Why Grammar is Such a Powerful Thing to Learn
Here in the UK, many students miss out on grammar lessons. Sure, most of us learn about nouns and verbs to death in primary school. Lots of primary school teachers out there are absolutely sick of it! However, by the time you get to your GCSEs, how much of that do you remember? Have you ever been taught how to use the info you do remember in your exams?
Most students only really learn about grammar when they’re younger. Then, their secondary school throws it all out of the window! Over time, we all forget about things if we don’t brush up on our knowledge. There’s no way anyone can expect you to remember what an adverb is when you haven’t had to think about it for five years. That’s just not fair.
Grammar does matter, though. In fact, it can help you to improve your grades massively! It can affect the way you write, the things you analyse in your texts and even how you learn other languages. There’s no denying, then, that we need to rethink the way we teach it.
Maybe we should spend a little less time on primary school drilling and a little more explaining how grammar matters when students get to secondary school. That would be extremely helpful in the long run. After all, putting grammar in the context of a text makes it much easier to understand, anyway.
Are you still not sure about how grammar can help you to do better in your exams? Well, here are the best reasons why you need to think about it more.
Learning Grammar Improves Your Writing
If you don’t know the difference between an adjective and an adverb, it is much more difficult to write well.
English often seems like quite a creative subject. You read loads of books and write even more. In your GCSE English Language, the exam board even expects you to write your own creative piece! You can’t get away from it.
However, grammar actually turns English into quite a rule-based and logical subject. Different types of words all have different functions. You use words to build phrases and clauses. Then, you use phrases and clauses to build sentences. Put lots of sentences together and you have a paragraph. One thing builds on the next to create meaning.
Unlike the more subjective side of English, there is usually a right answer to grammar. If you want the reader to understand what you are saying, you have to put the words together in the right order. Your word order will affect how the reader feels about and responds to your piece of writing. Different word orders result in different meanings. Put the words in the wrong places and your work might not make sense at all.
If your work doesn’t make sense when your examiner reads it, you aren’t going to get all the marks you deserve. You could have lovely points that answer the question beautifully! That doesn’t matter, though, because bad grammar hides it all away.
The more you understand grammar, the easier it will be to stick to the rules. That will help you to make great points your examiner will understand. Plus, you can break those rules for effect once you’re comfortable!
You Can Be More Purposeful in Your Writing
There are so many ways that you can use grammar to your advantage in creative writing. Here are just a few of the things you can do:
- Show a lack of character agency with the passive voice, e.g. “I was taken to the room.”
- Have a character try to deny their actions with the passive voice, e.g. “mistakes were made”.
- Show that a character is commanding, bossy or in a position of power with imperative verbs.
- Use a verb as a gerund to focus on the action rather than the person doing it, e.g. “the killing was harrowing” or “the jumping was annoying me”.
- Switch up the syntax of sentences like Yoda in the Star Wars franchise to show that a character is a non-native speaker or from an unusual, magical place. It can also help you to draw attention to the important words in a sentence.
These aren’t the only ways that you can purposefully use grammar to enhance your writing piece. They’re just the ones I could think of off the top of my head! There are so many others that you can explore!
I’ve already said that your word order has a big impact on the meaning of your work. You can use this to help you write better. Plus, you’ll show the examiner that you know the English language like the back of your hand.
This is something that will matter in your life after school, too. No matter what job you are doing, you will have to write. You could be an author, a journalist or a scriptwriter, sure. However, even maths people need to be able to write well! You’ve got to put together an email or a document at some point. If you understand grammar well, you can write like a boss!
Grammar Terms Count as Subject Terminology
I talk a lot about subject terminology. In fact, all my word searches exist to help you use the term “semantic field” in your exams. The government has made it clear that they expect you to use words like “simile”, “iambic pentameter” and “hyperbole” in your answer. All the exam boards have to base their exams off the government’s national curriculum. That means they have to dedicate marks to how much subject terminology you’ve used.
When you mention this requirement, most people think of literary, poetic and persuasive devices. They scramble to learn DAFOREST or the different metres in poetry. That’s all amazing! However, what are you supposed to do if you can’t find a specific device in the text? Are you supposed to ignore the amazing point you were going to say? Just because you can’t find a rhetroical question or some personification? Of course not!
That’s where grammar terms come in. They count as subject terminology, which means that you can point them out when you’re writing about a text!
Sure, a text might not have any obvious metaphors or anything like that. However, it will always have grammar. That’s impossible to escape. You can always point out the nouns and verbs. It is as simple as saying “this adjective indicates” when you zoom in! That’s such a great way to boost your marks.
Of course, you should make sure you talk about the literary devices, too. The exam board isn’t going to be so mean as to put in a text that has no devices! That would be cruel! However, when you’re stressing in an exam, they can be hard to find. If that’s the case, use grammar terms. It will help with stress, which will help you think better!
If You Analyse a Writer’s Grammar, You Can Say a Lot More in Your Essays
There is another layer to using grammar terms in essays, too. It’s not just about using the terms when you zoom in. A skilled student will also be able to analyse the grammar and think about why the writer has chosen to write in that way.
Look at the examples I gave you of how you could use grammar purposefully in your own writing. Writers use passive voice to show a lack of agency – or to take the attention off the person who did the action. They also use imperatives to show a command.
Think of the texts you might be studying in class. They will use these grammatical ideas, too. When Lady Macbeth is in charge of her husband, she uses imperative verbs. In A Handmaid’s Tale, Offred uses the passive voice to show that she has no control over her own life. These grammar ideas are everywhere.
If you want to get a high grade in your English exams, it isn’t enough to just point out subject terminology. Finding a metaphor or an example of pathetic fallacy is great! However, you can only get so many marks for that. Most of your marks come from thinking about why the writer has chosen to use language and structure in that way, as well as how the writer’s choices impact the reader or audience.
The same is true of grammar, too. If you can tell me that the word you’ve zoomed in on is an imperative, that’s a good start. However, if you tell me why Lady Macbeth uses imperative verbs, that’s when your marks will start to climb.
If you understand when and how people use specific grammar structures, you’ll be able to say a lot in your essays about the writer’s choices.
It Will Help You to Know How to Use New Words in a Sentence
If you’re someone who likes to learn new words, you’re at an advantage. If you want to get top marks, there are many things you can do. Using words people don’t use very often is one of those things. We call that low-frequency, high-level or ambitious vocabulary. Well, as long as it’s not slang, of course!
However, getting the marks is more than just throwing ambitious vocab all over the place. Examiners want to see if you can use these new words in the right way and make them feel natural in a sentence. They want to make sure that you understand the connotations of those words. Plus, it is useful to know the contexts of when the words are usually used. That will help you to use them in a purposeful way.
When it comes to using a new word well, you have to know where to put it in your sentence and how to make it work. That’s where grammar comes in.
Let’s look at the word “caesura” as an example. It is a poetic device that is super useful for you to learn for your exams. It makes students stress, though, because they often don’t know whether they should say “the writer uses caesura” or “the writer uses a caesura”. That makes them avoid using it completely! What a shame!
Well, that all comes down to whether the noun is countable or uncountable. “Caesura” is a countable noun, which means you need to put the article “a” in front of it. Once you know the grammar idea behind a concept like this, you know the right questions to ask. That will help you to use words the right way.
This is true of all types of words! Good grammar can help you to use them well!
Foreign Language Learning Will Be Much Easier
Language learning is wonderful. It helps you to connect with people from different parts of the world and learn about new cultures. You can start to think more deeply and independently because you have been exposed to different ideas in different ways. Plus, universities do love to see you take one for your GCSEs and A-levels.
If you take a language like French, Latin, German or Greek, it can actually help you with your English studies, too! That’s because English takes a lot from these languages – with French and German being at the top of the list of languages we borrow from. Learning one of these languages will help you to guess what a new word means.
However, not all languages have the same grammar structures as English. It’s not just a case of swapping out English words for Japanese or Spanish ones. I wish it were that easy.
Most of the time, you have to change the order of the words. The nouns might have genders that you need to take into account. Or, if you’re a Japanese or Korean learner, you will have to grapple with particles – and a whole new script!
Learning grammar can’t help you with all those things. It won’t help you to write in hiragana, hangul or hanzi. That’s just a case of learning and practising.
It can help you with the word order, though! If you know English grammar well, you can use that information to help you with other languages.
All languages use verbs, nouns and describing words (sometimes languages don’t see a difference between adjectives and adverbs). It’s just about knowing how to order them to make sense. If you learn English grammar, it’s much easier for you to notice those changes and use them to help you.
Learning Grammar Will Help You to Use Punctuation Properly
Most people don’t know how to use a semicolon.
If you’re one of those people, don’t stress! It’s quite a common thing. Semicolons aren’t easy.
When you look up “how to use a semicolon”, you usually get an explanation like “it joins two independent clauses”. Great. Well, what if you don’t know what on earth an independent clause is? You’re quite stuck, then!
If you learn your grammar, this is one of the things that will become easy for you. A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a verb. A subject is usually a noun (though it might be any kind of word or phrase acting like a noun). The subject does the verb. An independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own as a sentence.
There are times when you might want to join up your independent clauses to show that they are linked to each other. In that case, it is very helpful to know how to use a semicolon! It also shows that you know how to use high-level punctuation. That’s sure to wow your examiners – if you use it the right way, of course!
There are loads of other types of punctuation like this. You could use them so well if you just knew how the grammar worked!
The more you know about words, grammar and punctuation, the more purposeful you can be with your writing. That’s the thing that can make you great!
No More Sentence Fragments!
I hate sentence fragments. They are one of the biggest issues I have to tackle in students’ work. They make it so that you lose the meaning of what you are trying to say. If you say something brilliant, you could lose the marks if the examiner doesn’t understand it!
Don’t get me wrong: there is a time and a place for sentence fragments. For example, the internet! Lots of people use sentence fragments when they’re talking to their friends or writing on social media. In fact, I’ve probably used them in this blog many times! If your writing is informal and what you’re saying makes sense, a fragment here or there isn’t going to kill anyone.
However, you should never use sentence fragments. In order to avoid them, it is a good idea to learn your grammar. Sure, some people can hear the sentence fragment. That comes with time and practice, though. Don’t rely on that.
What is a sentence fragment?
It’s when a sentence is either missing a subject or a verb.
For example “ran quickly down the street” is missing a subject. You can’t use that as a sentence without it. Who or what was running? You need to put that in the sentence, too.
“Angry people on the street” is also a sentence fragment because it is missing a verb. It doesn’t work as a sentence on its own. What were those angry people doing? Make sure you tell us!
If you’re guilty of a sentence fragment here and there, learning your grammar will help you to break away from them. You can look at your sentences and check they all have subjects and verbs because you know what those things are!
It’s a More Logical Side of English
For the maths students out there, English can be stressful. You’ve probably heard a teacher tell you that “there is no right or wrong answer” in English and hated life. That’s no comfort for a logical person. If you like to find the right answers or understand a process from start to finish, it is actually quite a frustrating idea!
Well, English can be a lot more logical than you think. Sure, people can have different interpretations of a text and that will change how they write about it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some logic behind it all, though!
You can think about different connotations and contexts of words. Say to yourself “ok, the word ‘harvest’ is usually used to talk about farming. So, clearly, the writer is trying to compare that thing to a farm or a crop.” That’s a nice bit of analysis that is actually quite logical! The “why” side of things is a little less logical, but you’re already halfway there!
Then, there’s grammar. Grammar is the most logical part of English. Sure, there might be exceptions to rules and irregular verbs. There are usually clear patterns or lists to follow with that, though.
I’ve tutored many students who have really struggled with English because it doesn’t have a lot of logic. Those students tend to thrive when they keep their eye on grammar. If you tell them that their sentence “doesn’t sound right”, they will ask you why because they aren’t getting enough logical feedback. Instead, I tell them the word order and the order of adjectives and their work improves dramatically! They can use this new info to analyse the texts they’re studying, too!
Grammar helps you to take the guesswork out of English. There’s no need to stress!