2011-05-14

Grappling With Grammar

Welcome to the first post in my grammar series. If you’re like most people, when you hear the word “grammar” you wince, or get a headache, or just want to take a long nap. You may even think that grammar is a bunch of complex rules meant to confuse you or inhibit your creativity. Not me, I actually like grammar.

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably a writer, or you want to be. Words are your tools and grammar is the instruction manual that helps you use them. Language is how a writer spread ideas and information. The information we have to communicate may be complex and the ideas may be challenging. This puts a tremendous burden on the language. We need it to be clear and easy to understand, while at the same time it must communicate tone and nuance, color and texture, sound and rhythm. To do all this, the language must be correct. Correctness hinges on knowing grammar, the guidelines that help us select, link, and order words.

A one time, the word grammar meant the study of the entire field of literature. In the Middle Ages, grammatica was defined as the knowledge or study of Latin, but became synonymous with learning in general. To know grammatica was to be privy to all the knowledge of the learned class, including magic and astrology. In fact, grammar was sometimes used as a name for the occult sciences. The word glamour (which originally meant magic, enchantment, and spell) is a form of the word grammar.

Grammar is still, a very real sense, the study of magic. If a reader is transported by the written word, the sentence is like an enchantment. But if you’re the writer who struggled with those words, you know there’s no slight of hand involved. While the product may be magical, the process is hard work.

To ease you into the world of grammar, I’ll start with something easy. Conjunctions. Just like the song says, conjunctions connect words, phrases, and clauses. A conjunction can be very helpful in creating transitions of thought and maintaining rhythm and coherence.

Coordinating Conjunctions join words, phrases, and clauses of equal value. These conjunctions are: and, but, or, nor, for, yet, while, so.
They sang and danced all night.
Would you prefer to sing or dance tonight?
They did not sing but danced all night.
They decided to stop dancing, for their feet had become sore.

Correlative Conjunctions operate in pairs to connect words, phrases and clauses to provide balance.
The tree was as tall as the house.
He played not only jazz but also classical music.
We can neither walk nor ride to the picnic.
My vacation was both refreshing and exhausting.

Subordinating Conjunctions join sentence elements of unequal rank. They are: as, after, although, because, before, how, in order that, than, as if, since, that, though, unless, until, when, where, while. They’re most often used to join dependent clauses to independent clauses.
He whistled while he worked.
She has been unhappy because she left the city.
After having cleaned the house, she took a nap.
It had been a long time since she visited the zoo.




Next week, the dreaded COMMA!

4 comments:

Jack Edwards Poetry said...

Educational and entertaining post.

Jolene Perry said...

I SO remember that show! Too funny!
yeah, I've slowly learned a LOT about grammar as I've been writing. Not my favorite part, but I love how much better I feel about what I've written when I know people who critique won't have to waste (as much) time on grammar.

K.C. Woolf said...

Don't tell anyone, but I actually like grammar. ;-)

Thanks for doing this series, it's always a good reminder. :-)

graceunderpressure said...

Grammar Queen! Autographs available after the show, people.
"conjunction junction, what's your function?" do do biddly do bop bop..
:D :D