Reflection Essay—Grammar and Usage

Questions to Answer:
What are some of your experiences with grammar and punctuation errors? How have you received feedback on these issues, if you have had any? How did you feel about the feedback?
What has been the most effective form of feedback you have received when it comes to grammar and punctuation?
What resources have you found that have been most helpful to you as a writer? What kind of feedback has been most helpful to you as a writer?
References PLEASE USE:
Adam Ruins Everything – Why Grammar Rules Aren’t Always Exact Links to an external site. (Batoracle, 2017) [YouTube Video, 2:04]
Writing Spaces: Grammar, Rhetoric, and Style Download Grammar, Rhetoric, and Style (Hulst, 2020)
PLEASE TRY TO FIND THE SOURCE (from school library)
This chapter focuses on grammar, specifically on understanding that
grammar is much more than just the rules that we have been taught. Rath-
er, grammar can be used rhetorically—with an understanding of the writ-
ing situation and making appropriate choices regarding the structure of
the sentences, the use of punctuation, using active or passive voice, etc. In
other words, this chapter focuses on using grammar to influence a piece
of writing’s style, rather than focusing on the correctness of the grammar.
Readers are encouraged to look at the writing that they see in their casual
or research reading and evaluate the grammar of those pieces to gain a
better understanding of how they can control their own use of grammar.
Grammar.1 The mere word makes adults weep, children run and
hide, and dogs howl.* All right, perhaps I am exaggerating just a
bit; not all of us hate grammar. There are even people who actu-
ally like grammar. However, the general aversion to the word “grammar”
is such that the word is hardly ever used in polite company. And, if your
composition professor is anything like me, she or he tries to avoid the word
in your class.
Yet grammar should not be so disrespected. Believe it or not, most
people like grammar until their junior high school English teacher gets
ahold of them and presents grammar as a set of rules, a set of “Thou shalt
not” commandments that you must abide by or be doomed to wander in
the darkness of a poor grade. Max Morenberg, author of the book Doing
Grammar, writes:
We are born to love language and everything associated with it—
rhythm, rhyme, word meanings, grammar. If you want to make
a three-year-old child roll on the floor laughing, just tell her a
riddle, or alliterative words, or read her Dr. Seuss’s lilting rhythms
and rhymes about cats in hats or elephants who are ‘faithful, one
hundred percent’ or Sam I Am eating green eggs and ham on a
boat with a goat. Listen to a child in a crib entertaining himself
by repeating sounds and syllables, playing with language. Think
about the games you played in kindergarten by creating strange
words like Mary Poppins’ supercalifragilisticexpialodotious. Keep
a ten-year old entertained on a car trip by producing odd sentences
in a ‘Mad Libs’ game. Then ask an eighth grader what subject she
hates most. The answer invariably will be grammar. We’re born to
love grammar. We’re taught to hate it. (vii-viii)
When young and learning how to use language, we learn grammar
through trial and error. When my daughters were around two years old,
they (constantly) wanted me to pick them up. They would come up to
me, hold up their arms, and I would ask them, “Do you want me to hold
you?” Eventually, they would come up to me, hold up their arms, and say,
“hold you.” They learned the construction “hold you” to mean “hold me.”
I would correct them and explain to them “if you want me to pick you up,
you say ‘hold me.’” Before too long they caught on and started saying “hold
me” when they wanted me to pick them up. They learned by mirroring my
speech and by receiving feedback on their grammar. As we grow older, we
still learn through trial and error, but we also learn the rules. Now, instead
of a parent’s gentle correction, we are informed of our errors through the
fiery correction of a teacher’s red pen.
Grammar, the way that it is typically taught, is a collection of rules that
we are supposed to follow, and it is these rules that most of us have issues
with. After all, we know how to speak; we form words and sentences intu-
itively, and people understand our meaning. So, who are these rule-mon-
gering grammarians that think that they can tell us that we are doing it
wrong? Or who force us, as my middle school English teacher did, to end-
lessly diagram sentence after sentence? Why do they take something that
we love as children and warp it to the point that we can’t stand it?
Grammar doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. We
shouldn’t need someone to tell us that we are wrong, and then to make
us memorize a bunch of rules in order to speak or write. What grammar
should be is a tool to help us better communicate with our audience—a tool
hat we are controlling, rather than one that controls us. Grammar should
be a tool that we use to fit our language to our purpose and our audience.
Grammar and Its Rhetorical Use
The rules are there for a reason. Grammar rules are concerned with cor-
rectness—to make sure that we are following the accepted guidelines of
the language. However, grammar isn’t all about rules. Instead, grammar is
about making meaning. People understand us because we are using gram-
mar—we are arranging our words in a certain order, and because of that,
our audience understands us. For example, if I said, “store went to Jim the,”
you’d probably ask, “What?” But if I used the same words and arranged the
words according to the grammar that I absorbed at a young age, I would
say, “Jim went to the store.” By arranging the words according to what
those listening to me expect from my grammar, my audience would know
exactly what I meant. And this awareness of what the audience needs is
the heart of what I am talking about—that grammar has a rhetorical use.
Grammar simply means “a system that puts words together into mean-
ingful units” (Morenberg 4). We’ve already seen how that works in the
earlier example of “Jim went to the store.” As we create lengthier and more
complex sentences, we incorporate punctuation such as commas and semi-
colons, consider pronoun/antecedent connections, carefully think about
verb shifts and a host of other issues that can affect the meaning of our
words. This is what most people think of when they hear the word gram-
mar. However, this doesn’t have to be that big of a concern, as grammar is
best learned by using the language, rather than through systematic study of
the rules. In fact, I have had many older, so-called non-traditional students
in my composition classes throughout the years, and they are generally
more adept at grammar usage than my “traditional” eighteen to twenty-
year-old students. This is not because they have studied the rules of gram-
mar more thoroughly; most of my older students confess that they haven’t
thought about grammar for many years. This is simply because they have
used the language, and have experience using it in many different contexts,
for a greater length of time.
Rhetoric is a word that most of us have heard, but we may not really un-
derstand what it means. It is a word that is often thrown around negatively,
and often in political discussions, such as, “Well, the president may think
that way, but I’m not falling for his rhetoric.” But the term really shouldn’t
have such a negative connotation. Simply defined, rhetoric is “a way of
using language for a specific purpose.” The rhetorical situation of a piece of
writing is everything surrounding it—who the audience is, the purpose for
writing it, the genre of the writing, etc. Knowing this helps us know how
to use language to accomplish the purpose of the writing, and grammar is
part of that use of language. English professor Laura R. Micciche expands
on the rhetorical role of grammar:
The grammatical choices we make—including pronoun use, ac-
tive or passive verb construction, and sentence construction—rep-
resent relations between writers and the world they live in. Word
choice and sentence structure are an expression of the way we at-
tend to the words of others, the way we position ourselves in rela-
tion to others. (719)
When we write, we can carefully choose the grammar that we use to make
our writing effective at conveying our meaning, but also give the audience
a sense of our own personality. This brings us to a third word that needs
to be defined: Style.
Grammar and Style
Style is perhaps the most visual aspect of rhetoric—we see authors’ style
in their writing. Style refers to the choices that an author makes—choic-
es about punctuation, word usage, and grammar—and those choices are
influenced by the rhetorical situation that the author finds herself in. For
example, consider the following sentences:
• Katelyn was concerned that Chloe worked late every night.
• It concerned Katelyn that every night Chloe worked late.
• Chloe worked late every night, and Katelyn was concerned.
• Every night Chloe worked late, and that concerned Katelyn.
Each of these sentences say the same thing, and the grammar is “correct” in
each, but the sentence an author chooses depends on the style she wishes to
use. The first sentence is the most straightforward, but the last two put the
emphasis on Chloe rather than on Katelyn, which might be what the au-
thor wants to do. Sometimes the style within a specific rhetorical situation
is prescribed for us; for example, we might be told that we cannot use “I”
in a paper. Sometimes the style is expected, but we aren’t necessarily told
the rhetorical situation’s rules; we might be expected to use the active voice
rather than the passive voice in our papers. And sometimes the situation
is wide open, allowing us to make the grammatical style choices we like.
Also wrapped up in this issue of style is the concept of standard and
preferred usage. Usage is simply the way we expect words to be used—and
this doesn’t always follow the rules. For example, a famous line from the
original Star Trek series tells us that the Enterprise’s mission is “to boldly
go where no man has gone before.” This seems right—but there is a split
infinitive in the phrase (no need to worry about what a split infinitive is
right now). To abide by the rule, the line should say, “to go boldly where
no man has gone before.” But that doesn’t sound as right to most of us, so
a decision was made to break the rule and write the line according to the
common usage of adding an adverb before the verb.
What usage is preferred is also dependent on the rhetorical situation of
the text. As an example of the differences between standard and preferred
usage, consider contractions. Most of the time when we speak, and often in
informal writing, it is perfectly fine to use contractions like “can’t,” “isn’t,”
or “aren’t;” contractions are standard usage. You may have been told in
your composition class that using contractions is okay in your papers, but
using contractions is not preferred in many rhetorical situations, as in a for-
mally written research paper. We use the words “I” and “you” all the time
when we speak, but we will find many writing situations where they aren’t
acceptable (i.e. preferred). Knowing what usage is preferred takes a little
insight into the rhetorical situation—you can read examples of the type
of writing that you are asked to do, you can question friends who have al-
ready taken the course, you can seek advice from books or the internet, or
you can ask your instructor. Since grammar, style, and usage are so closely
related, and quite possibly they have already been introduced to you as the
same thing, throughout this essay I will often refer to these types of style
choices as grammar choices.
All Together Now
When we write, we are entering into a conversation with our reader, and
the grammatical choices that we consciously make can show our readers
that we understand what they want from us, and that we are giving them
what they expect. In your academic writing, the rhetorical situation de-
mands that you make grammar choices that are appropriate for college-lev-
el writers. Unfortunately, these grammar choices are not static; they will
change—perhaps only slightly, perhaps greatly—as your writing situation
changes, as you write for different teachers, courses, or disciplines. In your
other writing, the rhetorical situation may call for an entirely different set
of grammar choices.
Here’s an example of how the rhetorical situation affects grammar
usage. You need to express an idea concerning the need to recycle. In the
first rhetorical situation, you are speaking to your friends, people that you
have known since you were five years old. In such a situation, it might be
acceptable for you to say, “It ain’t rocket science, bonehead. Recycle that
junk and save the Earth.” If you’re speaking to your mother, you might
say, “Mom, that can go in the recycling bin instead. Let’s save the planet.”
If you are writing about this for an academic audience, you might instead
say, “We must always consider the consequences of our actions. Throwing
recyclable materials in the trash results in overflowing landfills, land and
water pollution, and an increased strain on raw materials. However, recy-
cling glass, metal, and paper reduces our consumption of these materials
as well as lowers the fossil fuel energy needed to create new products.”
The example should not suggest that longer sentences are more correct,
although the academic audience example is considerably longer than the
other two. Hopefully, if I have done it right, the academic audience exam-
ple is longer simply because I am proving my point, not because I’m trying
to sound smart by using more words. But the grammar has also changed.
In the first example, I used “ain’t,” which is not considered grammatically
correct for most academic audiences, but the use of which is quite common
in many varieties of spoken English. In the second example I used the con-
traction “can’t,” which, again, in many academic writing situations would
be frowned upon. In the final example, I have attempted to use “standard”
grammar, the grammar that the academic rules say I should use, as I know
that that particular audience would expect me to do so.
In many academic writing situations, the work is assessed, in part, on
how well the writer adheres to the rules. If I used the style and grammar of
the first example in a paper for my Environmental Science class, you can
imagine what could happen. Writing an academic paper as if I was talking
to my friends would probably negatively affect my grade. However, the
poor grade wouldn’t mean, “your grammar is wrong,” even if my instructor
phrased it that way. Instead, what the grade would mean is that I did not
use the appropriate grammar required for the rhetorical situation.
Using Grammar Rhetorically for Style
Grammarian and textbook author Martha Kolln asks us to look at sen-
tences as a series of slots into which we place words (5). We know what to
put into certain slots; for example, in the “subject” slot we know we need a
noun or a pronoun, and in the “verb” slot we need, well, a verb. Knowing
ust these two slots, I can make a good sentence: “I laughed.” As sentences
get more and more sophisticated, more slots become available. For exam-
ple, adding an adverb slot, I can create the following sentence: “I laughed
loudly.” This is a basic element of the rules—the rules tell us what we are
allowed to put into the slots.
So then, how do we move past the rules? How does a writer use gram-
mar rhetorically? First and foremost, you use grammar this way by being
conscious of the choices that you are making. Remember, when you write,
you aren’t simply putting words on paper; you are constructing a conver-
sation with a reader. You make conscious choices about your topic, your
title, and your word choice, as well as many other choices, in order to carry
on that conversation—grammar is just part of the many choices that you
can use to your advantage when you are using language for your specific
purpose. It might help you to see how this is done by looking at works that
have been written for a variety of audiences and trying to figure out why
the authors made the grammatical choices that they did.
Throughout the rest of this essay, I will present several examples of
writing, and I will look at what each author has chosen to put into their
sentence slots and why they made those choices. The first example is a
paragraph from the manual for the video game Fallout 3:
Nuclear war. The very words conjure images of mushroom clouds,
gas masks, and bewildered children ducking and covering under
their school desks. But it’s the aftermath of such a conflict that
truly captures our imagination, in large part because there’s no re-
al-world equivalent we can relate to. Mankind may have witnessed
the horror of the atomic bomb, but thankfully we’ve somehow
succeeded in not blowing up the entire planet. At least, not yet.
(Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide 3)
This paragraph violates many of the rules that I learned as a developing
writer. For example, I see the contractions it’s, there’s, and we’ve, and a
conjunction, but, starts a sentence. I see the preposition to ending a sen-
tence—a definite no-no, if I remember my grammar rules. Also, as I write
this on my computer, my word processor is very kindly informing me that
there are two fragments in this paragraph. I believe that Ms. Herrema, my
eighth grade English teacher, would cringe if she read this paragraph in a
student paper. Yet I think it unlikely that you noticed all of these “errors”
in the paragraph as you read it. Why didn’t you? Is it because you are igno-
rant of the rules of grammar? Absolutely not! Assuming that you didn’t no-
tice them, you didn’t notice them because taken all together, the paragraph
flowed well. The fragment sentence, Nuclear war, didn’t bother you—in
fact, it probably grabbed your attention. The contractions didn’t bother
you because it sounded like someone was speaking to you. And they were.
The intended audience of the writer is those who would buy and play
video games. (That might include you—it does include me.) As such, the
author knowledgeably chose the language, the grammar, of the game man-
ual in order to maintain the interest of the audience. We speak with con-
tractions; the author uses contractions. We speak in fragments; the author
uses them. Notice that the author is using the fragments ominously. He (or
she, but probably they—much professional writing is team written) begins
with Nuclear war. Culturally, we have, for the past seventy years or so, lived
with the knowledge that a nuclear war could happen. Those two words
conjure up such dark and depressing images that all the author needs to do
is say them, and we’re hooked. Likewise, the last sentence of the paragraph
is also a fragment, ominous, and attention grabbing: At least, not yet. We
have dodged this atomic bullet until now, but it could still happen—and
that is what the author wishes to leave us with.


Approximately 250 words