All too often I’ve heard writers rambling about how much they love grammar. They profess their utter hatred towards those who don’t use it properly. Occasionally they correct your language – who doesn’t love that, right? And they are especially viscous towards those who use text talk, but aren’t we all… bluD txt tlk. I h8 it.
Up until a few hours ago I thought I was one of those grammar lovers. I like a properly structured sentence as much as the next guy. I won’t say no to a few fancy lines of description. Clever metaphors and smart similes make my day. Of course, I find the old slippery apostrophe confusing and unfair but we’re friends at heart.
However, little did I know that grammar and I were not friends at all.
This weekend I took part in a short teaching course. We were told that the final module was grammar.
Great, I thought. Time for me to shine!
Little did I know what I was getting myself into. It turns out that us Brits know nothing about our own language. Nada. If you have been unfortunate enough to learn English as a foreign language, you will have been through the endless pain of working out which of our many tenses to use in each and every sentence.
“I wented to the shops.”
“I knowing the answer.”
“You am very nice.”
Etcetera. Hours of fun for the listeners, not so much for the confused speakers.
Fortunately, for those of us who speak English as a first language we use our nonsensical grammar without thinking, like lazy geniuses, or so I like to think.
Anyway, a few hours ago I was tested on the tenses of English along with many other aspects of grammar that I clearly don’t understand. It did not go well. I played the part of the complete beginner learning English and everyone else played the role of amused onlookers.
Do you know that the English language has 12 tenses!?
Do you know how many irregular verbs there are!?
Did you have any idea there were 44 sounds in our language!?
Have you noticed how absolutely none of our spelling matches our pronunciation!?
Try this pronunciation poem!
Now all this information is a little depressing for a writer. One of my closest colleagues has quickly become an enemy. There’s a lot of information to take in and little space or interest to store it. I must admit I haven’t got a quick fix for this one, it does seem to be a ‘practice, practice, practice’ situation.
I did find one alternative though and I’m sure many of you heartbroken grammar lovers will appreciate this too:
“Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit.”
― Elmore Leonard