Why Grammar and Spelling are not just Important, but Essential for Good Communication

The Problem of Grammar and Spelling in Communication

I spend a lot of time reading, and I have noticed a sharp decline in the ability of writers to communicate to their audiences. It's not the occasional typographical error that concerns me, or even a stray misplaced modifier. What really bothers me is that in an ever-increasing percentage of written communication, I am finding it harder and harder to understand the basic concept the writer is trying to communicate because the writers lack the basics of grammar and spelling.

I don't mean that I don't understand the ideas, because I'm getting older by the day and my brain doesn't work as well, or that I'm getting older by the day and more out of touch with what younger people are writing. I mean that more and more people are trying to communicate something, and their lack of the basic language skills of grammar and spelling makes their point inaccessible.

If You Want Someone to Listen, Talk in a Way They Can Understand

Clarity of communication, through good grammar and spelling, is essential, regardless of what you wish to accomplish.
Clarity of communication, through good grammar and spelling, is essential, regardless of what you wish to accomplish. | Source

Derailing Your Train of Thought

In English, as in some other languages, particularly French, a number of words sound alike.

These words are not alternate spellings. They are their own words, with (sometimes radically) different meanings. I see so much unnecessary confusion of these similar words, when a few minutes with a dictionary and some flashcards each day would make these meanings clear. And clarity of communication is vitally important, regardless of what you are trying to say. I recently read a letter asking for legal advice on a situation, and despite repeated attempts, the author was incapable of writing about his situation in a way the police could understand, and so no-one could help him. His question was unanswerable because he couldn't write the question in a way that someone could answer it. A knowledge of grammar and spelling would have gotten him the help he needed.

Grammar isn't just for Grandma

The rules of spelling and grammar are there for the same reason we have traffic lights, lane markers, and stop signs on the road. The grammar and spelling rules are there so that everyone understands how to play the game. If we suddenly abandoned the rules of the road for chaos, you can imagine the horrific results that would soon occur. And yet, every day, we let the rules of spelling and grammar be violated, with drastic results that are ignored.

Just one example: the use of the wrong word, or a misplaced comma, could drastically alter the meaning on a drug interaction warning, which could result in thousands of deaths. A misplaced comma in a contract has cost many a company millions of dollars. If you are responsible for generating content, on any level, it's important to play by the grammar and spelling rules of language, or you could cause a medical, legal or financial disaster for someone.

Want to Show Off Your Knowledge?

 The technical term for spelling is orthography.

A Sign of Respect

We all appreciate the polite and courteous driver, and when someone is driving erratically, or not obeying the rules, we call the police, because that driver is dangerous. Yet we don't attempt to enforce the grammar and spelling rules of language. And yet language affects us in a way far more profound than a drunk driver. Language is the way we communicate, both with ourselves and with others. By allowing the grammar and spelling of language to be corrupted, we are showing a lack of respect for ourselves and others.

It's especially important for those of us who write for business to communicate respect. By obeying the rules of spelling and grammar, we are telling our customers that we respect them, we are willing to play by the rules, and therefore we can engage our customers' trust.

And it's not just respect for ourselves, or for others. It's an issue of respect for our ideas. If your ideas have value, it just makes sense for you to express your ideas as clearly and as eloquently as you can. If your idea has value then it is worth the time to express it with correct grammar, spelling, and word choice!

Do you make a real effort to use correct words, spelling and grammar?

  • Yes, I try to be meticulous
  • Sometimes, but the important thing is to get the point across. Most people can figure out what I'm saying
  • My ideas are important enough that the reader should make the effort to figure out what I'm saying
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Newspeak

In 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell showed how language can be subverted to corrupt thought. In many other works, science-fiction authors have tried to show that by depriving people of certain language concepts, society could be easily controlled. It is up to each of us as writers to stand up against the abuses of language and communicate clearly and effectively with correct spelling and grammar. Otherwise, we open ourselves up to the malicious use of language. Simply look at the charged words used in political speech and commercial advertising, and you will notice the power that a few words can have on you--and how those words can be twisted to produce an effect of propaganda. Once we allow our standards of language to lapse, we open ourselves up to manipulation through speech!

What a Difference a Comma Makes

Just take a look at these two questions, and see how the addition of a single comma completely changes their meaning:

What's that in the road ahead?

What is this thing called love?

Now with the comma (and a space for added amusement):

What's that in the road, a head?

What is this thing called, love?

As you can see, a misused comma can completely change the meaning of your sentence! Just imagine what more serious errors in grammar and spelling could do to your meanings!

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What do you think? 7 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Excellent piece, classicalgeek. Unfortunately, those who violate the rules are the ones most likely to skip over this hub. Not only is it important to speak and write correctly to be understood, but it is perhaps even more critically important so that we are not misled by corporate advertisers, devious political commentators and others.


classicalgeek profile image

classicalgeek 6 years ago Author

William, you are exactly right. I'm just finishing a hub about language and worldview and list some books that make that very point--it will be up later today!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

If I wasn't married, I'd offer to have your babies.

Well, and I'm a guy, so it wouldn't work.

But cheers to this hub too. I so, so, so, so agree with you. Please tell me you've seen Idiocracy (the movie).


classicalgeek profile image

classicalgeek 6 years ago Author

Thank you, Shadesbreath.

Because it's highly unlikely that you aren't married, or because the entire situation is hypothetical, may I suggest the subjunctive mood here, and alter your comment to "If I weren't married . . ."?

Idiocracy is the great horror movie of our time. Each time I see it, I never know whether to laugh or ask someone to check under the bed for monsters.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

Haha, you may suggest it, but I will defend my colloquial use to the death! Well, maybe not all the way to the death, but to the point I lost focus on what we were talking about.


jambo87 profile image

jambo87 6 years ago from Outer Space / Inner Space

Idiocracy wasn't very funny (like new SNL) but it had a great theme!

Great article. I'm a 22 year-old English major and I'm appalled by how AOL IM, texting, and Facebook have made my generation illiterate. I fear for our survival.


classicalgeek profile image

classicalgeek 6 years ago Author

I fear it's not just textspeak that endangers our survival -- it is also the low standards required of teachers (to give an example, I took, for fun, the sample physics quiz given to make sure teachers are qualified to teach their subject. I passed, horrifyingly enough, without ever having taken a single physics class. I got a mark of 87% on a bit of common sense, and having, at one time or another, long ago dated two physicists, with whom I didn't discuss their work).

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