Head of the class
Author: Jennifer Van Buren

Why do we need grammar anyway?

The purpose of language is to communicate. Without proper grammar, writing can send a message that is unclear or incorrect. Some adults look at the language of the “Twitter and text generation” and fear the civilized world will crash (OMG!). The truth is there’s a time and a place for everything, including lazy grammar, and it is wise to not worry too much about the informal communication of youth as long as they are being taught how and when to use proper grammar. It is important for parents to understand the basic rules of grammar so that we can help when needed.

In our busy lives, it is impossible to be meticulous about every word we type, text or speak. However, even in a rushed email, there are some fundamental rules to follow.

1. Conjunctions vs. possessive pronouns: your, you’re, its, it’s
These mistakes are common among children and adults alike. Luckily, anyone who takes a moment to think can get it right. “You’re” is a conjunction for “you are” and “it’s” is the conjunction of “it is” or “it has.” If you can substitute “you are,” then use “you’re” not “your.” You will make a bad impression if you use “your” when you mean “you are.” Phew, did you get all that?

“It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has” and “its” is a possessive pronoun. “The dog chases its tail,” not, “The dog chases it is tail.”

2. There vs. their
“Their” is also a possessive pronoun. Use “their” if you can answer the question “Whose?” with “Theirs!” For example: “It is all their fault. Whose fault? Their fault!” “There” can be used in a number of ways, but never as a plural possessive pronoun.

3. Affect vs. effect
Even the most seasoned writer will take a moment to make sure she is getting this right. “Affect” is a verb, as in “Your ability to communicate clearly will affect your income potential.” “Effect” is a noun, as in “Educators note the effect of texting on the ability to communicate clearly.”

4. Then vs. than
Then is used in many ways, but than is used only in comparisons. If you’re comparing something use than, and if not, use then. What could be easier than that?

5. Could of, would of, should of?
While it may sound odd, always use could have, would have, and should have when writing. Ignore your teenager when she makes these mistakes while talking to her BFF, but if she makes the mistake on a term paper, be prepared to teach her a lesson on what she should of should have written.

Tom Clements, author of “How to Write a Killer SAT Essay…in 25 Minutes or Less!” gives survival tips designed to help students survive the grammar section of the SAT.

Level up! Here are a few more intricate rules that are a must when you need to present yourself as an intelligent, educated and capable person.

1. Matching pairs – subject/verb agreement
Matching singular subjects with singular verbs and plural subjects with plural verbs is easy if your sentence is simple.

I am, but we are. When a sentence becomes more complex, so does the question of subject/verb agreement. “The class of high school seniors (is/are) practicing for the SAT.” Take away the prepositional phrase and isolate the subject and verb it becomes clear. “The class is practicing.”

2. Comparison mismatch
When comparing two things, look carefully at what is being compared and determine if the comparison makes sense. For example, “The barbeque in Texas is better than Tennessee.” Barbeque (food) is compared to Tennessee (state). Corrected, the sentence reads, “The barbeque in Texas is better than the barbeque in Tennessee.”

3. Whose is it?
Pronouns are handy ways of substituting a short word for a longer word or subject. However, the pronoun must be identified or it will have no clear meaning.

“When Austin and Joey were watching the Super Bowl, he spilled the bowl of chips.” Who is “he?” A similar mistake can be made when the proper noun is used instead of a pronoun. “Joey likes football so much that Joey watches football every week. Austin says Joey would marry football if marrying football were legal in the state of Texas.”

4. Me, me, me!
Subject pronouns (I and we) never follow prepositions, instead, use I or us. This is one of those times when the right way kind-of sounds wrong. Just between you and me, sometimes “between you and I” may sound more correct, but it is not.

5. The dangling participle
Readers expect the opening phrase (participle) to modify what comes next. When it doesn’t, your writing may be confusing and you will not get your point across. Here is a classic example: After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought up the oranges. It has been my policy to “just say no” to produce delivered by decomposing brothers.

What else?
Punctuation rules tend to get complicated. Be prepared to do some research if you are unsure about the use of commas, parenthesis and the dreaded semi-colon. Used improperly, even a simple comma can cause confusion and perhaps giggles. “The panda eats, shoots and leaves” brings to mind a cold-hearted, gun-toting mammal instead of an adorable herbivore.

We have only scratched the surface of the topic of grammar. More than likely, everyone in your family could stand to brush up on grammar skills.

Three important things to remember:

Read it out loud. Read to yourself first, and then to someone else. Most mistakes will sound wrong even to the inexperienced author.

Know your audience, a.k.a. don’t call your teacher “dude.” It has always been an important skill to identify the appropriate language to use in different situations.
• Employer: Thank you for the kind
invitation. I look forward to seeing you at 6:00 p.m.
• Best friend: CU@6
• Son: At six, see you I will! 🙂 Yoda-Mama

Language evolves.

Language is a manmade system that is still being created. Like it or not, LOL is already in the Oxford dictionary (LOL: used to draw attention to a joke or amusing statement, or to express amusement.) Today, it is perfectly acceptable to use e.g, i.e. and etc., but think of how the earliest Latin teachers must have felt when their lazy youngsters stopped using exempli gratia, id est and etcetera. Shocking!

Jennifer VanBuren is a writer, mother and educator living in Georgetown, Texas.

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