Just How Important Is Grammar?

I honestly didn’t think that I would be asking this question today, but an article published by The Wall Street Journal caught me off guard. Titled “This Embarrasses You and I“, the article highlights the degradation of grammar in the workplace, leading to supposedly disastrous results.

You all probably know by now that I am a stickler for grammar, but you also ought to know that I can be flexible. I have always been a strong believer in context and purpose. In some cases, I will not settle for less than prescriptive grammar. In others, I tolerate (even engage in) the use of descriptive grammar.

So what is the article all about? I think the entire point can be found in one paragraph:

Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

Is there anything wrong with managers fighting this epidemic? I think not. In a professional setting, I say it’s better to err on the side of caution rather than be worried about stepping on toes (of those who may not be particular about grammar).

Then again, it all depends on the setting and the nature/purpose of the communication.

After reading the article a couple of times and mulling its content over, I came to the conclusion that I maintain my position about flexibility and context. However, I also have to say that there are non-negotiables when it comes to grammar. I can think of two right now.

Verb tenses

Whether you are writing/speaking in a professional setting or not, I believe verb tenses are building blocks. You just need to get them right. Sure, you may slip up with the more complicated tenses now and then, but at least get the simple ones right: simple past, simple present, and simple future. That’s not such a difficult thing to do, yes?

Subject-verb agreement

This is another basic grammar point that I value highly. Unfortunately, once you get beyond the simple structures, subject-verb agreement can get quite tricky. Remember the slip up a Washington Post writer made earlier this year? (See my post here: Who’s Who and the Blues)

Making that mistake is understandable, although it should be caught upon proofreading – something which we should all do.

Now let me ask you. How important is correct grammar for you? Do you agree with my position, or do you think I am being too lax? Or maybe you have your own non-negotiables that you want to share with us?

Image via Project Space Spare Room





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