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“Grammar, grammar, who cares?” people sometimes mumble. Well, you would be surprised at how many people do care. Don Ranley’s article on www.Ragan.com, titled “Seven Myths about Grammar,” touches on a few important points.

Grammar and punctuation are important because they serve as the “cement” that holds the bricks together. It might seem like an overwhelming collection of prescriptive rules, but there really are six or seven principles that are most important, and anyone who wants a two-page handout listing them can send me an e-mail at Ken@WritingWithClarity.com. And no, the rules haven’t changed, as people often say. The key principles of grammar have been in place for a few hundred years. What changes is the person giving you the advice. Many people are well-intentioned. They are trying to give you the right answer, but they often are recalling something they heard years ago. They don’t really understand the issue completely, and they haven’t looked it up.

We try to stay sharp about the key grammatical guidelines for two reasons: sentence clarity and our credibility. Every language has its grammar, its inherent structural rules, because those ensure that people understand each other when they communicate. And your credibility can plunge when readers or listeners notice conspicuous flaws that simply shouldn’t be there.

Relax. Grammar is not as difficult as people make it out to be. Yes, there are numerous guidelines, but this is not nuclear physics. Just keep looking things up, and you will commit the information to memory. That’s how we get better at things. Practice. Most people struggle with grammar and punctuation not because they are numb but because they don’t put in the effort to use resources (books or online sites) or ask colleagues who are knowledgeable about this sort of thing. Consequently, they continue to make the same embarrassing mistakes for years, even in important documents and resume cover letters. No one is suggesting that you commit yourself to a life of linguistics; just make a consistent effort.

The often-heard line, “People don’t care anymore anyway,” is a myth. Most people do wince at the sight of glaring errors, and you never know who the reader is. It might be someone who will influence your next career move. The person doesn’t need to know exactly what the grammatical problem is. If she simply knows intuitively that it’s a mistake, that’s all she needs to know.

2 Responses to “Gung-ho for Grammar”

  1. Sabi

    On a side note, you’ve misused the hyphen here: “Many people are well-intentioned.” The hyphen only is required when the adjective precedes the noun, never after. In this case, well is acting as an adverb. How are they intentioned? Well.

  2. Ken

    Thank you for your comment. Dictionaries, Webster’s New World and the American Heritage among them, list many two-word combinations that we hyphenate. Well-intentioned is one, and well-known, well-made, well-spoken, and well-preserved are others.

    The reason is that when we use certain words in combination for a long time (decades), we begin to say them quickly, almost as if they are one word. They have not been accepted into the language yet as one word, however, so we keep them separate but we join them with a hyphen. In some cases, we eventually drop the hyphen. For example, teenager and fundraising were hyphenated for generations, but within the last 10 years, they became one word.

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