The more you learn about grammar, the less grammary it becomes

What is grammar? For those who might choose to skip over this article, the answer might well be "who cares?" And who can blame them?

For many Australians, grammar wasn’t taught in school. That doesn’t mean their English is poor. They can communicate well enough without knowing who from whom.

But many of us do care. We develop a curiosity about the English language. And luckily there’s a ready-made answer to this question: Grammar is the rulebook of a language. In our eagerness to know more about grammar, it is only natural that we want to learn the rules.

And they’re not hard to find. Reference guides, Google, your well-spoken neighbour. The rules are accessible and clear.

This learned venture tends to lead to one thing: sticklerism. The grammar stickler probably furrowed at that made-up word in this article’s headline, the incomplete sentence in the previous paragraph, and the “ands” and “buts” placed at the beginnings of some of my sentences. The stickler scoffs at those Gen Zs who are intimidated by threatening full stops.

If grammar is a set of rules, then they must be followed.

Except, that’s not what grammar is. Not entirely. Grammar has accepted rules for the purposes of formality, but grammar is more than that.

Those who realise this fact begin questioning whether the rules are even necessary. They acquire a desire to look under the hood of the language to learn the mechanics.

What they find is something less fixed and rulebooky and a lot more fluid and juicy.

So, what is grammar? It’s the set of malleable word-tools we use to understand each other.

If you understood the sentences beginning with “and” and “but”, then you were using your knowledge of how ideas connect in English. If you understood the incomplete verbless sentences in this article, then you were filling in the “gap” of missing verbs.

We can do the same with punctuation. Full stops help to segment written text for clarity, but they can also be used to Make. A forceful. Point. Something Gen Z knows all too well.

At this point, grammar seems a lot less grammary.

If you understood that word, thank your knowledge of the suffix “y”. If it can turn a noun (like juice) into an adjective (juicy), it can do the same for grammar.

We can do a lot more with the tools of grammar than we can with its rules.

By Brett Healey first published on SEPTEMBER 17 2020