Consider the following quotation by Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of history’s most respected linguist-philosophers: “Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of language.” Consider also the compelling words of Isaac Babel, renowned journalist and cross-cultural voice of reason: “No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period anchored in just the right place.” What simple, but significant, truths emerge from the words of such thinkers? They compel us to confront the joys of a well-formulated sentence, of a well-constructed paragraph, or of a finely-honed essay, all of which are over-determined by the elements of grammar.
In what ways? – one might ask. Let us think of the structure of a house: each component - major and minor - must be properly sized and aligned for the edifice to take shape. Were the roof too small, it would not provide closure; were the doors on a slant, they would not open; were the floors unleveled, persons and objects would lack balance. In short, each part of the whole must conform so that the dwelling is solid and comfortable. Oddly enough, the construction of a home can be analogized to the structure of language: in both instances, parts must be properly formed and fitted, features must align, details must inhere. Once each constituent element is suitably forged, assembled and placed, the whole assumes new life.
English grammar can seem complex; even overwhelming at times, and it tends to distance many who must confront it. Yet, in fact, there is good news: grammar is a science, based on rules which, in turn, are based on formulae. Once one learns and practices the rules and the formulae (the scientific principles) on which grammatical structures are based, communication is more clear, more effective, more cogent. As such, your message and your voice become powerful instruments. It is therefore surely worth the time and study to learn, practice, and apply the formulae. Once you “own” them, they will be yours for life. Believe it or not, using grammatical structures precisely and accurately ultimately gives way to salient rewards. Those with whom you speak or to whom you write will capture the full sense of your thoughts; moreover, they will recognize and appreciate the care implicit in the formulations you put forth. Finally and significantly, they will respond in kind and with the respect that your communications merit.
English grammar embraces numerous categories, each of which is related, directly or indirectly, to all others. Some of the most essential and common categories, among many groups, are: the parts of speech (what are they? how do I identify them? once identified, how do I use them?); the placement or syntax of elements in a sentence (where does each component belong in context?); the agreement of verbs and other elements (are the various components in accord, in synch?); the proper choice of words - diction (which term is correct and in what form should it be?); the correct use of punctuation (how do I know where to place commas or apostrophes? what is the distinction between a colon and a semi-colon?); and coherence (are the structure and meaning clear? is my thought logically expressed?). Once these elements are mastered, sentences adopt meaning, and with a bit of effort, a verbal symphony of sorts can be created. Joan Didion, American novelist and journalist, implies just that when she notes: “One thing is for sure: grammar sings to those who listen; it governs even kings and yields untold power.”
Students at all levels will find useful guidelines and information on two well-designed websites: English Grammar and The Purdue Online Writing Lab. To engage in the study of English grammar is to embark upon an exciting journey. Once on your way, trained experts and accomplished professionals in language, linguistics and writing stand ready to accompany you. Let us set out on this odyssey together.
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