Learning grammar is back. It’s on everyone’s agenda. Eleven-year-olds have been heads down at their desks this week doing grammar tests as part of the Key Stage 2 SATs. Even the BBC put up a grammar test on its news site to mark this event.
Obviously we are delighted that writing issues are now under the spotlight. We share the widespread belief that anything that improves the understanding of grammar basics must be a good thing.
Our niggle, though, is that there’s a danger that grammar is being presented as a technical issue. It’s either right or wrong, and the more you know the better you are.
We don’t believe this. Grammar, in our view, is only the foundation for good writing. It helps writers understand the role and function of words and how to put sentences together to create clear writing that everyone can understand. It is not, though, a strict set of rules and regulations that everyone needs to follow slavishly. It is not an end in itself.
The new emphasis on grammar makes us feel a little uncomfortable. It’s designed to improve writing. Our fear is that the opposite may happen. The implication is that if you don’t know your formal grammar you can’t write properly … in fact, you shouldn’t be writing at all.
Language is fluid and ever-changing. Those who want to improve writing standards need to understand that. Understanding grammar is important, but presenting the written language as a complex set of fixed rules is not. We believe in writing. Not word mechanics.