Grammar is one reasonable thing.
Today is National Grammar Day, apparently. I say apparently because I’ve just discovered this (far too late in the day), and I feel that I should at least mark it. I could tell you the top ten grammar mistakes that annoy me (tempting, it is), but there’s already a lot of that. Besides, I know that I make quite a few grammar mistakes, and I’ve been occasionally guilty of that most egregious of sins, neglecting even to use spell check.
So instead I’m going to tell you the one most important thing I learned at MU’s magazine editing class. Here it is:
There is, in fact, a reason for every grammar rule in existence.
You might not know what that reason is, but I promise you, there is one. Here are a few to prove it.
Example: Which vs. That
Many of you will probably know this one, but I’m going to risk shocking my journalism professors and tell you that I did not know that there is a difference between these two. Here is the difference: “That” is telling you information that cannot be left out of the sentence, and “which” is more like an aside to give you useful but not necessarily essential information.
So if you say, “The flower, which is blue, is poisonous,” you are referring to a flower that is poisonous, and it also happens to be blue.
But if you say “The flower that is blue is poisonous,” you are likely referring to one of two flowers and saying that the blue one is poisonous. Here, knowing that the flower is blue is terribly important (especially if you’re planning to eat one of them or something. But you shouldn’t. It’s best not to eat flowers).
Example 2: Might vs. May
Your parents definitely have explained to you that you should say “may I” instead of “can I’ (not that you listened. I didn’t). But mine at least neglected to tell me that there is also a difference between “It may” and “It might.”
A lot of people tend to use these two interchangeably: “It may rain today” and “It might rain today” register about the same. But really if you say, “It may rain today,” you are actually giving it (whatever “it” is) permission to rain. If you say “might” you are implying only possibility, not permission. So unless you’re bestowing permissions, it’s best to stick with “might.”
All this is meant to say that grammar is important. It shouldn’t go unnoticed. Its rules, sadly, will often be broken, and often probably by me. But it’s good to know why those rules are there and to think about it as much as possible.
P.S. I just spell checked.