Monday, March 7, 2011

I Don't Need To Know No Stinkin' Grammar...

My brother, when he was in Kindergarten commented to his teacher that he really didn't need to know spelling. He said that when he grew up, he would have a secretary that would do all the spelling for him. While this comment was funny at the time, it is, unfortunately an attitude that many people around the world have taken. We even see this in the K-12 education system where we teach to the standardized tests and have completely thrown out the old grammar lessons. But I digress on that point.

Writers in particular seem to think that understanding grammar is not necessary because of all the resources they claim to have at their disposal. They have their grammar checkers, the proclaim they have their resource texts such as STRUNK AND WHITE or A WRITER'S REFERENCE (which I personally believe is the best text). The problem though, is that for many of you out there, your grammar checkers are not looking for all of the mistakes you have. You haven't even set it to look for 80% of the problems. As for the books, you will only look at that text if you happen to realize you have a problem.

Now, let's take it to a new level. There are also those out there (including some agents I know) that feel that focusing on the content is the most important because the publishers have copy editors to take care of the problems. Tsk, Tsk, Tsk. The issue here is that, while I agree content and having a great story is crucial, if the story has grammar mistakes, the image the manuscript is giving to that editor is someone who doesn't understand the basic rules of written communication.

Grammar, including spelling, punctuation and sentence construction are the rules of the game we all play by. Yes, grammar is difficult to learn. Yes, many of you haven't had grammar training in a long time. But, this is no excuse. You have to know it and you have to understand it.

When I read query letters and submissions, that grammar really sets the tone for me. Seeing someone with huge issues tells me there is a great chance the content might also be struggling. This is going to be a huge time suck as we try to sell your story.

So what am I saying? Figure it out! Learn that grammar and make sure you use it all correctly. No, I am not saying that you will be rejected with a dangling participle. We aren't that mean. But I am saying it may be a factor that is leading to that rejection letter.



  1. "The problem though, is that for many of you out there, your grammar checkers is not looking for all of the mistakes you have."

    Should it not be: "...your grammar checkers are not looking..." or: "...your grammar checker is not looking..."

  2. Stanley Fish wrote three opinion articles on teaching composition in college that come from one basic philosophy: sloppy writing is the product of and produces more sloppy thinking. If you can't formulate your thoughts properly, you can't express them properly. If you can't express them properly, you aren't thinking them properly. I am not sure I completely agree, but there is definitely something about bad writing that is linked to bad thinking. Also, presenting a manuscript with poor grammar is just plain unprofessional.

  3. I agree with your post. Grammar has always been something dear to my heart. Tempermental little nuns made sure to instill respect for the basics of punctuation. I think they believed electronics robbed us of learning abilities. It's true. It goes back to cashiers relying on keys to add and subtract. I see more of it every day. It's more often than naught that I get people asking me how to spell certain words or how to punctuate. I blame in partly on the crutch of electronics, but also a desensitized society that no longer has time for educating youths properly. If writers can't learn the basics then it's just pointless rambling. Just my thoughts.


  4. Thank you Karen. You are so right!

  5. I agree. There is no excuse for bad grammar! In my first year of journalism school we were put through the ringer with a series of stringent grammar courses. Needless to say, I am incredibly thankful for those lessons! Improper grammar is as obviously unprofessional as a query letter on butterfly paper.

  6. "The The Impotence of Proofreading," by TAYLOR MALI highlights the limitations of grammar and spell checkers in one of the funniest videos I've ever seen:

    I thought it tied in perfectly with your post today!