How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Grammar

Posted on April 7, 2014


ImageI make a living by selling insurance. When I first began, I learned there were words that you just didn’t use because people have negative associations with them. When I try to set appointments, I never say, “I want to schedule an appointment with you.” When people hear appointment, it brings up thoughts of going to the doctor for a colonoscopy or the dentist to get your teeth drilled. I think a lot of writers have the same reaction whenever they hear the word grammar. All of a sudden their minds conjure up an image of an eight-foot-tall woman with horn-rimmed glasses, a beaked nose and a hair bun so tight that it looks like her face would tear right down the middle if she tried to smile. Her weapon of choice is a yardstick that looks more like a Louisville slugger and she is just waiting to come across a dangling participle or sentence fragment and then–WHACK!

You don’t have to live in fear of grammar. As with most things, I think this fear comes from ignorance of what grammar really is. There are two schools of thought when it comes to grammar: prescriptivism and descriptivism.

People who believe in a prescriptive view of grammar feel like they are preserving the way a language ought to be used. They are the people who will tell you it is not okay to use the word ain’t. Language, in their opinion, had a golden age at some point in the past and it is their duty to prevent change by regulating modern usage. In my opinion, they are trying to dam a river using Popsicle sticks.

Descriptivists, on the other hand, study language and describe how it works. In their view, languages naturally change and rather than preventing that change, they just want to study the rules that people follow in everyday usage. They would never say whether it is correct or incorrect to use ain’t. They would only say how common its usage is. If people are using it on a daily basis and everyone knows the meaning–what’s the problem?

So if grammar freaks you out, do what I did; become a Descriptivist. Understand the rules because they help us as writers navigate and clearly communicate our ideas. But remember that the laws of grammar are not the Ten Commandments. The next time you are not sure if you should use a comma or a semi-colon, look it up, ask a friend, or take advantage of the editing services of Asta Publications; but don’t agonize over it. The eight-foot-tall grammarian is not going to descend from the sky and strike you down with lightning bolts shooting from her eyes.  Don’t let the fear of grammar become a hang-up that prevents you from doing what you love.

Write well, write often and write with confidence.


Scott Hoenstine, Writer and Editor, Asta Publications

Asta Publications has a long history of helping writers tell their stories and get published. Since 2004, Asta Publications has helped hundreds of authors bring their book concepts to life and we are ready to help you too! Our dedication to our authors is unmatched. We deliver first-class products and services that are accurate, high quality, and exceed our authors’ expectations.

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