Four Big Reasons Why Grammar Matters
I have spent the last couple of weeks working on a series of edits for my forthcoming debut novel, Hot Voodoo. I would consider myself to have a pretty good grasp of spelling and grammar but some of the mistakes picked up by the editor left me red in the face.The question is in these days of text speak and computerised spellchecking does grammar, punctuation and spelling really matter?
Yes - poor grammar or spelling can alter the intended meaning of a message
I lost all respect for a senior leader in my organisation recently when he asked his team to “bare with him” through some changes. True story. If we had taken that request literally the office could have looked like a nudist colony at ten thirty on a Monday.
The only thing that I can remember about that message is the appalling error in his choice of words. Imagine that you made an error like that in a job application or a query letter? The contents of the letter will be long forgotten even while people are still laughing at you.
IS supporters made a similar blunder last week when a supporter threatened to “throw homosexuals off the leaning tower of pizza.” The tweet went viral and was ridiculed worldwide due to the mis-spelling of the name of the city of Pisa. A really funny mistake has the potential to spread across the world in mere minutes.
Yes – a good idea can be eclipsed by poor execution
Think about your novel. It might be the best idea since sliced bread but if the first paragraph makes a publisher wince the chances of him or her reading on are slim. Nobody expects you to be able to self-edit and for that reason there are people who specialise in this technical area. Nevertheless you should have a reasonable grasp of punctuation and grammar in the first place so that the underlying story and characters have a chance to shine.
If you want to send your novel out to a publisher or agent do have a friend read it over before you hit “send.” No matter how many times you have looked it over yourself there will always be things that you miss that somebody else will pick up. You don't need that person to have qualifications, a regular reader should pick up any glaring errors.
Bear in mind that whilst good grammar and punctuation is invisible, the bad stuff really does stick out from the page like a sore thumb.
Yes - you have to know the rules to subvert them
“I am literally dying.” Oh my, I hear you say, call the doctor. Except that you never batted an eyelid because the word literally is so misused this has become an accepted use of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary even gives one of the meanings of literally as “used for emphasis rather than being actually true.”
There is an argument that this usage originated from deliberately using it in the wrong way for dramatic effect. Rubbish. Having heard the word misused constantly over the last few years I am pretty sure that some people have no idea what literally means. To subvert something means having an understanding of the rules. For example Weird Al's parodies are so good because he understands the cliches of certain genres, such as rap music, and subverts them for comedy value. Subversion for comic effect should be the exception to the rule rather than the norm.
Yes - if Weird Al is singing about grammar then it must be mainstream
One of my favourite Weird Al parodies is Word Crimes, an irreverent take on the modern use of grammar set to the tune of Robin Thicke's 2014 superhit Blurred Lines. When the man who has parodied everybody from Lady Gaga to Chamillionaire sings about apostrophes and quotation marks then you know that the importance of grammar and punctuation is creeping back into popular culture.
Anecdotally the tide seems to be changing from acceptance of informal or shortform communication to an expectation of formality. For example Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, was in the news recently for saying that low-rate taxpayers were “literally living in a different galaxy.” The press latched onto the misuse of literally whilst largely ignoring the political point that he was trying to make. Neither the press nor a publisher will forgive a notable faux pas.
Getting it wrong....
Despite our best intentions with so many modes of communication available to us it is exceptionally hard to ensure one hundred percent accuracy. Whilst we can try our best in reality we all make mistakes and if you see any glaring ones in this post feel free to post a comment and shame me!
Iona Brodie writes fiction with a twist of mythology and the paranormal set in Scotland. Her first published novella, Dark Waters of the Heart, is firmly targeted at adults. Her debut novel Hot Voodoo, due out in Spring 2015, is aimed at young adults.
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Website and blog: www.ionabrodie.co.uk