Friday, August 04, 2006

Grammar and Usage and Stuff Part III: Not Everyone Shares My Anxiety

I actually studied grammar when I was in sixth and seventh grade or so. Of course, I also studied geometry and algebra in high school, though you'd never know it now. In fact, when I was young I'd probably put grammar in the same category with geometry and algebra--they were all total mysteries to me, and I really couldn't see the point. After all, though grammar slid right off me, I thought I was quite the writer.

When I was young, I really didn't believe I needed to know anything.

By the time I got to college, though, I wasn't quite so confident. I was a pretty decent English student (in an average sort of way), but I was beginning to worry about my lack of knowledge of grammar. I can't remember if I just thought an educated person ought to know it or if I was concerned about the quality of my writing. But when I was informed that I needed to take a grammar course to fulfill some kind of requirement (I was an English major within a college of education), I was fine with it. I was ready to learn grammar.

Unfortunately, the course was on transformational grammar. Wish I could tell you what that is. Really, I don't think I understood anything that went on in that classroom, and, therefore, I got a D in the course. I was devastated. A D in my major area!

After college I had an awful job at The University of Connecticut. While there, I took a half-semester course on grammar. Now that course was a revelation. I had been under the impression that every single word in the English language was a particular part of speech and that each word and its part of speech must be memorized. Any fool could see that was a hopeless task. But what I learned in that mini-course was that you didn't have to memorize each word's part of speech. Instead, you learned to recognize the word's function in a sentence. That was how you could tell what part of speech it was.

This seemed much easier to me and helped to compensate for the fact that many words can function as more than one part of speech. I didn't have to memorize all the different words and their (possibly) multiple parts of speech because I could work it out according to how the word was used in the sentence.

That was somewhat naive of me, but it was progress.

So, anyway, I have a long history of grammar anxiety, which was what led me to buy Word Court a number of years ago and to actually start reading it this summer.

However, in talking about the book I've found that other productive members of society don't share my anxiety about grammar. For instance, a young relative told me recently that he doesn't know what a predicate is. And my computer guy claims that he knows what nouns and verbs are, but he's kind of iffy about adjectives.

You're not going to see me throwing my hands up and shouting, "What's this world coming to?" over this because the young relative just made dean's list at a fairly competitive private college and Computer Guy has a master's degree as well as some kind of graduate certificate in graphical user interface. (Perhaps like transformational grammar but for computers?) They seem to be getting along quite well and I'm guessing they never give grammar a thought.

Yet, I can't let my grammar worries go. Today I read about absolute adjectives in Word Court. I'd never heard of the things before, and I can't say I've suffered as a result. But I'm clinging to the hope that this new knowledge is going to take my writing to another level. Or at least make me appear to be a well-educated person.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Ha! And I spent yesterday obsessing over absolute phrases.