What There is to Correct

I have big problems with correcting grammar. I don’t have problems doing it – I’m really good at it – I just have problems with the concept, with the purpose of it. I love correcting my own grammar. It’s a part of the art; it’s the journey toward the right sentence. What I don’t think is right is correcting someone else’s grammar, at least when I’m looking at their writing.

When we correct grammar, we are saying that the work is almost perfect but only the grammar needs to be changed. Once someone has corrected my grammar, I’m scared to touch other sentences for fear they were perfect before and now will only be messed with. This is especially true for writing in French, where I’m less sure of myself and more convinced that I might happen upon a beautiful sentence and not even know it.

Grammar is like a mark on a test. If you see a number, you’re not going to worry about anything else. If you got a 60 and the word excellent and the person next to you got an 85 and the word fine, you would wish so much to be them. What the 85 must mean about their writing! What the 85 must mean about them! And that word, excellent, it gets lost.

Sharpening concept

photo from amdesignstudios.net

I shouldn’t say I’m especially talented at grammar because maybe you will start correcting me on this post, but I will say that grammar has never been my enemy. I think grammar is a lot of people’s enemies. To me, grammar is a set of expectations that, once understood and internalized, can help communicate a message effectively. The avoidance of grammar is the avoidance of your message. So I pay close attention to my grammar already. I need it to tell you a story.

Then when somebody steps in and puts my story aside all for the sake of a missed preposition – or worse, the rephrasing of a sentence – I get offended. I am the one delivering the message, so I am the one who will worry about how it is delivered. You must worry only about my message.

A recent movement in education is towards formative assessment, a type of feedback method that allows both teachers and students to evaluate where they are at in the learning process and what they need to do to reach their shared objectives. I think of editing this way. If I am to edit a student’s work, or a fellow writer’s, I am doing it so that person can move forward with their work. Will helping them change a capital letter do that? No, it will distract them. It might actually convince them that everything, all the big details, were so spot on that all I had to worry about what that tiny (but very wrong) minuscule letter.

It’s only by reading to grasp the message and then commenting on that message (the presentation of it, the ideas behind it, the possibilities of it) that anyone moves forward in any piece of writing. Grammar is the tool that lets them get the message out, but never controllable by anyone but the person who has the message to begin with. That’s why I love grammar: it’s a personal affair, a love connection between a writer and their writing.


Teaching the Sentence

I learned the sentence by reading it. I made the sentence by writing it.

It is incredibly easy and at the same time incredibly difficult to teach someone to write a sentence. Grammar is grammar. Commas aren’t semi-colons. A clause is either independent or it relies on something. Start with something big – a Capital – and end with something tiny. But a sentence, oh a sentence, can be so much. I can’t teach someone what to write. I can only tell them what they can’t.

(from ecotarget.com)

Write one sentence that is true, said Hemingway (said everyone since.) Well, can you even write a fake sentence?

You can not write a sentence. You can write a fragment. You can write a run-on sentence. You can leave blank space or you can choose not to pick up the page at all. I can’t teach you to write a sentence. Sentences come from you.

Sentences come from you. Words come from a dictionary.

I learned the sentence by reading sentences. I read them pieced together into books. I read them in essays. I read them in poems (sometimes they weren’t real). I read them in articles and I read them in school. I read them in French and a few times I read them in Swedish and I didn’t understand them.

I read sentences. I still read sentences.

When I speak I don’t speak in sentences. I speak in ideas. That’s why me speaking is nonsensical. I am a sentence maker, not an idea person. I am a writer. I write sentences.