A grammar lesson, or is it usage?

July 23, 2008 | No comments yet

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By: Dennis Bates

I am one of those people who studied English grammar, diagrammed sentences, memorized the definitions of the parts of speech and actually liked it. Hey, some people like being a dentist too, so don’t run away.


I have to admit that I have forgotten a lot over the years, and some things have changed slightly. For one thing, I can’t remember if these are rules of grammar or if they are just usage issues. I don’t really care, just so you know. I know that there are modifiers that dangle and often get misplaced. In the latter case, I say just go find them and quit the whining. I also know that there are antecedents that get confused (who doesn’t these days), and phrases that participle, although I’m not certain they can do that in Christian writing circles until the very last page of the book, and then only if they are married.


One of my favorite phrases is past pluperfect participle just because I like the way it sounds when you say it. I know it has something to do with being past perfect, but other than that, I couldn’t tell you what it really means with any degree of accuracy.


That doesn’t make me a bad person; it just makes me someone who frequently says things without knowing what they really mean just because I like saying them. Maybe that’s why I was a lawyer in a past life. In that profession it doesn’t matter what you say all that much as long as you sound convincing and make what you’re saying sound good. Or was that well? It’s a fragment; yes, I know that.


The most interesting thing about writing these days is that many of the rules have been relaxed significantly in most circles. I don’t know if that’s because people don’t know them anymore or just plain don’t care. It doesn’t really matter. The rules are only used these days to point out that I know something you don’t know, and, therefore, you must be inferior.


How sad. I loved those parts of speech and looked forward to diagramming sentences. How else can you tell a predicate nominative from a predicate adjective and a direct object from one that isn’t so direct? Did you know that prepositions have objects and you can tell easily what they are by diagramming the sentence in which they appear?


Sentences have subjects and predicates; sometimes the subject can be a phrase but only if the phrase comes from the right family and promises to behave, and sentences can be compound, complex, or just plain simple. I find that fascinating, but then, I’m a little old school in a lot of ways. Maybe a lot of ways. (Another fragment. I use them a lot, now that it’s okay.)


Here’s my point: the rules of grammar are there for a reason. They can instruct, they can help clear up confusion, they maintain order, and they help us communicate what we really want to say in an easily understandable and generally accepted manner. They can also be just plain interesting and lots of fun.


Sure we can bend them every now and then, even break them, but we need to know what they are first. After all, what fun is it to do something wrong, if you don’t even know it’s wrong. I mean, who wants to do the right thing for the wrong reason or, for that matter, the right thing for the wrong reason? (Commas always confused me, so my rule is when in doubt leave it out.)


Life is full of patterns and rules, and we are free to challenge, bend and even break some of them, but there are always consequences when we do. That’s why we need to know the rules before we decide whether or not we chose to follow them, and we need to know what the consequences are if we choose to ignore them.


Take God, for instance…yes, I know it’s another fragment.

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