Is it worth taking the time to learn grammar for new writers? Today, you have so many online tools to correct, rewrite, and even auto-generate text, so why bother?
But writing is more than simply being correct. It’s about developing your style, voice, and clarity and learning what works with your readers.
The best way to achieve this is to have a basic understanding of grammar, but you don’t need to be an expert.
All you need are the basics that will allow you to control and improve your writing.
Why bother learning grammar?
Grammar is to writing what recipes are to cooking.
When you know about the ingredients and techniques, you can cook better.
The same goes for grammar and writing. The more you understand about the building blocks of language, the better you will write.
But don’t worry about trying to learn everything. However, if you are curious, you can add a little to your knowledge almost every day.
It might sound strange, but when I was studying to become an English teacher, I was concerned about the depth of my grammar knowledge.
One of my tutors gave me a great piece of advice.
“Don’t worry. Your students will teach you!”
It was true because, during my first couple of years of teaching, it was questions from my students and marking their assignments that helped me improve my grammar knowledge at a rapid pace.
The same is true for writing, as long as you are willing to ask yourself questions.
The more you write, the more mistakes you make, the more errors you fix, the more you will learn.
What is grammar?
Grammar is a set of rules governing how we use language and construct sentences.
In essence, grammar defines the proper order of words and the relationships between them.
It also gives you guidance for the correct use of elements like nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions.
For example, you capitalize nouns when you start a sentence.
Another is that when you use prepositions, they are always followed by nouns or pronouns.
Grammar also includes some other general guiding elements.
Syntax (sentence structure).
Morphology (word formation).
Grammar helps organize words and phrases into meaningful, coherent sentences for more effective communication.
Do you need to learn all of this? No, of course not.
However, taking the time to learn grammar at a basic level always helps new writers improve their writing skills.
What are the basics?
You probably know a lot already, so you’ll only need to brush up on a few grammar points.
But here are the five key aspects to always keep in mind.
Parts of speech: The different types of words you use, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
Sentence structure: The way you combine words to form sentences.
Punctuation: Use commas, periods, and question marks to help organize and clarify your writing.
Agreement: The words you use in a sentence should agree in number, gender, and case.
Usage: The correct use of words and phrases within a sentence.
Let’s look at some of these in more detail.
Here are what I believe are the most essential grammar points for new writers to master.
1. Subject-verb agreement
This is usually very easy to get right.
The dog barks whenever someone comes to the door. (Singular)
The dogs bark whenever someone comes to the door. (Plural)
My manager was not much help. (Singular)
My managers were not much help. (Plural)
But some subjects can sometimes be more challenging to get right.
One is with entities, groups, or teams. In this case, the correct verb agreement is singular.
My team are winning! (Incorrect)
My team is winning! (Correct)
Neither-nor sentences can also be problematic. Look at these two examples.
Neither the boss nor the employees seem satisfied with the situation.
Neither the employees nor the boss seems satisfied with the situation.
As you can see, the correct agreement can change depending on the order and number of the subjects.
2. Pronoun-antecedent agreement
Check that a pronoun agrees in number and gender with its antecedent, which is often the subject of a sentence.
Here are two quick examples.
The cat chased its tail. (Singular agreement)
The cats chased their tails. (Plural agreement)
We use commas to separate independent clauses, items in a series, and nonessential information.
While there are a lot of comma rules, even for names, most of them are easy to learn.
The only one that causes confusion is the Oxford or Serial comma. It is the comma before the last item in a list.
Some style guides recommend using it, while others say no.
It’s up to you to decide, but then to make sure you are consistent in your use.
4. Understanding parallelism
Parallelism in grammar is using similar grammatical structures in a sentence or phrase to create balance and emphasis.
You can use it to join two or more words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.
Words: She ran quickly and quietly.
Phrases: He ate breakfast, grabbed his coat, and ran for the bus.
Clauses: I like to swim, play tennis, and sing.
Sentences: The cat jumped on the table, knocked over the vase, and ran away.
Errors with parallelism occur when you mix structures.
She likes to swim, running, and dancing.
The verb forms are not parallel. Swim is the infinitive form, while running and dancing are gerund forms.
5. Active voice
Identifying the grammar structure of the passive voice will help you find it and change it to the active voice.
When you use active voice, it makes writing more concise and forceful.
Of all the grammar points in my list, this is the big one for new writers to master.
Passive sentences are usually less engaging for readers because they don’t know who or what is actively performing the action.
The meeting was canceled at the last minute.
In the phrase above, we don’t know who canceled the meeting.
A quick fix would be to add the operator, by. However, it makes the sentence much longer than necessary.
The meeting was canceled at the last minute by the managing director.
The best solution is almost always to use active voice.
The managing director canceled the meeting at the last minute.
Now, the sentence is clear, direct, less wordy, and informative.
6. Identifying adverbs
Adverbs are a necessary part of grammar. We use them to describe verbs in a similar way to how we use adjectives to describe nouns.
I walked past a store in the high street and noticed an unusual teapot.
In this example, past is the adverb, which is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
But too many adverbs can dilute a piece of writing. Stephen King called them weeds.
You usually find them directly after a verb; however, this is not always the case. You can see how adverbs can move in these examples.
I very quickly ran to the store.
I ran to the store very quickly.
Very quickly, I ran to the store.
In most instances, you can remove an adverb by using a stronger verb.
I dashed to the store.
When you learn to identify adverbs, you can easily make changes to improve your writing.
You don’t need to aim to be a grammarian.
All you need is a basic understanding of some of the critical elements in grammar.
For new writers, taking the time to learn grammar is a step-by-step process. You won’t do it in one day.
The best way is to want to learn and stay curious about grammatical elements that can improve your writing.
Yes, use all the online tools at your disposal, but learn from them.
Before you do a one-click correction, take a moment to analyze why.
Online writing correctors are not 100% accurate, so it’s up to you to make the right decisions.
I use Grammarly a lot, but I only accept around 60-70% of its suggestions because many are either wrong or inappropriate.
For new writers, when you take the time to learn a little about grammar, it helps put you in charge of your writing.
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