Skip to content

Why (everybody thinks) Grammar Sucks

October 29, 2012
English: A sign showing the location of the re...

Yes, you can/may use the restroom, but first you have to explain the difference between “can” and “may.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grammar might not really suck, but everybody thinks it sucks.  By “everybody,” I mean “almost everybody.”  A few people might like grammar, but it has to be a statistically insignificant number (or percentage), so I’ll stick with the term “everybody.” 

Even English teachers hate grammar.  At least they hated teaching it when I was a kid.  The same teachers who were animated and dynamic discussing metaphors in literature would become subdued or grouchy while teaching grammar.  My over-sensitive 9th grade English teacher would apologize before every grammar lesson (we should have apologized for the way we treated her).  Every other English teacher told us to shut up and do it because we had to.  I don’t think I need to apologize to them. 

If asked why they hate grammar, most people might say because it’s hard.  That’s not a good reason to hate something.  Grammar might be difficult for some people to master, but that shouldn’t be why people think it sucks. 

Below are three perfectly good, rational reasons that explain why grammar sucks.  Any errors in grammar are unintentional and not meant to be ironic. 

#1- The rules are nitpicky. 

English grammar has some really strict rules.  Don’t split infinitives.  Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.  Be careful to use “who” as a subject pronoun and “whom” as an object pronoun (I had to look that one up). 

Grammar might have been more pleasant in junior high and high school if the focus had been on the basics, like when to say “she and I” instead of “her and me.”  That’s important.  Split infinitives and prepositions at the end of sentences?  Not important. 

#2-  People who correct grammar are really unlikeable. 

I don’t know if there is a good way to correct grammar, but there are a lot of annoying ways to do it.  I think teachers are taught in college to answer the question “Can I go to the bathroom?” with “I don’t know, can you?” 

When I was a student, this led to many unnecessary classroom confrontations between kids who wanted to leave class and teachers who wanted their students to speak properly.  All a kid had to do was rephrase the question (usually with an eye roll) as “May I please go to the bathroom?” The “please” was sometimes optional.

But some kids were too stubborn to do that and simply returned to their desks.  Those were the kids who just wanted to hang out in the hallway for a few minutes and didn’t really need to use the facilities.  To me, hanging out in the hallway was worth rephrasing the question, and I threw in the “please” without being prompted. 

The good news is that I know the difference between “can” and “may.”  The bad news is that the teachers that did this were so unlikeable (from our point of view), we probably ignored everything else they tried to teach us for the rest of the class period. 

#3- Most people don’t use correct grammar most of the time. 

The problem with grammar is that most people don’t use it in their everyday conversations.  We say “ain’t” and “got” and a bunch of phrases that send English teachers to early retirements (but hopefully not early graves).  As a public school student years ago, I worked hard for 45 minutes a day on grammar that I wouldn’t use for the other 16 hours I was awake that day. 

The cool people (or the people that I thought were cool) didn’t speak properly, so there was little incentive to practice outside of school what I was learning in English class. 

It seemed almost irrelevant.  And I was wrong. 

PAYBACK TIME!! 

I didn’t become a writer because of grammar.  When I was in college, I was thinking about going into a field involving writing, but then I got careless with a composition and messed up a bunch of “its” and “it’s.”  My writing instructor admonished me, saying I couldn’t be successful in a writing profession by making basic mistakes. 

At the time, I knew the rules, but I also knew I had a tendency to get careless, so I ended up going into a profession that has nothing to do with writing.  I’m good at my job, but I kind of regret not going into a writing field (especially when I see professional writers today making more mistakes than I do on my nonprofessional blog). 

It’s my fault I didn’t choose a writing profession.  But everybody hates grammar so much that if I blame grammar, (almost) everybody will agree with me. 

Stupid grammar! 

***** 

BONUS REASON  

“Grammar” is not spelled the way it sounds. 

People pronounce the word “grammar” as “gram-mer.”  It’s spelled as if it’s pronounced “gram-mar.”  Maybe I’ve been mispronouncing “grammar” all my life (and unintentionally exposing my ignorance by admitting it), but so have a bunch of other people too.  If grammar is going to have strict rules, it should at least follow basic spelling and pronunciation guidelines.  It’s almost like a politician who writes a law and then exempts politicians (or government officials) from their own rules.  The word “grammar” should not be exempt from its own rules. 

Grammar is a hypocrite.

8 Comments
  1. Ha! Good points, but I’m still a die-hard grammar fan.

  2. I hated grammar as a kid, but I thank my stars that I know the rules. I notice a lot of the rules have become loose to say the least, and I see a lot of professionals who don’t know where from wear, or even its from it’s. If I was a real die hard, I’d say what with the advent of texting and changes in standardizing English, in another 100 years no one will understand what all the grammatical marks are any more. Still, I like to know I’m being understood, so I stick to most of the rules.

  3. I guess I’m one of the statistical few in that I’m an English teacher who loves grammar and loves teaching it. I hated learning it in school until I got to university and found out that it made sense. The thing about grammar is that the stuff we often learn, like not splitting infinitives, is more just style and convention. I don’t like that stuff. Writers should write by sound and feel, not by rulebook.

    • You’re an English teacher, eh? When students ask if they can use the restroom, do you say, “I don’t know, can you?” Hahaha! (The diabolical laughter is mine, not from any of my former teachers.) I agree with you that most of it actually makes sense; I just understand why it gets frustrating sometimes.

      • Actually I teach English in Korea, so if my students ask anything in English, I’m overjoyed. I can’t have too high standards for them. I think people who ask that are being overly pedantic, since “can” can be used the same as “may”. But with grammar, the war rages on 🙂

  4. Loved the bonus reason! I hate grammar because of all the exceptions to the rules. Example “I” before “E” but then there’s words like “weird” and “seize.” What gives!

    • Ugh! The exceptions! The exceptions would get another 1,000 words (at least!) from me. At least I had a Charlie Brown spelling bee book to help me with the “i before e” stuff when I was a kid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: