General Question

longgone's avatar

Do we need to teach grammar?

Asked by longgone (12779points) October 9th, 2013

I am not doubting the necessity of using correct grammar. When writing or speaking, however, I never consciously think about why a sentence sounds right. It is a feeling more than anything else.

I learned English at age eleven, never studying the correct grammar. Spanish and Italian, OTOH, I was taught in school – pretty unsuccessfully. I can piece together sentences, but that is all.

Instead of teaching concepts, wouldn’t it be more efficient to expose children to correct grammar, as early and thoroughly as possible?

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30 Answers

Neodarwinian's avatar

” Instead of teaching concepts, wouldn’t it be more efficient to expose children to correct grammar, as early and thoroughly as possible? ”

They don’t?

I think I remember being taught grammar in my grade school days ( catholic schooling ) but other things interested me much more than competence in English.

Yes, teach grammar, just don’t make it the number one priority in teaching. Having good grimmer is not even tested for when international comparisons of academic progress are made. Reading, science and math are the areas we lag so far behind in that it is a wonder we function as a nation.

syz's avatar

Good Lord, yes!

josie's avatar

Why should we know what each other are talking about. Grammar takes all of the creative fun out trying to be understood.

flo's avatar

Some grammar is is crucial. But is “A friend of my mother’s…” for example, correct grammar?

gailcalled's avatar


Brad Pitt is a friend of my mother’s niece.

A friend of my mother’s dog is running for local selectman.

Even though she is a friend of my mother’s best friend, she is not my friend.

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dgee's avatar

Of course, and it should start early. Some of the grandchildren here were never spoken in Baby Talk nor expected to repeat such. They understood basic English very young, and in an added benefit, did very well in school.
Most of this starts at home, before the child is in a school of any kind.

morphail's avatar

What is grammar? English children have already acquired the grammatical structure of English before they start school. However, I think explicit instruction in grammar can help with writing the standard language. And I don’t mean telling them “X is right, Y is wrong, never say or write Y.” I mean teaching them about register and dialect, when X is appropriate, and when Y is appropriate. Many teachers do this already

OneBadApple's avatar

Learning good grammar is like being taught good manners. Anyone can get by in life with having neither, but it will always be somewhat of a handicap when to others you sound or behave like you might have been brought up living behind the dumpster at Walmart….

LostInParadise's avatar

Knowing basic grammar is helpful in learning a foreign language. You should know the basic word classifications – noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction and preposition. Additionally, you should know enough about sentence structure to distinguish a direct object from an indirect object.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

We do need to teach grammar, but not necessarily in the way it’s being taught now or discussed here.
When a child is exposed to language she acquires its syntax more or less automatically. When the syntax is understood (however incompletely or incorrectly) the grammar rules can be constructed from it.
IMO it’s not terribly useful to teach prescriptive English grammar to native English speakers. It’s a special case of limited use.
We need to teach linguistics, and we need to start it as early as possible. Linguistics teaches about how languages are made, including formal languages. Kids growing up now need to learn about formal languages early and well, because they live in an increasingly computerized world and computers are defined and controlled by formal languages.
The Chomsky hierarchy alone is a bit of linguistic knowledge that can mean the difference between wasting time on an impossible task and doing the same task with trivial ease (see this video for some security-related examples.)
The problem is in breaking down a fairly complex field of knowledge so that it can be introduced to children. I’m glad I’m not a teacher…

JLeslie's avatar

Absolutely yes. I wish my grammar was better and part of the reason it is lacking is because I am around people who put together sentences so poorly. Over time I have forgotten some of the rules I once knew and now sometimes I am not sure what sounds right. When I took Spanish in school it helped me tons with my understanding of grammar in English. It kind of drove home lessons I had learned about my own language.

The lack of adverbs being used in the US today tells me people are relying on what sounds right instead of what is right. Having lived in many parts of the US also reinforces to me going by what sounds right does not work very well. Parts of the country seem to not add the suffix en onto verbs when needed.

Yes, we definitely need to teach grammar, verb conjugation, all parts of speech and writing.

gailcalled's avatar

it’s not just grammar but usage, punctuation, style, imagination, idiom, accuracy, vernacular and originality. You can be grammatically correct and still write the most boring, sophorific drivel known to man. We have many examples here, as we all well know.

One way to augment what you learn in English classes through the years is to read carefully and analyze why some writers are clear, interesting and original, and others seem to transfer the stream-of-consciousness from their brains directly to paper.

(Grammar includes conjugation and parts of speech; and we are overrun with missused adverbs; literally, actually, basically, hopefully , and like, to name just a few.)

Read a few of E.B. White’s, David Foster Wallace, (Oxford comma here) or Wm F. Buckley, Jr’s essays for examples

janbb's avatar

I’m not sure if we need to teach it but we sure as hell need to learn it!

I don’t remember much about how to diagram a sentence or the more obscure parts of speech, but from having learned it and particularly from reading, reading and more reading my English is now intuitively good.

JLeslie's avatar

@gailcalled Why not just put @jleslie where you are correcting me or taking issue with what I wrote? My response to you is sentences like (I do overuse the word like): I take it personal, walk home safe, she ran quick. Misused (I think you spelled that incorrectly) adverbs are another category worth thinking about though.

morphail's avatar

Prescriptive rules about “misused” adverbs like literally, hopefully etc. are opinions, and not part of the facts of English. Students could be taught that these opinions exist, but they should also be taught the facts: the reason for prescribing against these words is not grammatical, but social.

gailcalled's avatar

edit: ‘misused’

gailcalled's avatar

@morphail; It is an interesting idea to consider why we enjoy reading some writers and not others. Are you equating social with the accepted convention? Without prescriptiveness, wouldn’t we have a lot of sloppy, hard-to-understand and uninteresting prose? Is that what I meant when I mentioned that grammar and usage are separate issues?

“Literally,” “actually,” and “basically” have useful meanings in many cases but in others are only white noise or just a need to give the engine a little more juice. Should we differentiate?

(For the moment, I will leave out the accepted difference between “I hope” and “hopefully.” That is no longer a debate worth having although I still see them has serving different purposes.)

morphail's avatar

By “social” I meant that some usage writers have decided that a certain usage is wrong, in opposition to how the usage is actually used. The prescription has nothing to do with grammar or history, it’s a way to enforce social norms: use language my way, or people will think you’re stupid. And sometimes those usage writers are influential enough that they can’t be ignored.

“Without prescriptiveness, wouldn’t we have a lot of sloppy, hard-to-understand and uninteresting prose?”
Not necessarily. Some of the best works of English literature were written during a time when there were no dictionaries or grammar books.

Grammar and usage are separate issues, but you explicitly grouped literally and hopefully under grammar. There’s no grammatical reason why figurative literally is wrong. It’s undergone a completely normal semantic shift that has also happened to really, actually, very. It’s been used since the 1760s by well-regarded writers, who presumably knew what they were doing. Any cases of confusion are very rare, if they exist at all. The fact that the peevers are able to point out when literally is “wrong” is evidence that there’s nothing confusing about it.

I sometimes feel that by looking at how the language is actually used instead of how someone thinks it should be used, I’m understood as saying “anything goes.” Like because I accept literally as meaning “figuratively”, I therefore would accept any random change I could think of, like say apple to mean banana. But that’s ridiculous. I do think that in determining what the rules of English are, we should examine the relevant evidence. That is, how do the writers and speakers of English actually use the language? If writers use a certain construction, and it’s generally understood, and it’s sufficiently long-lived, I don’t see how it can be ungrammatical. It could be unstylish or silly-sounding in some contexts, sure. But it’s clearly part of English.

gailcalled's avatar

@morphail: Thank you. I really enjoy reading your take on these issues. However, I am stuffed full of opiates now after knee surgery so don’t dare attempt to respond, speaking of unstylish or silly-sounding.

But I do remember very clearly a moment when I was in my teens and picked up a copy of
The New Yorker, which my parents subscribed to. After reading most of the articles, the Talk of the Town, the movie, theater and book reviews, I had (felt, discovered?) what Joyce called a quiddity. I discovered then and there the power of language in a way that has provided me pleasure all my life.

morphail's avatar

@gailcalled I hope you don’t feel like I’m denigrating your love of language or something. I love well-written prose too, and it’s precisely because I love language that I care about accuracy when we talk about language.

I love Joyce. He used figuratively literally.
“Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding out of Prince’s stores and bumped them up on the brewery float. On the brewery float bumped dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted draymen out of Prince’s stores.”

gailcalled's avatar

^^ No one actually (heh) reads Finnegan, does he? (If that’s not from Finnegan, I will blame the drugs I am taking)

I still reread Ulysses and Joyce’s love letters to Nora Barnacle, however.

And no, I feel no denigration whatsoever.

janbb's avatar

I have read Finnegan numerous times – unfortunately the same first page and a half.

My brother spent a semester studying it in college.

gailcalled's avatar

Ditto for me, only it was the first sentence:

”... riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend
of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to
Howth Castle and Environs.”

I have a college classmate who spent a year on it with her book club.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes. Advanced English requires knowledge of grammar rules, even for native speakers. It’s the same for other languages too. Feel for language is good enough, when you sell burgers at McDonalds.

flo's avatar

@gailcalled The 1st and 3rd sentences I have no problem with. I was thinking about this example:
No need for the ‘s in A friend of my mother’s is coming over for dinner._since there is already _of
A friend of my mother is coming over. flawless.

Is the selectman friends with the dog in ”A friend of my mother’s dog is running for local selectman.”?

longgone's avatar

Thanks for your input.
@OneBadApple That’s true, I wouldn’t question the need to learn grammar.
@JLeslie “Sometimes I am not sure what sounds right” Excellent point.
@LostInParadise You’re right, foreign language classes depend heavily on a basic understanding of grammar. I don’t think that is a very good approach, though.
@janbb and @rexacoracofalipitorius I agree.
@morphail and @gailcalled I enjoyed your discussion, thanks.

SamSingh's avatar

Yes, according to me, Grammar rule should be known to everyone if we are using it in our day today life. I noticed it sometimes that many people want to learn English and speak English but they dont want to learn about basic rule of English grammar that make them advanced in English. It would be good to learn grammar rule to get good grip on English language.

janbb's avatar

Yes, it would.

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