Is Grammar Essential or Optional?
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.