The Point of Grammar
At school one morning, during a lesson on epithets, Paloma is startled by her teacher’s observation that “the point of grammar” is “to make us speak and write well.”
I thought I would have a heart attack there and then. I have never heard anything so grossly inept. And by that, I don’t mean it’s wrong, just that it is grossly inept. To tell a group of adolescents who already know how to speak and write that that is the purpose of grammar is like telling someone that they need to read a history of toilets through the ages in order to pee and poop. It is utterly devoid of meaning! If she had shown us some concrete examples of things we need to know about language in order to use it properly, well, okay, why not, that would be a start. . . . We already knew how to use and conjugate a verb long before we knew it was a verb. And even if knowing can help, I still don’t think it’s something decisive.
Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty. When you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you’ve said or read or written a fine sentence. You can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style. But when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. When you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together, see it quite naked, in a way. And that’s where it becomes wonderful, because you say to yourself, “Look how well-made this is, how well-constructed it is! How solid and ingenious, rich and subtle!” I get completely carried away just knowing there are words of all different natures, and that you have to know them in order to be able to infer their potential usage and compatibility. I find there is nothing more beautiful, for example, than the very basic components of language, nouns and verbs. When you’ve grasped this, you’ve grasped the core of any statement. It’s magnificent, don’t you think? Nouns, verbs . . .
Grammar lessons have always seemed to me a sort of synthesis after the fact and, perhaps, a source of supplemental details concerning terminology. Can you teach children to speak and write correctly through grammar if they haven’t had the illumination that I had? Who knows. . . .
What Are Inflections in English Grammar?
A process of word formation in which items are added to the base form of a word to express grammatical meanings. Adjective: inflectional. Inflections in English include the genitive ‘s; the plural -s; the third-person singular -s; the past tense -d, -ed, or -t; the negative particle ‘nt; -ing forms of verbs; the comparative -er; and the superlative -est.
Examples and Observations:
“Inflections are morphemes that signal the grammatical variants of a word; the inflectional -s at the end of ideas indicates that the noun is plural; the inflectional -s at the end of makes indicates that the verb is the third person singular, so that we say she makes but I make and they make. In addition, some affixes signal the part of speech to which a word belongs: the prefix -en in enslave converts the noun slave into a verb, and the suffix -ize converts the adjective modern into the verb modernize.”
“Word endings can also be inflections, which indicate categories such as tense, person and number. The inflection -ed can change a verb from present to past tense (walk/walked), and the inflection -s can indicate third person singular concord with a subject. But inflections do not change the word class. Walk and walked are both verbs.”
Word Stems and Inflections
“Inflections are used then to give us more grammatical information about words. They can be used to indicate singular or plural–what is sometimes known as number–and to indicate tense. They can also be used to indicate other features . . .. When considering inflections, it can . . . be helpful to use the notion of stem. A stem is what remains of a word when any inflections are removed from it. In other words, inflections are added to the stem of a word. So frogs is made up of the stem frog and the inflection
20 Quick Tips for Business and Technical Writers
1. Allow adequate time to plan, write, rewrite, and edit your document.
2. Know your topic thoroughly.
3. Identify your specific purpose for writing–and write to achieve that purpose.
4. Keep your audience in mind from start to finish: adopt the “you attitude.”
5. Present information clearly and accurately.
6. Use concrete examples to clarify important concepts.
7. Define unfamiliar technical terms and avoid needless jargon.
8. Use the active voice and passive voice appropriately.
9. Avoid excessive nominalization (long strings of nouns).
10. Begin paragraphs with main points; don’t bury key ideas in the middle.
11. Use imperative sentences when giving instructions.
12. Use meaningful headings and subheadings to highlight your organizational plan and guide your readers.
How to Writing Effectively on the Job
In almost every profession these days, effective communication is a critical skill. At least that’s what managers, recruiters, and career counselors keep telling us. In fact, effective communication is a combination of critical skills, and here are 10 articles that will show you how to improve them.
Tips on How to Write a Professional Email
Despite the popularity of texting and social media, email remains the most common form of written communication in the business world–and the most commonly abused. Too often email messages snap, growl, and bark–as if being concise meant that you had to sound bossy. Not so. Consider this email message recently sent to all staff members on a large university campus:
Tips for Improving Online Writing
Most online reading is actually skimming and scanning. So to grab and hold our readers’ attention, we can’t afford to waste words. The trick to writing lean on our blogs and websites is to keep the meaning and cut the rest. Here’s how.
1. Create meaningful titles, headings, and subheads
2. Lead with your main point.
3. Keep paragraphs short.
4. Turn any series into a bulleted or numbered list.
5. Put items in a list in parallel form.
Using Sentence Fragments Effectively
Most writing handbooks insist that incomplete sentences–or fragments–are errors that need to be corrected. As Toby Fulwiler and Alan Hayakawa say in The Blair Handbook (Prentice Hall, 2003), “The problem with a fragment is its incompleteness. A sentence expresses a complete idea, but a fragment neglects to tell the reader either what it is about (the subject) or what happened (the verb)” (p. 464). In formal writing, the proscription against using fragments often makes good sense.
Fragments of Thought
Midway through J. M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace (Secker & Warburg, 1999), the main character experiences shock as the result of a brutal attack at his daughter’s house. After the intruders leave, he attempts to come to terms with what has just occurred:
t happens every day, every hour, every minute, he tells himself, in every quarter of the country. Count yourself lucky to have escaped with your life. Count yourself lucky not to be a prisoner in the car at this moment, speeding away, or at the bottom of a donga with a bullet in your head. Count Lucy lucky too. Above all Lucy.
Narrative and Descriptive Fragments
In Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers (1837), rascally Alfred Jingle tells a macabre tale that today would probably be labeled an urban legend. Jingle relates the anecdote in a curiously fragmented fashion:
“Heads, heads–take care of your heads!” cried the loquacious stranger, as they came out under the low archway, which in those days formed the entrance to the coach-yard. “Terrible place–dangerous work–other day–five children–mother–tall lady, eating sandwiches–forgot the arch–crash–knock–children look round–mother’s head off–sandwich in her hand–no mouth to put it in–head of a family off–shocking, shocking!”
ingle’s narrative style calls to mind the famous opening of Bleak House (1853), in which Dickens devotes three paragraphs to an impressionistic description of a London fog: “fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck.” In both passages, the writer is more concerned with conveying sensations and creating a mood than in completing a thought grammatically.