Grammatically correct writing

Plenty of people will tell you that grammar, spelling and punctuation are unimportant; that the only thing that matters is the fact you communicate.

But that’s a contradiction, or at least very close to one.

If grammar, spelling and punctuation are incorrect, it makes it very hard for the reader to understand what it is you’re trying to say. At best it’s ambiguous, at worst unintelligible. So where’s the communication?

Ok, let’s take a look at the basic building blocks of the English language. This should help you construct a sentence that everyone can understand.

They are Nouns, Verbs, Pronouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, Conjunctions, Prepositions and Interjections.

In the next post we will look at what each one means and, more particularly, what each one does.

English is a worldwide language

If you are reading this comfortably, you could be one of the 375 million people worldwide who speak English as their first or main language. Just think of the countries that includes –

United Kingdom
Ireland
USA
much of Canada
Australia
New Zealand
South Africa

There are many other smaller countries and I apologise to those I have unintentionally excluded. Add in those people who speak some English and you are well over the 1,000 million mark. That’s close to one in every five people on the planet who can speak some English.

Good English uses short, simple words not long or obscure ones; simple sentences, not convoluted paragraphs. Good English means plain English: a way to communicate an opinion clearly so the reader understands exactly what we are trying to say. It’s not just for the people who speak English as their first language; it’s for everyone who aspires to read, write and speak our mother tongue.

The English language is rich in vocabulary, yet new words are invented every day. Consider this:

French has 35,000 words;
Latin has 45,000;
German boasts more than 140,000;

So how many words do you think there are in the English language? Go on – have a guess!

You’re miles out. It’s more than 700,000 words.

That’s why there’s so much beautiful literature. Once you have even a basic command of the language, you find your vocabulary expanding daily. It’s rich in synonym and metaphor.

The English and Americans are constantly chiding each other for their spelling and pronunciation. Think of labor, color, apologize and analyze, then labour, colour, apologise and analyse … two countries separated by a common language.

But the important thing is communication, getting our ideas simply and accurately into other people’s minds.

Language is the medium and communication the goal.

Good English – why bother?

The purpose of words

Words are just raw materials; but what a difference the hand of the craftsman can make!

Just as the skilful carpenter creates a work of art by his craftsmanship and selection of tools, so the trained writer turns simple words into magnificent sentences by a careful choice of shape, rhythm, weight and balance.

And just as the beautiful furniture has a practical use – whether as a table you eat off or a chair you sit on – so too have the sentences, in conveying their creator’s meaning.

Communication

Whenever we write, we do so for a purpose. Whether to inform or entertain, to instruct or request, our mission is to get an idea as exactly as possible out of our mind and into someone else’s.

Consider this sentence (a real-life example):

“You, as a driver, due to the ongoing petrol shortage situation, are requested not to travel more than is absolutely necessary, in order to reduce the amount of petrol consumed by yourself”

then compare it with this:

“Petrol is in short supply so please use it sparingly.”

Or of course there is the famous wartime advertising slogan:

“Is your journey really necessary?”

Keep it simple: use short familiar words and obey common grammatical rules. Your reader will be far more impressed by your ability to send a plain message unambiguously than by a stream of long, obscure, Latin-root words, some of which you don’t understand and may, therefore, have used incorrectly.

Style

Apologists for the decline in present-day educational standards, especially in the field of literacy, claim that as long as the reader understands exactly what the writer intends, then poor spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure count for nothing.

Whilst this claim has its appeal, at least in so far as it recognises that the ultimate goal is communication, it loses all attraction when any test of style is applied. It’s all about focus, balance and aesthetics.

In literary style, less is usually more.