Grammar is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s also quite polarizing. While some may get apoplectic with rage to see a misplaced comma, others will just shrug their shoulders and not see what all the fuss is about.
There are others still who are nervous about grammar: they fear that their grammar is inadequate, and therefore fear the criticism that will come their way if they reveal their work to others. This can be hugely detrimental in terms of exposure to that person’s writing.
But what does it take to become a better writer? Teachers will often point to grammar being central to the point, whereas the students themselves may feel that too much emphasis is placed upon such concerns: after all, in the world we live in, the ideas of how we communicate are more fluid, and the lines between what is correct and what is not is becoming more blurred than ever before.
But contrary to what some students believe, teachers do not sacrifice the quality of ideas and content at the altar of grammar readily. It’s just that, on occasion, bad grammar simply gets in the way of good writing. So how can you improve it?
Learn what good grammar really is
When we say that people have bad grammar, what we are really saying is that they probably don’t know how to express their idea in what would be considered the correct way using the laws of written English. It is not a lack of ability holding someone back, but just a lack of instruction.
The solution, then, is to learn. There are fantastic grammar books available on the likes of Amazon, or you could even avail of a composition class which will cover the important points.
In every single person’s writing there are things that the individual does well, and others things that they do not so well. It’s a really good idea to get your writing assessed so your most common grammar mistakes can be identified, and examples highlighted. From there, with the help of a good self-reference book such as English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy, you can seek to fix the mistakes that are specific to you. Starting at the beginning of a huge grammar book and working though can be overkill, though.
Instead, seek out the grammar that really applies to you. Look at the examples, and then complete the exercises. From there you should then attempt your own sentences applying the rules, because it’s only through application of your learning that you can see if the necessary lessons have been learned.
There is a place and a time for short sentences. They can be powerful through their brevity. But short sentences do not help you learn how to improve your grammar. The solution is to complete activities where you combine sentences in ways that are grammatically correct. Note that there is always more than one way to go about it, but combining sentences into larger ones is a great way of assessing if you have the necessary tools in your English grammar toolbox to complete the task at hand. Let’s look at an example:
I’d never been there before. I loved it anyway.
Now, of course you could combine these two sentences easily with a word such as ‘but’, yet this hardly challenges your grammar:
I’d never been there before but I loved it anyway.
So why not see what else you can do – something a little more sophisticated, perhaps, such as inverting the clauses:
I loved it anyway, despite having never been there before.
In this particular example you are applying a knowledge of several grammatical points, namely clauses, conjunctions, complex sentences, and punctuation.
As another example, write out three or four sentence using I. For example:
I live in Chicago.
I like ice cream.
I’m 22 years old.
I’m a vegan.
Now, can you produce a single sentence that combines all of these ideas. As always there will be more than one way to do this. Here’s an example:
I’m a 22-year-old native of Chicago who loves ice cream despite being vegan.
What could you come up with?
Remember that long sentences are definitely not always better. But the reality is that they are sometimes required, especially in academic writing, and it is the practice that you get in combining the sentences that is valuable here.
Keep on writing
Studying grammar and completing grammar-focused exercises is important, but the only way you can truly apply what you have learned is by writing. And it really doesn’t matter what.
It is no coincidence that most of the best writers are or were voracious readers. Through reading we truly get a sense of the language and all its intricacies. Read as diversely as you can, and you will begin to appreciate the limitless number of styles that exist, and the mastery that great writers have over the written word. It inspires, and it teaches us in equal measure.
A pro tip: Linguix can help you to learn new words while reading online. When you encounter an unknown word anywhere on the web, just hold Alt and double click on it to see its definition:
Write, and then read it out loud
Great writing has a wonderful flow to it, and the best way to get a sense of your own writing and flow is to read your own text out loud. It doesn’t have to be to someone, just to yourself. It’s amazing how often you can improve on a sentence by reading it aloud to yourself and noticing something that just wasn’t apparent on the page only. Words and sentences are meant to be heard as much as written, after all.
A pro tip: Linguix allows you learning new words while writing. The Linguix Web App and browser extensions have a built-in AI-fueled synonyms-selection engine. This feature allows you to see synonyms of English words. Just hold down the Alt button and double-click on a word to see a list of its synonyms.
Utilize online tools
Obviously we live in a digital age, so it would be remiss not to mention some of the great resources that exist online to help you in our goal of mastering grammar.
GrammarBook. A great source of grammar learning, with quizzes aplenty that can be completed anywhere, anytime.
Linguix. Our AI-based writing assistant helps identify mistakes in your own writing, and recommends how improvements can be applied.
Purdue Writing Lab. Another fantastic online resource which provides numerous free grammar, research writing, resume writing and other related resources.
No one is perfect
There is one last point to take away. Never be ashamed of your grammar. No one has perfect grammar, and it is a skill that even accomplished writers seek to improve over the course of their career. Never stop learning and seeking to improve, read and write as much as you can, and never see it as a chore, but instead as an opportunity to improve.