What does the word 'grammar' mean to you? 'Glamour' is probably not the first word that you think of when you hear the word 'grammar', but one of the grammar experts Professor Fred D'Agostino, talks about the 'glamour of grammar'. He explains how both words are derived from the word for 'learning', as in 'grammar' schools.
Grammar and glamour are essentially the same word,derived from the Greek, 'grammatikos', meaning 'of letters', which covered the whole of arts and letters. In the Middle Ages, 'grammar' generally meant 'learning', which, in the popular imagination, included a knowledge of magic. So, grammar has origins that are glamorous and magical. The narrowing of grammar to mean 'the rules of language' came late in the 17th century to the study of English, and in the 19th century the words went their separate ways.
If you'd like to listen to Professor D'Agostino, you will find the video clip in our course resources. It's quite usual for people to speak and write correctly without knowing the explicit rules of grammar. So, when you're studying grammar, you're studying what you may already know. You all have an intuitive command of grammar because you've been using it since you started to talk, but you also need a conscious command of the rules so that you can apply them to your writing.
Grammar is the underlying system of rules of a language. When you study what the language can and can't do, you're studying grammar. Categorising and labelling the words in a sentence using the parts of speech as traditional grammarians do isn't always reliable, however. we'll introduce you to the traditional parts of speech, what contemporary linguists call 'word classes', and concentrate on helping you to understand the function of each word in a sentence, that is, its role and how it relates to the other words.
Another term that you need to be familiar with is syntax. It's the arrangement and inter-relations among words in a sentence, the structure of the sentence. No one starts at zero. You already have a good intuitive sense of grammar, but you need to be able to pinpoint what makes a piece of writing work or not work.
You'll benefit greatly from a grounding in grammar. A knowledge of grammar will provide you with a wonderful toolkit that will give you greater confidence and greater power over your writing. The novelist Philip Pullman, in an article in The Guardian says that 'Taking care of the tools means developing the faculty of sensing when we're not sure
about a point of grammar. We don't have to know infallibly that we might have got it wrong, because then we can look it up and get it to work properly.
Sometimes we're told that this sort of thing doesn't matter very much. If only a few readers recognise and object to unattached participles, for example, and most readers don't notice and sort of get the sense anyway, why bother?' I discovered a very good answer to that, and it goes like this: if people don't notice when we get it wrong, they won't mind if we get it right. And if we do get it right, we'll please the few who know and care about
these things, so everyone will be happy.
The following experts have been very outspoken about the value of knowing grammar rules: The Journalist Dot Wordworth says 'It's cruel not to teach grammar to children' Harry Mount says 'If you don't know grammar, you can't write English!' He goes on to say: 'Know your grammar and you can produce every kind of fantastic verbal construction and - this is the crucial bit - be understood.
The jazz musician Charles Mingus talking about jazz says: 'Ya gotta know all the rules and structures inside out before you start to break them - and make truly great music'. You need to understand the rules of grammar so that you know when it's OK to break them.