Important Grammar Tips and Tricks
Although we use grammar in almost every facet of our lives, it is a subject that is oftentimes neglected by our school curriculums. When speaking with students, I often hear them describe grammar as “confusing”, “dull”, or “boring”. Grammar doesn’t have to be a bore, and it doesn’t have to add stress to your life! In fact, mastering grammar can simplify your writing process and make it easier to express your ideas. Here are some grammar tips to help you in your journey as an editor and writer:
Know the fundamentals
Like any kind of learning, grammar is rooted in understanding the fundamentals. You can’t understand the laws of chemistry without an understanding of subatomic particles. When learning the sciences, it is customary to start with understand the basic units, before progressing to an analysis of larger systems. You learn about protons and neutrons, before you learn about the complete structure of the atom.
The science of writing is no different! A great grammar tip is to basic units of speech, before you can begin to edit your writing for both grammatical correctness, as well as aesthetic criteria like flow, style, or voice.
Here are some of the basic structures to know:
1. Subject: the noun or “thing” that is doing the main verb
2. Verb: the action word
3. Object: the noun or “thing” that is receiving the action of the verb
Example A: The dog went to the park
In this example, “the dog” is the subject, “went” is the verb, and “the park” is the object
Example B: We ate dinner
In this example, “we” is the subject, “ate” is the verb, and “dinner” is the object
In order to master the building blocks, I recommend that you examine anything that you are reading. Any clause can be broken down to these elements, so you can always practice. Reading is the best way to practice grammar, because it will reinforce correct structures. Once you have mastered the building blocks, you can move on to my next grammar tip: differentiating clauses from phrases.
The most common error
The most common errors in grammar occur when readers or editors are unable to differentiate a clause from a phrase. Clauses and phrases determine where punctuation goes. Simply put, if you are unable to recognize clauses and phrases, you won’t know which punctuation to use and where to use it! For this reason, understanding clauses and phrases is crucial to a mastery of grammar. My grammar tip to live by is to understand the difference between clauses and phrases!
The difference between clauses and phrases is that clauses have a subject verb pair, whereas phrases do not. Phrases can have verbal components, but they do not have main verbs. Mapping out clauses and phrases is important, because anytime you transition from a clause to a clause or a clause to a phrase, you need to insert punctuation. Most of the time, this punctuation is either a comma or a period, but occasionally, under special circumstances, you may need to insert a semi-colon, colon, or dash.
Another thing that is important to remember is that there are two types of clauses. Independent clauses can stand alone, whereas dependent clauses cannot stand alone. An example of an independent clause would be “I went to the park”. An example of a dependent clause would be “although I went to the park”. Most of the time, you place a period at the end of an independent clause. Most of the time, you will place a comma at the end of a dependent clause, unless that dependent clause is preceded by a comma and an independent clause. Phrases are always embedded in clauses and are separated by commas.
Overall, grammar can be tricky, but knowing a few grammar tips can go along way. Mastery of grammar does not require years of studying or practice; instead, it merely requires a knowledge of a few basic structures and a willingness to pay attention to the substructures of writing. Learning grammar will allow you not only to take ownership of your editing process, but it will also provide you with the tools to develop your voice. Good writing is about developing momentum, and you can best do so by feeling comfortable moving between a variety of styles.