I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read, “Why should I care about using correct grammar in my writing? That’s why they have editors.” Wrong! Most publishers don’t edit much writing that comes their way, IF they even accept any error-filled manuscript. Paying for an experienced, dependable literary editor is expensive, and the editors themselves will do only so much.
Some writers fight the idea that grammar (including sentence structure, punctuation, subject/verb agreement, pronoun usage, spelling, etc.) impacts the worthiness of writing, which is like saying failing to lay a solid foundation does not impact the stability of a building. Good grammar is extremely important. Good grammar shows the writer's professionalism and attention to detail. The writer will also be able to give an explanation that is understood.
Grammatical errors can cause confusion, and, in the worst-case scenarios, they can completely change the meaning of a sentence. A writer not knowing how to use good grammar will make writing difficult to read. Poor grammar (including all subtexts) breaks the flow of reading, annoys the reader, and reflects badly on the writer. No-one wants to be jarred from a really interesting read by poor punctuation or glaring grammatical errors.
Writer Melissa Donovan states:
Too many times I’ve heard aspiring writers shrug off good grammar,
saying they’d rather focus on plot or character, they’d prefer to use a
natural, unlearned approach to keep the writing raw, or they will simply
hire an editor to do the dirty work.
I have a hard time buying into those lines of reasoning. Refusing to bother
with grammar is just plain lazy, especially for writers who yearn to be more
Why should writers embrace grammar rather than make excuses for ignoring it?
I am not able to cover a complete grammar course here, but I will give a few areas to give writers a beginning. Here are ten reasons why good grammar should be a
central pursuit in writing efforts:
If your work is peppered with grammatical mistakes and typos, your readers are going to have a hard time trudging through it. Nothing is more distracting than being yanked out of a good story because a word is misspelled or a punctuation mark is misplaced. You should always respect your readers enough to deliver a product that is enjoyable and easy to use.
You can’t engage with others in your profession if you don’t speak the language of your industry. Good luck talking shop with writers and editors if you don’t know the parts of speech, the names of punctuation marks, and all the other components of language and writing that are related to good grammar. And, good luck communicating with most readers if you don’t know how to correctly use grammar.
A current problem I find lately involves contractions between subjects and verbs in the narrative (non-dialogue) parts of manuscripts. We talk using contractions between subjects and verbs, so using them in dialogue works. However, even if the manuscript is written in first person, the narrative is not dialogue. Contractions between subjects and verbs in the narrative portion can result in passive voice or in confusion. For example, I’d could mean I would, I could, I should, I had. The reader shouldn’t have to decide what the author meant. He’s means he has or he is, passive voice, which we need to avoid to have good writing, clear communication.
3. Getting Published
How will you get that short story, essay, or blog post published if you don’t know the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Sure, some managing editors will go over your work and clean it up for you, but most reputable publishers have enough submissions that they can toss grammatically weak work into the trash without thinking twice.
4. Working with an Editor
I love it when writers say they can just hire an editor. This goes back to communication. If you can’t talk shop with other writers, you certainly won’t be able to converse intelligently about your work and its flaws with a professional editor. How will you respond to feedback and revision suggestions or requests when you don’t know what the editor is talking about? Remember, it’s your work. Ultimately, the final version is your call, and you won’t be able to approve it if you’re clueless about what’s wrong with it.
Also, you need to hire the right kind of editor. An English teacher can possibly find grammar errors, if she actually understands grammar (Note: not all English teachers teach grammar anymore). However, not all English teachers can edit for other parts of a successful manuscript.
5. Saving Money
Speaking of hiring an editor, you should know that editors will only go so far when correcting a manuscript. Returning work to a writer that is solid red with markups doesn’t make either the editor nor the author feel good. Most freelance editors and proofreaders have a limit to how much they will mark up any given text, so the more grammar mistakes there are, the more surface work the editor will have to do. That means she won’t be able to get into the nitty-gritty and make significant changes that take your work from average to superior because the amount of work needed to make the manuscript readable.
6. Invest in Yourself
Learning grammar is a way to invest in yourself. You don’t need anything more than a couple of good writing resources and a willingness to take the time necessary to hone your skills. In the beginning, it might be a drag, but eventually, all those grammar rules will become second nature, and you will have become a first-rate writer.
7. Respectability, Credibility, and Authority
As a first-rate writer who has mastered good grammar, you will gain respect, credibility, and authority among your peers. People will take you seriously and regard you as a person who is committed to the craft of writing, not just some hack trying to string words together in a haphazard manner.
8. Better Writing All Around
When you take the time to learn grammar, using correct grammar becomes second nature. As you write, the words and punctuation marks come naturally because you know what you’re doing; you’ve studied the rules and put in plenty of practice. That means you can focus more of your attention on other aspects of your work, like structure, context, and imagery (to name a few). This leads to better writing all around.
Some people don’t have self-awareness. They charge through life completely unaware of themselves or the people around them. But, most of us possess some sense of self. What sense of self can you have as a writer who doesn’t know proper grammar? That’s like being a carpenter who doesn’t know what a hammer and nails are.
10. There’s Only One Reason to Abstain from Good Grammar
There is really only one reason to avoid learning grammar: the writer is just plain lazy. Anything else is a silly excuse.
No matter what trade, craft, or career one is pursuing, everyone starts with learning the basics. Actors learn how to read scripts. Scientists learn how to apply the scientific method. Politicians learn how to… well, never mind what politicians do. We are writers. We must learn how to write well, and writing well definitely requires using good grammar.
William B. Bradshaw, and author and writing expert says:
Whenever I get on my soapbox about grammar, people often tell me I put too
much emphasis on the importance of grammar -- after all, they say, why does
it matter what kind of grammar people use; the important thing is whether or
not they understand what they are saying and writing to one another.
According to Barry Kelly in “Why Grammar Is Important in Writing,” “Grammar does play a vital role in creative writing. Proper grammar is necessary for credibility, readability, communication, and clarity. Mastering grammar will allow you as a writer to make your work clearer and more readable.”
Grammar is the foundation for communication. Let’s examine some grammatical mistakes:
She was deeply effected by the death of her beloved pet. Affect is a verb, not effect (noun)
“Its over their.” She gestured to the large mahogany table slowly decaying in the corner. It’s over there.
Mary didn’t know weather it was time to go or not. Whether
He bought milk when he should of bought bread. Have rather than the word of
Let’s eat Mary. and Let’s eat, Mary.
Can you see how the first example could end up with Mary being eaten for dinner?
Goats Cheese Salad – crispy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, cucumber, goats, cheese
Vegetarians are certainly going to be put off this salad when they realize it contains not only
cheese, but goats!
My interests include cooking dogs, walking, reading and watching films.
Oh dear, those poor dogs. I wonder who gets to eat the canine culinary delights created by this
There is used in place of their or they're, or one of the others is used incorrectly.
It's and its are not interchangeable.
Your and you're are not the same.
Commas are not used where needed, or they are sprinkled like rose petals everywhere possible. Run-on sentences create a feeling of confusion in the minds of readers.
I don't want to read a book by someone who can't manage to understand the difference between homonyms (words that sound alike but have different meanings) and/or what version of a pronoun is used as the object of a preposition.
For example, I often hear (hear not here), "That's important to Mary and I." Really? He would say "That's important to I"? Actually, that is what he did say. A compound object is the same form pronoun as a singular object. And, I have heard and read that problem from so called well-educated people. Anything between a speaker or writer and another person means the object form MUST be used: between John and me; between my husband and me; between you and him.
I, he, she, we, they are subjects; me, him, her, us, them are object forms; my, his, her/hers, ours are possessive forms. Object forms are not to be used as subjects. Example: Mary and him went to town. (test – him went to town. Uh, no, he went to town.) Subject forms are not possessives even if a writer adds an apostrophe and an s. Example: John’s and I’s reports are due tomorrow. Uh, no, should be John’s and my reports are due tomorrow. Subject forms are never used as objects, as discussed above. Example: The packages are for John and I. (test – packages are for I. No, packages are for me.)
1. Correct grammar is required (except in the case of dialogue in dialect).
2. Correct sentence and grammatical mechanics are needed. This point means correct subject/verb agreement, correct sentence structure, correct pronoun reference and usage, sentence variety, etc.
3. Correct spelling is a MUST. Correct spelling includes using correct words in context. Words that sound the same but are spelled differently are misspelled if the wrong word is used: For example, they're, their, and there mean completely different things.
4. Correct punctuation is important to avoid confusion.
IF a person wants to be a REAL writer, he/she must know grammar to be considered professional. Therefore, if you don’t have a good grasp of grammar and all of its subtexts, learn. Find a good easy-to-understand book of grammar and read it, refer to it, and use the knowledge inside it. Find websites with grammar lessons and information.
Grammar has much to do with good writing. Josh Price for Writing Studio, May 1, 2021, states: “Grammar ensures everything you write is clear; good grammar makes your writing sound professional, which gives it authority; good grammar allows your writing to be more persuasive and competitive; and you express yourself better with better grammar.”
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