Grammarians unite

if your not hvaing a problem with this sentence than shurely something is wrong.

The internet is famously informal. With all these lols, emoticons and pwnings being thrown around, it can be hard to see the point of using full sentences, capital letters, correct spelling, or any of the other basic elements of good grammar. So why bother?

One word: clarity. Your writing style is a window that shows people what you’re thinking. If your style is muddy, if your grammar is bad, if your spelling is sub-par, then the window becomes dirty and it’s harder for people to understand what you’re trying to say. Good grammar and spelling can mean the difference between people grasping your point with ease, or getting so tangled in your unreadable sentence structure that they get bored and leave the site altogether.

Does this mean you have to know when to use “who” versus “whom,” or “that” versus “which”? Nope, because stuff like that won’t send up a distracting red flag to most readers. (Though being nitpicky about grammar never hurt anyone. The better your grammar is, the clearer your thoughts will be.) What you must watch out for are snags that can actually make your meaning unclear. Even if a reader can figure it out, the moment it takes her to think about it pulls her away from your topic, making it less likely that she’ll want to go on reading.

Lynne Truss named her famous book Eats, Shoots and Leaves after one such punctuation snag, described in the book as follows:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots into the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

If you’re like me, the public school system probably failed you very badly when it came to stuff like this. Don’t despair: there are ways to learn what they should have taught you, and it’s a whole lot more fun to learn it this way. I’m talking about grammar books, of course, and none of them are dry, dusty or dull. Both my favorites are actually funny, not just occasionally but on every page, plus they question some of the stupider rules of grammar. If you want a good read, check out the afore-mentioned Eats, Shoots and Leaves, or Ben Yagoda’s If You Catch an Adjective, Kill It.

Extra points to anyone who catches the mistakes in this entry, including the obvious ones in the first sentence.


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  1. 45n5 September 13, 2007
  2. elaine ramos September 14, 2007
  3. Israel September 14, 2007
  4. Dave Starr --- ROI G September 17, 2007