What is grammar, anyway?

Grammar is “the rules of language”. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines grammar as “the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics.”  But, what exactly does that mean?

I never learned grammar in school. Until I was forced by the requirements for my degree I hadn’t even thought of attempting to learn grammar, because it just seems so hard and confusing. Yet, I use grammar everyday, ALL day. I speak to people all the time, and I am (what I would consider) a pretty good writer, so I use it while I am writing (hopefully) as well. It is interesting how something that has gotten a horrible reputation as being difficult is something that we naturally learn. When something is grammatically incorrect, if you are a native English speaker you can usually pick up on it right away. You may not necessarily be able to explain WHY it is incorrect but you will have like feeling deep in your gut that says “That don’t sound right.” Did you just have it? Ditto. In the textbook “English Grammar: Language as Human Behavior,” Anita K. Barry talks about how when you are a native speaker of English, learning about grammar is not going to be the same as learning the grammar of a language you are not as familiar with. She explains that this is because you already know English, and hopefully you know it well if it is indeed your native tongue. You are able to use English effectively to communicate, both by talking and writing, and if you are reading this, I would like to think that you can at this point in your life read English pretty well also. BUT you can still gain valuable experience from learning English grammar. We all ‘know’ English, but we may not ‘know’ grammar.

Grammar is a system that we have developed so that everyone could understand each other with a minimal amount of confusion. Wikipedia has taken the liberty of adjusting the definition of English grammar and making it a little less scary to grammar-phobes. Wikipedia refers to English grammar as “the body of rules that describe the structure of expressions in the English language. This includes the structure of wordsphrasesclauses, and sentences.” Now, that’s not so bad is it?

We all know what words are, they are the ingredients of a sentence. When put in the right order they can be powerful, emotional, beautiful or…. wrong. There are eight different word classes in English grammar, each with its own particular job. Much like the ingredients you would use when baking, too much or too little of a particular word or type of word can make syntax go terribly wrong. We have nouns, adverbs, adjectives, verbs, conjuctions, pronouns, determiners & prepositions to play around with in English. These are the building blocks of language; we take words in these categories and use them to construct phrases and clauses. Then, we take the phrases and clauses and put them into sentences. Grammar is really not that frightening when you break it down and think about it.

So, what is grammar? Well, it is words — nouns, verbs, adverbs etc. — and it is sentences. It is independent clauses, which when used effectively can evoke emotion in its readers or listeners. Grammar are the words you say when you tell someone you love them, & the words you think when you think you hate someone. Grammar can be INCREDIBLY boring at one moment, & weirdly fascinating the next. Grammar is something used by everyone, correctly or not. Grammar is language, plain and simple.

Until next time, sarah.

English Grammar“, 15 2012.

“New Oxford American Dictionary”  Oxford University Press. 2010. Web.

Barry, Anita K. “Human Grammar: Language as Human Behavior”, New Jersey: Pearson, 2002. Print.


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