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Is Grammar Essential or Optional?

Updated on October 15, 2009

Well, speaking or writing ungrammatically does not constitute a legal offence. Besides, a casual and negligent attitude towards grammar need not deprive one of the ability to enjoy the good things in life. Therefore, in a sense, how one takes or treats grammar is one’s own business, but respect for grammar and following its rules have definite advantages.

If you sing or play an instrument, you learn to put your notes in a certain order, which conduces to melody and harmony, and your audience enjoys the results of your effort. If there is no structure or order in the way you arrange your notes, the consequent creation is likely to jar on the ears of your audience. Likewise, if you do not arrange the words of a sentence in accordance with the rules of grammar, the sentence is likely to sound clumsy, confusing or even meaningless.

An Example for Accuracy - The function of Past Perfect Tense

Many people, especially those who are beginners or those who do not care much for grammar anyway, find it difficult to handle the past perfect tense correctly.

For example, consider this sentence:

I saw a James Bond movie yesterday for the first time. I have never seen one before.

The second sentence should read I had never seen one before.

The simple explanation is that there are two events, namely, my seeing a Bond movie and my not having seen one earlier. While both belong in the past, they are not simultaneous events, but one has preceded the other. In order to show which event is earlier we employ the past perfect tense. That is why I had never seen one before  is right and I have never seen one before  is wrong.

Learning by comparing and understanding the peculiarities

Even beginners should not find grammar of a new language difficult to understand, if they apply the grammar rules of their mother tongue and learn by comparing and grasping the similarities between the two languages. Learning a new language is not only a gain in itself, it also helps the learners rediscover the nuances of their own language, know it, and use it better than before.

When I learned the German language, I benefitted from applying the grammar rules of Tamil (my mother tongue) and those of English. At first, the absence of the continuous tense in German intrigued me, which is a handy thing in Tamil and English.

For example, What were you doing when the telephone rang? in English will translate to What have you just done when the telephone rang? in German.

When the truck was turning the corner, it hit the car  in English will translate to When the truck turned the corner, it hit the car in German.

‘Was turning the corner’ and ‘Turned the corner’ are both grammatically correct. Yet, the question is which of the two phrases describes the incident accurately or more accurately. Interesting questions of analysis arise: At the precise moment of collision, had the truck completely negotiated the corner? Even if the truck had only partially negotiated the corner, is it correct to say that the truck turned the corner?

Such are then the uses and thrills of grammar. It is certainly essential to some, probably optional to some, and possibly expendable to some others.


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    • vaidy19 profile image

      vaidy19 7 years ago from Chennai, India

      Hi Hummingbird,

      Thanks for the comment. Learning languages is so much fun and fascination, and is perhaps the best way to know people and understand their culture.


    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 7 years ago

      Grammar is important but as you learned when you studied German, each language has differences. It is not possible to directly translate a sentence from one language to another. It often loses its meaning or sounds ridiculous. Germans often find a difficulty with English when they are learning. For example, was tust du jetzt? What are you doing now? They might say what do you now? We put a lot of extra verbs where there sentences are short. On the other hand, they often move the main verb of the sentence to the end and for a learner this can be very hard, also with verbs which are seperated. Kennenlernen is a very good example.

      Your hubs look very interesting and I look forward to reading more.

    • vaidy19 profile image

      vaidy19 8 years ago from Chennai, India

      Hi Porshadoxus,

      Thanks for the comment.


    • Porshadoxus profile image

      Porshadoxus 8 years ago from the straight and narrow way

      I also teach English, and I am a bit of a lexophile. Your questions have provoked much reflection on my own usage. I will say that some of the poorly written hubs around here expose the writers as having slept through their English classes.

    • vaidy19 profile image

      vaidy19 8 years ago from Chennai, India

      Hi Shalini,

      Thanks. Hub on English Grammar in this forum? I used to wonder. It took a while for me to get over my reluctance. I am glad that the hub is being received well.


    • vaidy19 profile image

      vaidy19 8 years ago from Chennai, India

      Hi G-Ma,

      Well I teach English sometimes and 'lecture' on grammar, and so a hub on grammar had all along been on my list. In fact, the little Grammar Guide hub that I had written earlier prompted me to write this one.

      It's wonderful to hear from you and at least for this reason I should write hubs more frequently. And, of course, your hugs are a magnificent bonus.

      love and hugs


    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      Great read - glad I chanced upon this!

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      hummm? so now you are a writer about grammar too>> just nice to hear from you my friend..seems so many are gone these days...the old good days are behind us it seems...:O) Hugs G-Ma (you look good as ever)