Happy National Grammar Day! What? You didn’t realize that March 4th is National Grammar Day? That’s okay. We’ve got you a gift anyway: this explanation of what grammar is. We’ll also look at the difference between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” grammar, and the benefits of proofreading.
What Is Grammar?
The word “grammar” refers to the rules and structure of language, including:
How words are formed and change (i.e., morphology)
How words combine to make meaningful sentences (i.e., syntax)
So, for example, we understand “I like to nap in the afternoon” because it is a grammatical sentence (i.e., it follows the rules of English grammar). But “Nap I to in afternoon like the” is nonsense despite using all the same words.
You don’t need to know the grammatical rules of a language to use it: most children learn to speak before they even know what “grammar” means. But studying grammar can help you communicate more effectively, especially if you’re learning English as a second language!
Descriptive vs. Prescriptive Grammar
We mentioned the “rules” of language above, but grammatical rules aren’t like the set rules of a game or unbending scientific laws. Language changes all the time. And grammatical rules are simply a reflection of how a group of people use a language at any given time. However, some people prefer to apply strict rules, especially in formal writing. This is the difference between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” grammar:
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Descriptive grammar is about how people use language in practice. From a descriptive point of view, grammar is less about being right or wrong and more about standard and non-standard language.
Prescriptive grammar, on the other hand, is about having strict rules for how to use a language. This is less popular among English teachers and speakers than it used to be, but some people love a rule!
At Proofed, we think context is important. Policing how people use language in everyday life is often unhelpful. And non-standard language is a big part of what makes English so excitingly diverse.
But there are occasions – such as in essays and other formal writing – where using standard grammar will help you make your point clearly and authoritatively. So prescriptivist grammar has its place, even if insisting people say “whom” instead of “who” is a bit annoying.
National Grammar Day: Proofreading for Grammar
If you ever want help with formal English grammar, you can always ask us! Our proofreading service includes a full grammar check, plus we’ll provide educational feedback in comments. And, after all, what better way is there to celebrate National Grammar Day than with a little proofreading? Upload a 500-word trial document for free today and see how it can help!