National Grammar Day

It’s National Grammar Day here in the fantastic United States of America. Are you as excited about that as I am? No? Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to be. But I am super-duper excited!

I thought long and hard about what to write about for this celebratory day but I couldn’t find the right angle. So instead, I’ll just share some random thoughts.

To start with, you’ve maybe noticed that Just Frances is not written in my best ‘grammar-ific’ style. I try to keep it all very conversational here—and that means run-on sentences as well as incomplete ones. It also means that I start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions. And I don’t care!

My decision to write in such an informal manner came as I thought about my audience. Not that I think my audience can’t handle full-on formal writing, but because my audience is family and friends so ‘casual conversation’ just seemed more fitting. Plus that, I’ve been accused of being a language and grammar snob for quite some time, so I thought I’d leave that to my professional life and my linguist forums and blogs where people love my wordsnobbery.

Of course, the awesome thing about being oh-so-casual-and-conversational here is that I can say things like ‘wordsnobbery’. Which is cool. (See, I did more of that casual stuff by starting a sentence with which. This is fun!)

[A note about my professional life for those who care: I am a communications professional and get paid to write and edit. Yes, believe it or not, I really do! I love my job and I love linguistics in general. But this, as I said, is my personal blog so I’m keepin’ it casual. Yay!]

Blah, blah, blah… Let’s move on now.

For a while, I thought about writing about the differences between American and British English. But then I realized that no one who reads my blog probably cares about the differences. So then I thought that, at the very least, I should point out that I’ve decided to work toward[s] incorporating more and more British English into Just Frances—in the form of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as idioms and word usage. Of course, this just means that I probably seem quite illiterate to some folks. And that’s OK. (My decision to do that is so that I can brush up on the language before I move back over this summer.)

Oh! And I guess that I should devote a paragraph to my mantra about English being a living language. The basic idea is that the rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation that we use now are not what we used 100 years ago and aren’t what we’ll use in another 100 years. Our language has evolved—and will continue to evolve—forever.

At best, our language is a theory. However, there are certainly rules and best practices in place that should be adhered to. But you can fudge that, too. I mean, I don’t follow all of the rules here and that’s OK. But I wouldn’t dare write like this at work or for any official business. There’s a time and a place to break the rules, after all. So, txt spk on the net all u wnt. However, please refrain from the use of non-standard English when preparing your monthly reports for your manager.

And now, I’m sure you have a stack of sentences you want to diagram and infinitives you want to split, so I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts:

The old rule ‘I before E except after C’ is a lie. There are too many exceptions for it to be a rule. So please stop teaching it to your children.

It is acceptable to use an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma). You just need to use it consistently and in accordance to the style guide approved by your industry or organisation.

And finally, check out some fun language books such as:

Happy National Grammar Day to you!

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4 thoughts on “National Grammar Day

  1. I am going to be a bit mean and say that the US really is in need of a “grammar awareness” day of some sort…

    Concerning the Oxford comma: It is not merely acceptable, but should be positively recommended. There are odd cases when it does more harm than good (and where it, consequently, should be left out), but in the majority it reduces ambiguities and leads to better logic.

    Concerning living language: I wrote a piece on a similar topic a few weeks ago that might interest you. ( http://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/on-language-change-prescriptive-and-descriptive-grammar-and-related-issues/ )

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your feedback. I don’t want to be argumentative by any means, because I do agree that the US needs to improve their grammar instruction, but I have to come to their defence and say that, at least, there tends to be more consistency in US grammar use than in some other English-speaking nations. (Yes, UK, I’m talking to you!)

      I am a huge fan of the Oxford comma and try to convince others of its greatness. Sadly, it seems to be less in favour in the UK where I am returning later this summer so I will need to work on using it less. However, you can bet that I will use it every chance I get!!

      I’ll have to check out your living language post. The topic interests me greatly!

      Happy grammar-ing!

    • It seems that, more and more, the international language of business is American English. It must be extremely difficult for non-native English speakers who learn to speak UK English first–like most of Europe!!

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