Skip to content

Reading and discussing stuff about grammar

by Steve Krause on September 14th, 2014

This is where we’ll talk about:

Probably the right order to read/think about this is to actually begin with the Cleary essay, then the Owen essay, and then the “top twenty” list. So that’s what I’ll do here.

But before that. let me first explain a bit about how this fits into what we’re doing at the beginning of this semester. We began by first thinking about this broad and complex idea of “rhetoric” because that’s the “big picture” idea that frames how we effectively write and communicate in pretty much all settings, professional and otherwise. From my point of view, all writing classes– from first year composition through the end of a graduate program– are fundamentally about rhetoric.

Then we got into this idea of genre, which is important for professional writing in a couple of different ways. There is no “always correct and right” way of writing anything; it depends on the genre of writing, and it also depends on your purposes– again rhetoric!– of what you are trying to write, who you are writing it to, and what you hope that audience of readers does as a result of your writing. At the same time, there are recognizable and repeating genres of writing that we can (and obviously should) imitate. In other words, we don’t invent things like personal statements or complaint letters as brand new things, which is why it’s useful to read advice on how to write these kinds of documents and also useful to read other successful examples.

Building on this, we touched on the idea of the differences between writing for school versus writing in the professional world with the Anson and Forsberg essay. I think the most significant part/biggest “take-away” of that essay is that whenever we make transitions to different situations, the rules of what counts as “good writing” change as well. This is why the students they discuss in their essay– who were all good “school” writers– had moments of struggle in their internships.

Finally, we’re getting to grammar and correctness. And what I hope you are noticing here is the order in which I’m introducing this to our class discussion because relative to what we’ve talked about so far– rhetoric, genre, and writing situation– grammar and correctness are the least important. What’s interesting though is that most people outside of the field/discipline of writing think that “grammar stuff” is the most important.

This is not to say that grammar and correctness are not important at all. Far from it. It’s just kind of a question of what is the best way for us as writers to think about grammar. Read on…


There has been an argument about the importance of grammar among writing teachers and “writing nerds” for decades. In “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar,”  Michelle Navarre Cleary I think sums up the reasons why it’s a bad idea to teach grammar for grammar’s sake. Cleary’s argument here is pretty much the accepted wisdom by scholars in composition and rhetoric (that is, academics like me who specialize in this stuff). The best way to improve your grammar is to write and read a lot rather to try to study the rules of grammar. In fact, there is pretty good evidence (and Cleary links to a lot of it in this essay) that teaching grammar out of the context of actually writing makes people worse writers and generates a lot of anxiety.

On the other hand, there is a place for at least some basic familiarity with grammar, especially in more advanced writing classes designed for students who are interested in careers and professions where writing well is important– in other words, classes like this one. That’s in the nutshell Owen’s argument in “Why Teach Grammar?” But it is important to recognize that Owen is not really disagreeing with Cleary in that learning grammar is not the same as learning how to write well; rather, learning grammar is like learning chemistry or lots of other things, something people who want to count themselves as educated ought to understand in basic terms. And Owen is also thinking about this as a linguist– those of you who have had some linguistics classes here probably understand what he means.

I think that both Cleary and Owen would agree that the reason why grammar and correctness matters– particularly in professional settings– is because of the impact of mistakes rhetorically. Writing that has a lot of errors in it is not persuasive.  A very simple example I am sure we all understand: if you are applying for a job and your letter (or email) and your resume are full of errors, the potential employer reading those materials is going to hold that against you. Perhaps you made some grammar mistakes because you were simply careless and didn’t proofread well, but that potential employer isn’t going to see it that way. They’re going to assume that you’re sloppy or you don’t care or you don’t know what you are doing.

Because the professional world is very harsh and unforgiving when it comes to mistakes and errors in writing, correctness is important in this class. This is why there is a section in the policies for the course about “unacceptable mistakes and errors,” which is perhaps worth re-reading. The short version is if you make too many mistakes that interrupt the reader or that confuse the meaning of what you are trying to say, I will dock you a letter grade and make you rewrite that project.

In my experience, most of the mistakes that students make in this class are the result of bad proofreading and not taking the time to make sure everything is right. So that’s where “The Top Twenty” errors from The St. Martin’s Handbook comes into play. This list, which is in one of the major writing handbooks in the field (if you took first year writing here at EMU and you didn’t sell back your books, you might still have this one!). I think the 20 errors are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth browsing through them to first make sure you understand why these are errors (and of course, feel free to ask here if you’ve got questions) and also to recognize what errors you tend to make in your writing. For example, one of the things I do a lot as a writer is to mess up subject-verb agreement and I tend to shift tenses a lot. So whenever I am proofreading something (including what I am writing right now before I post it for everyone!), I always am reading with those two main errors in mind.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Nijea Wilson permalink

    When reading “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” I could absolutely see why people fail out of class, don’t write up to the level that they really can write at and why people stray away from writing all together because that’s exactly what I did at one point. I have always loved writing short stories however because of the fact that I was so fixated on trying to correct or fix every word or sentence that I was writing at that very moment I would throw myself off, mess up my flow of writing and just say forget I quit. I have recently learned to just say forget it and to let my thought process and writing just flow. I’ll go back after I’m done to fix any mistakes I’ve made and it gives me a chance to add a little more if new ideas have popped in my head.

    “Why teach Grammar” was definitely a good read. I also believe that it’s important to be able to properly structure sentences and words together however the way grammar is taught makes it way to confusing and difficult to learn/want to learn. Owen stated “we need to recognize that it doesn’t belong in the same class as writing or literature; though it certainly has connections to both, linguistics is a separate field and should be treated as such”. This statement couldn’t be any truer. Let writers be able to write, have fun and express themselves without the constant thought or fear of being penalized or given a failing grade for putting things such as “he went to the party” instead of “Bobby went to the party”.

    I’m going to be completely honest and say that I am absolutely horrible at grammar. It has always confused me and I don’t think I’ll ever understand all the different terms. I was a Speech and Language Pathology major for a little while and having to relearn all the different aspects of how to write a sentence was just kind of ridiculous and unnecessary to me. I believe it’s important to learn how to professionally write something however the depth of what is involved in proper linguistics was way too much for me and was definitely not any fun. Just a couple of the things I seem to have a hard time with are: Vague pronoun reference, fused sentences and sentence fragments.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      It’s great to hear that you write short stories, Nijea! I am a writer too. 😀

      And just to let you know, every creative writing class I’ve taken (and taught) leans heavily on just getting the story out. Grammar comes after. That’s why there is revision.

      So, next time you sit down to write, try to clear your mind of correct spelling, correct punctuation and run on sentences. Let the story out first. You can structure it more completely later.

      • Sabrina Gissendaner permalink

        I agree with this as well! I think that in creative writing, attempting to write properly will cloud your ability to let your “creative juices” flow. In fact, in any creative writing course I have taken at Eastern thus far, this is what I have learned. I think it is wise, however, to differentiate between the creative and the professional. Luckily, we do have our mental grammar police, and our peers, to help us revise our writing to perfection.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      I am kind of with you about the grammar stuff, at least as an undergraduate. I never really learned much about the various rules of grammar and parts of speech and all of that until after I started graduate school and really not until I started to teach writing. I know a lot more of these rules for now for sure!

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I definitely would agree with you that some of the ways in which we are taught grammar seem completely ridiculous and unnecessary. Like I wrote in my response, I don’t remember much about diagramming sentences, although we spent weeks, maybe even months on it in grade school. We also had countless English lessons where you had worksheets or questions from the book to complete that focused on grammar rules. Looking back, I don’t really believe that any of those exercises were particularly helpful in teaching me proper grammar.

      • Nijea Wilson permalink

        I don’t believe exercises such as those are really helpful at all either. I think the way grammar is taught is just so confusing and it seems to be taught as if you’re supposed to understand all these different terms right away.

  2. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    Cleary’s article is definitely relatable. As I read, I was reminded of the different ways which I’ve been taught writing and grammar over the years. The first time I remember learning grammar as a separate unit was in sixth grade. For weeks, we drilled different parts of speech and comma placement. It was awful. Although I retained the basic information we learned (I know, for example, what a noun, verb, adjective, and conjunction is), but I mostly forgot the information we learned once we were no longer being tested over it. I still knew how to write “well,” and how to make my writing sound nice, but I did not stop to think about how I am using an adverb, or if my verb was transitive, non-transitive, or linking. Between seventh grade and sophomore year, I practiced grammar by simply writing. As Cleary discusses, this was much more enjoyable for me. I began to like writing a lot more. Junior year, we did have a few specific grammar/syntax lessons, but we based them in writing. We would encounter “that” vs. “which” or the usage of semi-colons in our literature text, and our teacher would explain the differences or how to use a piece of punctuation. Then, we’d do a few brief exercises once a week at the start of class to practice what we addressed grammatically from our text. This was really effective for me, probably because it was founded in my text, and given a context during our grammar lesson.

    In regard to Owen’s article, I’ve already mentioned in previous discussions my dislike for the writing “rules” we’re given in high school. The focus is always on “right” writing; however, I think the true goal for any author is for their writing to be effective—for it to influence or affect an audience in a particular way. That concept has nothing to do with things being grammatically correct, though correct writing tends to be more persuasive.

    I tried to open the “Top Twenty” errors reading; however, the link brought up a server error and would not grant me access. I did a web search and was able to pull up the same list—I think. The error I think I struggle the most with in identifying is a misplaced or dangling modifier. Sometimes they are obvious, but sometimes, I need to stop and think for a bit before I can identify what is awkward about the sentence. I think it is challenging because our brains know what we mean, so reading it doesn’t always sound awkward or incorrect. Having worked as a writing consultant in writing centers for three years now, I can affirm that these are some of the most common technical errors in student writing. Proofreading is such an important step in the writing process.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      Yeah, they changed the link for the “Top Twenty” list. I corrected it on the schedule page and also in this post; here’s the right link again, too:

    • Sabrina Gissendaner permalink

      In regards to the first part of your response, I am on the same page! One of the things I remember most about learning proper grammar, sentence structure, etc. is learning about commas. As I grew older and began writing more, I found myself using too many commas, due to the heavy stress on the lesson that I learned as a child. It would seem that the proper grammar that I learned was a little bit too structured, and that an essay with too many commas actually bogs down and jumbles the writing. SO, one thing that I have to pay attention to constantly in my writing is my use of commas. This is where review becomes useful. I will write what I think is a pretty proper paper, and then review to find that almost always over-use commas.

      Just as you, Natasha, began to enjoy writing more when it was blended with learning grammar, so did I. As Cleary’s articles points out, the two are meant to be used together, not represented as separate practices. Now that I am more practiced in using them cohesively, they are much more simple, and much more useful together.

      • Steve Krause permalink

        There is no question that commas are hard, and commas also fall into this sort of grey area of “correctness” too. There are definitely rules that need to be followed, but then there are some comma “rules” that are pretty debatable. One of my favorite is the “Oxford comma,” made infamous in a song by the band Vampire Weekend. Basically, it’s the comma before “and” in a series, as in “For dinner tonight, I had apples, potatoes, meatloaf, and ice cream.” That comma before “and” is debatable: some folks say it’s a rule, some say it’s a rule not to have that comma.

  3. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    I want to comment on each piece as I read them, so here is my response to “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” by Michelle Navarre Cleary:

    “I have had parents describe writing their child’s paper because the kid was paralyzed with writing anxiety.”

    Check out the quote above. Wow. This has got to be the reason I can’t go anywhere without seeing “your” instead of “you’re” and “their” when it should be “they’re.” These grammatical errors irk me like you wouldn’t believe. Cleary obviously wants to mollycoddle every child in the world, and that’s just not necessary. Grammar should be taught, not solely received through osmosis.

    However…I do want to be clear that I’m not saying we should shove grammar down students’ throats. I’m just saying it’d be a good idea to start them off with the basics, and encourage them to read. Lessons AND osmosis. How about that for a compromise?

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I agree that basic lessons are required. People should know the differences between two, too, and to, etc.

      What I thought more awful about that quote, however, was that a parent wrote a child’s entire paper for them. How is a student ever going to learn how to write–communicate–or overcome his or her anxiety if writing is not practiced. The parent was only allowing the child’s anxiety to perpetuate.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      Osmosis, with light direction in proper usage, was much more helpful to me than grammatical diagramming/learning the basics. I can’t say one approach is better than another for everyone. I can say that discussing grammar specifically makes me stressed about errors, especially since I’m not a writing major/minor in a class designed for writing majors/minors.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I absolutely agree that the examples you’ve given are definitely the basics, which ever child and person should know. Also writing a childs entire paper is a bit ridiculous. Its one thing to help your child through the process of writing a paper (which is definitely ok) but to just do it all yourself is not a great learning experience for the child.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      Well, I’d say mostly from osmosis, actually. We’ve been researching the effectiveness of teaching grammar in the U.S. at different levels for about 50 years and most of the data suggests that teaching grammar out of the context of student writing doesn’t work. In fact, not only does it not work for most students; it might actually make a lot of students’ writing worse.

      So I am all about teaching grammar issues in the context of students’ writing. That means discussing grammar stuff not with canned examples from a textbook but in relation to a student’s actual writing. That’s how you’ll see me handle it here.

      On the other hand, grammar stuff is particularly important for advanced writers to understand a bit more, especially writers who write “professionally” in some fashion. That’s why we are going to talk about that stuff in this class a lot more than I would in a section of freshmen composition.

      • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

        I can see the advantage of teaching more advanced writers the detailed elements of grammar. In my technical editing class, we just read the chapter on grammar and mechanics, and I was appalled at how much I had forgotten. It’s good to be reminded of the different mechanics of writing to be sure that the things listed as common errors do not seep their way into our writing. But to focus entirely on those issues in a freshman composition course seems ridiculous.

        • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

          I’m with you there, Natasha. I’ve forgotten SOOOOOOO much from high school English.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I’m not sure that I agree with you, but I also don’t really know how I developed my grammar skills so it’s hard to say what is really an effective teaching method. I considered myself to have a pretty large vocabulary, and I would also say that I am pretty skilled when it comes to proper grammar. I started reading at a young age and have always been a great reader and writer, and it seems more plausible to me that this helped me develop an expansive vocabulary. I personally believe that reading helped me learn more words, as opposed to vocabulary class where I was forced to memorize twenty new definitions weekly. I also think that reading and writing helped me better understand how words are supposed to be used, as opposed to just doing grammar worksheets. But, like I said, it’s impossible for me to know exactly how I developed good grammar. It is possible that my grammar skills are a combination of both grammar lessons and learning grammar through reading and writing.

      • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

        That’s a really good point. I mean, how do we know exactly how we learned grammar? Sure, we had a few lessons. But there wasn’t a scientist watching over us our whole lives, monitoring everything. I’m willing to bet a lot of what you know is from reading because a lot of what I know is from reading. That’s where the osmosis comes in 🙂

  4. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    I feel better now. Owen successfully explained why grammar is so important in the follow excerpt:

    “Language is amazing; no other animal has the capacity for expression that we do. Language is so much more than a grab-bag of peeves and strictures to inflict on freshman writing students; it’s a fundamental part of who we are as a species. Shouldn’t we expect an educated person to know something about it?”

    He also pointed out that once you KNOW something about grammar, you can break the rules of grammar. I love that view. As a writer, I am very playful with language. I like creating sentences I know have never been constructed, and if I follow grammar to the T, I probably wouldn’t be able to be as unique as I’d like.

    You don’t have to love or use correct grammar, but at least please learn it so you can make an informed decision.

    • Sabrina Gissendaner permalink


      I loved this quote as well. It was a funny, lighthearted, and honest way to say that language is a brilliant tool, not a torture device for bored students. Like you, gaining a better grasp on language throughout the years has allowed me to be willing to free my words. I’m old enough and educated enough to know the rules and, sometimes, I purposely break them. Truly, some of the best and most intriguing writers do. This is mostly a trait of a creative writer, not a professional writer. Still, most writers have a creative side that allows them to be free this way, and to correct any mistakes for professional reasons afterward.

  5. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    ::shivers:: Now, let’s talk about common errors. I’m not perfect. I make grammatical mistakes ALL the time. But, as far as I know, the errors I make relate more to those obscure rules of grammar, like “misplaced or dangling modifiers.” But the mistakes that you will not see me make are “wrong word” mistakes. Such as:


    These are mistakes I try to ignore, but I just can’t. These mistakes crawl into my skin and lay eggs. ::shivers again::

    Also, consider these two common errors:

    “its/it’s confusion” and “missing or misplaced possessive apostrophe”

    I find its and it’s swapped in newspapers, books, advertisement, etc, almost daily. This mistake is everywhere. And that damn possessive apostrophe? Yeah, that’s just as ubiquitous, for it is found on the PROFESSIONAL BUILDINGS lining main, traffic-heavy roads.

    All I have to say is, “Mr. and Mrs. small business owner, may I please be your proofer? I’ll do it for free!”

    …I’m sorry for the rant :/

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      Haha. I absolutely love how passionate you are about these issues! It’s important, and I wish more people were as concerned about it as we are.

      When you mentioned these mistakes really bothering you, it made me think about how professionals feel when they see these mistakes. Mistakes like the ones you discussed are so easy to correct. We automatically assume a lack of care, if not a lower intelligence level, when we see writing with glaring mistakes like using “there” instead of “they’re.” I know how easy it is to make these mistakes when typing quickly, but it just emphasizes how important proofreading is. If we care about how we are perceived by our readers, we absolutely MUST proofread for errors carefully–even if it is of slightly lesser importance than expressing your ideas clearly.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      There’s a pretty funny web site about apostrophe misuse:

      You also raise a kind of interesting point about the fuzzy line between a probably not that important grammar mistake and a more disrupting grammatical error. Personally, I find the “it’s/its” thing not that bad– wrong, of course, but I can forgive it/overlook it fairly easily. But using the wrong there or their or the wrong your or you’re goes too far for me. It’s funny how these different things set people off in different ways.

    • Elyse Cawetzka permalink

      I am the same way! I can’t stand it when people don’t use the right form of the word like there/their/and they’re. It bothers me so much that I want to call people out on social media that use the incorrect version, I don’t so I’m not that annoying girl, but regardless, I correct them in my head.

      • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

        I’ll admit, sometimes I put on the annoying-know-it-all hat, and I correct people. But I am trying to get better. I promise! Do you have any tips, Elyse?

        • Elyse Cawetzka permalink

          I don’t blame you, it hurts to not correct it because they are such simple grammar issues. If it’s in a social media page, I just keep scrolling. I often times read through my friends papers before they turn them in, and in those situations, I absolutely correct them.

        • Elyse Cawetzka permalink

          Choose your battles. It’s hard for me to not correct the grammar issues but sometimes, it is just not worth it. Half the time the people I would be correcting don’t or wouldn’t care about the correction so I let it pass.

        • Steve Krause permalink

          When it comes to professional settings– when to correct, when to not– that seems to me to depend a lot on context, relationships with who needs correcting, etc. But as a writer or a writer working with a team of other writers or as an editor, I think it’s really important to correct each other. That’s the job, right?

  6. Kourtney Lovett permalink

    I found “The Wrong Way to Teach” piece to be quite interesting mainly because it focuses on an idea that I’ve never thought of before. When I think about how I’ve learned grammar over the years I realize that I cannot remember very many instances where my teachers constantly drilled concepts of grammar into our heads without asking us to simply write. I suppose I can say that I’ve learned grammar the way that Cleary suggests. Personally, when I think about the majority of English classes that I have had, I naturally think about two things: reading and writing. I don’t think about extensive grammar lessons because in my opinion, they shouldn’t be the star of a great English class. I believe that students will feel more confident in their writing when they are allowed to make mistakes without having to feel inadequate. I am happy that I learned grammar through trial and error by writing my own pieces and reviewing my mistakes with my teachers. But, that is simply my own opinion. What experiences have you all had in regards to learning grammar?

    After I read Cleary’s piece, I read “Why Teach Grammar.” While I enjoyed the style and voice of Owen’s piece, I cannot say that I agree with his ideas. I understand that his love for language led him to the conclusion that grammar should be taught but I don’t necessarily think it’s reasonable. For instance, I don’t particularly enjoy math or science lessons that go on and on about certain concepts so I could see how those who don’t enjoy English must feel when they have to sit through long grammar lessons. Basically, if there was a way that I could learn concepts that involve math and science in a less stressful way than lectures, I would pick that option. By allowing students to just write, those that feel like English isn’t their favorite subject have an opportunity to learn about grammar in a way that is more natural for them. Therefore, I am more inclined to agree with Cleary on this one.

    • Melanie Waller permalink

      I agree with what you say. Just let people be free and write. As long as the point is made is it so bad that it isn’t perfect. Sometimes I feel as if writing is like speaking, quit hinting around the subject, just come right out and say it like it is. Sometimes there is no easy way to say or write the truth. And a lot of times we as the writer worry about who we might upset with what we have to say, sometimes (in my opinion) we just have to put it out there and quit worrying about others and their feelings

      • Kourtney Lovett permalink

        I completely agree with you on that!

      • Steve Krause permalink

        The best research out there on how it is people learn to write (I’m thinking in particular of K-12 students, but I think this applies in college too) is by writing and writing a lot. And if you write (and read!) enough, you start to internalize the grammar things. I’ve seen that myself with students of mine in first year writing before.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “Basically, if there was a way that I could learn concepts that involve math and science in a less stressful way than lectures, I would pick that option.”

      Absolutely! Although I am the math-y sort, I feel this way about certain subjects.

      I also tend to agree with Clearly. For example, my boyfriend is an apprentice electrician and, although he had taken physics, he did not internalize it until he was able to see it in action. He’s not necessarily interested in physics by itself but, because of his interest in his trade which uses physics, he was able to understand its applications in a less painful way than it was originally presented.

    • Kristen Smith permalink

      I really enjoyed your statement that grammar shouldn’t be the star of English classes. In my own experience I’ve had a mixture of teaching styles, some of which devoted an individual unit to grammar and some that incorporated grammar throughout the course work. I also felt more inclined to agree with Cleary and found myself relating to a lot of what you said here.

  7. Melanie Waller permalink

    Well I can say right from the start, that it has been way too long for me remember how to tell the difference between grammar and writing. I was taught all that “language” arts many, many years ago and I can say that I learned how to spell really well and I know when a wrong word is used in a writing sentence. If I were given instructions again on how to proposition a phase, tear down a sentence, or write in the correct tense then I guess I can say it would all come flooding back to me.
    The two videos I could watch took me way back to both grade school and high school and how I like most of my classmates hated taking English courses because of being so scared that we couldn’t write the “correct” way the teacher wanted us to. Actually, to a growing mind and hormonal teenage years, learning how to read and write was not on the top of our lists. Going off to college and getting a higher education was not on the mind of about 65% of my classmates. Back then getting a job was the thing to do, college was for the “smart ones”.

    I can relate to being scared about writing “perfectly”, because I do not write everyday. I can write “formally” when the opportunity presents itself, but actually I no longer have to put down in words
    about a patient’s illness and a possible diet treatment. Everything is now on a computer and all we are to do is look up the nursing assessment and “spit it back out” under our own department folder. Then maybe add that dietary is monitoring patient intake and seeing that eventually they eat somewhere around 80% of meals. But I do still notice when someone else writes the wrong word or sentence and it does bother me. I want to reach out and correct it.
    I do realize that people in today’s society can’t spell, read or write very well and it bothers me because I learned all that way back when and I feel pride when I do put words down on paper the correct way.
    Texting just kills me with all the shortcuts. You want shorthand, try taking Gregg 🙂

    Ok, so I admit that I probably do have much to learn in this writing class and after all the reading we have done so far, I have told myself that I will write as the Professor wishes and that he is helping me to learn better things about myself and my writing and he and my classmates will gently guide me through this.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “Ok, so I admit that I probably do have much to learn in this writing class and after all the reading we have done so far, I have told myself that I will write as the Professor wishes and that he is helping me to learn better things about myself and my writing and he and my classmates will gently guide me through this.”

      This. So much of this.

      I am taking it in stride, feeling my ignorance, and looking forward to constructive criticism.

      • Melanie Waller permalink

        Exactly. I won’t get too down on myself because I know that I am learning to write much better than I do now. At first I was scared of this class, but now with each passing day I feel a little more at ease. As is the case with the personal statement. I will put out there what information is needed and then wait for someone to help me “tweek” it to make it better because I know my statement will probably need much help.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      That’s the goal!

      But remember that it isn’t just the professor, it isn’t just me. You’ll see what I mean when we get into the peer review part of things, but you will all be giving each other feedback, and that feedback you give to each other is going to be valuable too.

  8. Jessica Kane permalink

    The first few paragraphs of Cleary’s essay reminded me of middle school. Diagramming sentences on the blackboard was a nightmare. The only way it could have been worse was if I had forgotten to wear pants that day. I mentally checked out after learning the very basics of “The boy played ball”.

    I’d like to think I have a better handle on it now, but any development past basic training came in literature review and foreign language classes. When reading Shakespeare, I could see some similarities to more current syntax and attempt to decipher the evolution of the English language. In understanding the differences in verb conjugation in Spanish, French, and German, I was able to better understand how they compared to English.

    I am still quite self-conscious about grammatical errors and am not quick to notice my own. In reading fiction, I will notice how “good writing breaks the rules all the time”. (Owen) I have read books where the authors start many sentences with an “and” or a “but”, or they will end a sentence with a proposition. I actively work to avoid these situations because I not grammar savvy and am never sure what is appropriate.

    I have bookmarked the “Common Errors and am sure I am guilty of at least one in this post. I have had some recent light grammar instruction from a favorite web comic of mine:

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      Sentence diagramming was the worst!

      I think it is really interesting that you felt more confident in grammar when comparing it to other languages. So often, we hear that English is awful for foreign people to learn due to all of the inconsistencies. I would have thought I’d be more confused when comparing the grammar of English to another language, but I can see where it would provide a context through the comparison.

      By the way, thanks for sharing the web comic! 🙂

  9. Latasha Davis permalink

    The “20 Most common Errors” website was very interesting. We as people tend to write the way we talk and assume people understand us. That may be the circumstance when we are in a friendly environment, but as a writer the wrong word can change the meaning of the whole sentence. As a writer, I find it hard sometimes to transition from everyday spoken language to using the correct grammar. Some of the struggling rules that I have struggle with are Error#2, 7 and 20 but I also feel I’m very good at Error#3.
    I would like to pick out one of the rule that can be very simply mistaken. Rule or Error #4. Homonyms are so easily mixed up. The way that you can check and making sure you are using the correct term is rereading you paper. I’ve tried this technique and it seems to work very good.
    One of the rules that I really seem to struggle with is Error #7. I think that everyone has used the wrong preposition before, I However do it a lot. This rule reminds me of like I stated before, the way we interact with others. Sometimes we tend to be less aware of proper forms of talking and instead over our spoken language into our writing. These 20 most common errors pages was very useful. I hoping to refer back to them as I continue in this class.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “I would like to pick out one of the rule that can be very simply mistaken. Rule or Error #4. Homonyms are so easily mixed up. The way that you can check and making sure you are using the correct term is rereading you paper. I’ve tried this technique and it seems to work very good.”

      I am guilty of this as well. I tend to use wrong words on a fairly regular basis. There are days where I am so unsure of my word-usage, I use Google instead of my cognition.

  10. Latasha Davis permalink

    Why teach Grammar?
    Grammar is Defined as “the study of how words and their component are combined to form sentences.” I think that grammar is important part of understanding how the connection to language and words are put together to create a message. I do however agree with Jonathan Owen when he says ” Im still not convince , though that learning has much at all to do with learning to write”. I think that these too are separate and they need to be treated as such. I look at it as a begnning stade

  11. Elyse Cawetzka permalink

    In all honesty, it has been awhile since I actually thought about the difference between grammar and writing. I do recall in high school wondering if my writing was grammatically correct, waiting for the class that we would learn how to write appropriately. That class never came. Before my mom retired, she taught American Literature, and English at the high school level. She hated and complained about the fact that they couldn’t teach grammar because so many of her students desperately needed a lesson. Personally, I think grammar should be taught. Grammar teaches how words can be put together to express a message.

    Grammar errors like their/there/they’re, too/to/two, your/you’re are one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to writing and reading. I constantly correct these errors in my head and it takes a lot will power to not correct such errors when I see them on social media. I once had a teacher use the wrong form of there/their/they’re on the board, and one of the other students corrected her and she was thoroughly embarrassed.

    • Melanie Waller permalink

      I have to say that I had a wonderful English teacher in grade school (many years ago) who taught us very well. Not only did we learn about grammar errors and all the other things that go with it, we also had to learn to spell correctly. I too try to not get so uptight when I see the wrong word being used, but also spelling errors. My biggest pet peeve with the younger generation that I worked with was the fact they could not spell correctly and didn’t seem to mind. When I mentioned a misspelled word they shrugged it off and said the computer would get it right. So sad, the computer doesn’t always know the right/write way to spellcheck everything 🙂

      • Steve Krause permalink

        I have to say that you were both lucky with your high school English teachers. I’ve seen a lot of students over the years– particularly in “freshman composition” classes– who were just scarred by their high school teachers, paranoid about making any mistake or saying anything wrong.

  12. Kristen Smith permalink

    I found this article to be very interesting. It revealed a lot about the writing process as a whole – specifically how to better suit the needs of students that are learning to write in ways that are grammatically correct. Unfortunately, I went to a high school where grammar was taught independently of writing, a trend that continued through the majority of my education. It wasn’t until I took college courses that were actual writing classes that I experienced learning grammar through writing. I feel that this does make a vast difference in education and I feel that it can make all the difference in students’ views on writing. Overall, I think people need to have the opportunity to write first, then, as a later editing stage, get feedback on how to make that writing even more effective through their use of grammar.
    Owen’s article seemed to not go against Cleary’s article, but to disagree with portions of it. As such, I find myself disagreeing with portions of Owen’s article. I agree that grammar is important and is something that should be taught throughout schooling, but I don’t feel that it as effective as a separate subject from writing. I feel that if grammar is going to be taught as its own subject, it should be taught in a manner where students learn to apply it after they have written a piece of their own to practice on. I feel that this could be even more impactful for students (it definitely would have been for me) because then students get the opportunity to see what areas they specifically need help in and they’ll have a better idea of the grammatical concepts they need to improve upon.
    St. Martin’s Handbook
    I really enjoyed reading over this list and found a few mistakes that I know I frequently make. One of my biggest problems is run-on sentences. Often I feel that I cannot express what it is I really want to say, so I end up with run-on sentences in my attempts to make my point clear. Also, in my academic writing I often find it difficult to smoothly integrate quotes into my papers even though I have looked at various examples and gotten feedback from different sources on how to better do so. The its/it’s distinction was one that I had trouble with until only a few semesters ago when a professor did a great job at distinguishing the two. I think there are bound to be things on this list that everyone struggle with, regardless of how many lessons they’ve had in grammar.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “I feel that if grammar is going to be taught as its own subject, it should be taught in a manner where students learn to apply it after they have written a piece of their own to practice on. I feel that this could be even more impactful for students (it definitely would have been for me) because then students get the opportunity to see what areas they specifically need help in and they’ll have a better idea of the grammatical concepts they need to improve upon.”

      This is the type of solution that I would have expected Owen to make after critiquing Cleary’s article. Great idea!

  13. Latasha Davis permalink

    The Wrong way to teach grammar
    I want to point out this quote in the article that stood out to me. “We need to teach students how to write grammatically by letting them write”. I agree with the article that states grammar is best learned through practicing writing. A good scenario of a student learning grammar and writing would be this. A teacher ask their students to make a prepositional phase after given multiply examples. The problem with this, is that the teacher teaches this technique without allowing students to emerge as writers. I feel that when children or even more advance writers discover new writing styles on their own they will retain what is taught. Allowing a person to emerge as a writing create that experience. I could really relate to this article. I clearly see where a wide percentage of students in collage are overload and are constantly being critiqued of grammatical skills. I can understand why they are discouraged them to finish school. It can be very frustrating. I remember a time when I had to observe a student for an IEP. I was very nervous because I’ve always looked at my writing as media orca. It always needed work.I did learn that writing takes time and the more you write the better you become. It was a learning experience that only made me better as a writer. I do agree that grammar is important but we need to start basic and grown through writing.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “A good scenario of a student learning grammar and writing would be this. A teacher ask their students to make a prepositional phase after given multiply examples. The problem with this, is that the teacher teaches this technique without allowing students to emerge as writers.”

      There’s a good chance that, on a particularly stressful day, I still wouldn’t be able to recognize a prepositional phrase. (Was that one? Just kidding)

  14. Brian Gardner permalink

    First, I found the article “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” relatable. The last time I remember studying grammatical conventions was in ninth grade, so by the old school of thought my grammatical skills should be poor. To the contrary, my skills have drastically improved in writing overall since then, and grammar is no exception.

    I might make a bit of a stretch here, but I think the increased specialization of professions calls for increased learning through practice. Because of specialization, our skills from growing up do not match with what we need in the careers we fulfill. We needn’t do our own taxes since it’s reasonably affordable to pay somebody else. Our minds are a blank slate when it comes to tax forms until we educate ourselves.

    The same should apply for writing, we don’t know how to write letters since phone technology helps us communicate immediately. I doubt most students pay others to write their papers, but it’s hardly necessary in day to day life. As a result, we’re probably missing lots of grammar practice – which needs to be fulfilled in the classroom.

    I’m not entirely sure what the author in “Why Teach Grammar” was trying to say. Obviously he says we should stop teaching grammar along with writing, but that’s not even possible. Grammar has to be taught to the extent that the writing must be intelligible, although not necessarily through the old fashioned way. If he’s trying to say don’t teach it beyond what’s needed for mutual understanding in communication, then his position seems no different than the last writer’s.

    The link was broken for the last piece, so I’m not able to comment on that.

  15. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    I would say that Cleary’s points about teaching grammar apply to a lot of areas of study, and not just grammar. I don’t really remember how to diagram a sentence, just like I don’t remember several math formulas, or pretty much anything that I learned in chemistry or physics class. When we are told, “Learn this formula! Learn this rule! Memorize this!” We are going to memorize the rule just enough so we can get by in the course and then forget the knowledge as soon as we aren’t being graded on it anymore.

    Clearly makes the point that we need to teach grammar through writing because it is not only more effective, but writing is a practical skill. Owen makes the point that learning to write is different from learning grammar, and that grammar needs to be made out to be something interesting and important so that people will want to learn it. I agree with both of their points and think that they can be combined. We should teach grammar to students with the emphasis that it is an important skill for an educated person to have, but we can use writing as an avenue for doing this by showing how grammar skills will actually be useful. Similarly, we need to teach science, history, and math to students in order for them to be well-rounded, educated people, but we can go about it in a different way. For example, instead of saying, “Memorize the amendments in the Bill of Rights and list them all.” We should teach students the Bill of Rights with the emphasis that these are their rights as an American citizen and that they are important knowledge for a person to have; not just that they need to memorize them because this is history class.

    Similarly, we should teach students how cells duplicate in biology class from the viewpoint that this is how living things produce cells–this is part of how your body works! When students are taught knowledge that they can actually see the benefit in learning, then they are more likely to engage in that knowledge.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “For example, instead of saying, “Memorize the amendments in the Bill of Rights and list them all.” We should teach students the Bill of Rights with the emphasis that these are their rights as an American citizen and that they are important knowledge for a person to have; not just that they need to memorize them because this is history class. ”

      I always thought it would be great if all the core classes were connected by year. You could learn the science, math, language, and social beliefs as they are all interconnected at the time, creating some context as to why things were the way they were. American history was a snore-fest for me. However, if the curriculum would have included the social/cultural changes with the scientific/mathematical discoveries at the time as I was learning the history, I’d like to believe I would have had a better respect and understanding for all subjects involved.

  16. Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

    As soon as I began to read “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” I was reminded of my primary school days where I despised going to English class because I found it “boring” or “difficult”. I did not like being in those classes because each and every day we learned about grammar and sentence structure, while writing precious little before having to correct it or learn something else… I always wished we could just be given a topic and guidelines and let to write for a certain amount of time, then reconvene and correct the mistakes or learn newer, better ways to get out points across to the audience. After reading this article, I truly want to pass it on to my old English teachers and have them see what can be done to improve the writing skills of students to better prepare them for the next level of writing: college.

    I would never say to not teach grammar, as evident by my statement above, but I would like to have a healthy balance between grammar and writing in order to help students advance their writing. Grammar is very important, whether the language is English or Japanese (or any other), but I feel as though one must learn the flow of writing and a technique that works for them, at which point grammatical rules can be integrated and used to enhance the writer’s work.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “I feel as though one must learn the flow of writing and a technique that works for them, at which point grammatical rules can be integrated and used to enhance the writer’s work.”

      I really like this. Learning grammar without writing would be like learning to cook without ingredients. As you progress with your cooking skills, you learn to add the spices that really set your recipe apart from the others.

  17. Carly permalink

    This hits home with me so much. This might get a bit lengthy– sorry.

    All through high school, I considered myself to be a fair writer based on the fact that my English teachers were generally giving me A’s on my essays. But upon arrival to my AP Lit and Comp class senior year, everything I had previously thought was torn down within our first essay. I had red marks covering my writing. And most of them were grammatical corrections fixing my overuse of commas, run-off sentences, and pointing out when things sounded awkward. It really discouraged me as a writer, and I felt behind the rest of the class for the rest of the semester. This lead me to not take the AP Exam which would have excused my need for English 121 here at Eastern. But I think everything happens for a reason. Arriving to English 121 as a freshman, I was shocked to find it was the easiest English class I had ever taken! My Professor hardly mentioned my grammar, and I thought it was a blessing. But the ease of my English class gave me a whole new appreciation for my AP Lit teacher back in high school. She put so much pressure on us to be good writers, and I started to see those red marks as helpful constructive criticism. She was most certainly putting Cleary’s ideas to use.

    I’d like to argue in favor of diagramming sentences however, because I think they do serve a good purpose. I can recall several times where I would refer back to grammar example sheets we had gone over in class when revising my essays. The example sentences were helpful tools for me, but I do see why they may not be ideal for everyone. I think a balance between these two is the best way of teaching, really.

    As for Owen’s input, I find myself rolling his concluding paragraph around in my head a bit. I can’t decide if fully agree that grammar has nothing to do with learning writing. My purpose in taking these courses in Written Communication is to rethink and relearn writing, and also perfect the grammar details which I always felt I struggled with. The two have always just seemed to go hand-in-hand, but I’ve also never been a person who free writes. Any and all writing I do is academic, so it never occurred to me that they could be two separate things. To someone who writes just to enjoy the act, I can see why it wouldn’t be high on the list of priorities.

    The list of 20 is a great little resource I didn’t know existed! I’m glad to have glanced this over. I plan on making use of it with our upcoming essays.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      Well, diagramming sentences is kind of fun (at least I remember it being fun– not sure I could do it anymore), and if it works for you to help you figure out some things about your writing, then that’s great. It’s just that for most people, diagramming sentences is really useful… for diagramming sentences.

  18. Allyson Bruske permalink

    I can really relate to what Steven has said in this post. I always struggled when I was in elementary english classes when we would have daily grammar quizzes, which I thought were silly. But my parents and teachers were surprised when I would write my essays and papers (or at least what I thought were essays and papers at the time!). My essays were amazing and I was even dumb founded as to how I was so good at writing but terrible with these grammar lessons. It hadn’t occurred to me that the two are closet related, but incredibly different. I have even noticed this in college. It is almost the same situation when it comes to learning APA citations and style over MLA. I can write an excellent paper in either style, but if you ask me to break down a citation in APA and give you all of the little details of how APA works, I can’t. And I don’t think I ever would be able to.

    I really enjoyed reading what Cleary had to say because it brought light to all of the confusions I had in my own education. It also shed some light on my struggles with college papers. I always have amazing ideas for my papers, but it is harder for me to get them across unless I’m speaking out loud. For example, I wrote a paper on the lack of special education care in elementary schools last semester. This topic is close to my heart because my younger brother is disabled and also in special education and also because I am studying the health care industry. I had excellent research, opinions, and ideas about the issue that are easy for me to argue to someone in person. But as Cleary stated, I was too focused on the professional tone, grammar, and APA rules to really get across what I wanted my audience to know. My Dad ended up having to jump in and help me with all of those aspects after I freely wrote what I wanted to. This is something that can be taught beforehand if an intervention is staged in elementary schools by changed curriculums to focus more on the writing and less on grammar quizzes and difficult to read grammar texts.

    I really enjoyed reading Owen’s article, until I reached the end of it. The last paragraph really bothers me. He spends the whole article making his audience believe he agrees with Cleary’s argument. But in the end he states he DOES want grammar to be taught, but not as part of English class. He wants it taught as something to love. What gets me is that he doesn’t show anyway to teach grammar as something to love. Not every student is going to fall in love with the fascinating (as he states it) aspects of grammar and the english language. So if he believes it should be taught as something to love, then how do we do this? I know as a student in elementary or even middle school, I would have hated my life if I had an entire class for grammar. I couldn’t think of anyway myself to make grammar so fascinating to all, but I think it is something Owen should have dived into a little bit more.

    Lastly, after reading the Top 20 Errors, I have noticed a lot that I could do better with when I proofread my papers and discussions. This article helped to open my eyes to my own mistakes that I will be able to pay more attention to! I think I will definitely print it out and keep it on hand when I am writing my future papers and discussions, even for this class!

  19. Jessica Kane permalink


    “What gets me is that he doesn’t show anyway to teach grammar as something to love. Not every student is going to fall in love with the fascinating (as he states it) aspects of grammar and the english language. So if he believes it should be taught as something to love, then how do we do this?”

    I was also irritated by Owen in this arena. It’s easy to state something should change but sometimes hard to actually come up with a solution. Seems as though his criticism could have been a bit more productive…

    I’m also thinking about printing a summary of these 20 errors and pinning them on my desk for immediate reference!

    • Steve Krause permalink

      To be fair, what Owen is talking about is kind of like a linguistics course. Linguistics is more or less the scientific study of language– origins, the logic of grammar, etc. They’re not so much interested in studying grammar in terms of what’s correct but rather how it “works” and how all of us internalize the grammar of our native language. That’s different than the right or wrong thing.

      As for the 20 errors: we’ll come back to these when we do an “inventory” of the writing you’ve done this semester and to see if you can find any patterns in your work. What sorts of errors do you make on a regular basis, for example?

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS