Front Street for my grammar. Ask me if I like Front Street. Go ahead, ask. :)

  7. I teach 5th grade and no matter how you dress it up and sing about it, a large chunk of grammar escapes even the most gifted young mind. I swear it's when you learn a second language that it all comes together in the gray matter.

  8. Grammar is just a useful way of keeping track of how to structure the different things you want to say. In Chinese we don't have tenses or anything like that. English doesn't really have them either, not like French or German. The hardest thing for me in English are the prepositions. They are totally random and there are so many of them! You just have to learn them one by one.

  9. I don't know how to explain what a gerund is, but I know how to use it. Is that enough?

  10. I am one of those adults who struggle with grammar. Embarrassed? Yes very embarrassed! I am very new to the writing game, it is a mid-life crisis hobby that I love doing, but I am not very good at. I would like to say thank you for the resources, I could really use a hand.