Read an Excerpt
How Grammar Works
A Self-Teaching Guide Second Edition
(The figures and/or tables mentioned in this sample chapter do not appear on the web version.)
What Is Grammar, Anyway?
Early people invented language, just as human beings have had to invent all of our other tools, from the simple stone axe to the latest technology. Almost all inventions are attempts to improve our quality of life, and language is no different. As the world becomes more complex, the tool of language adapts and changes with it.
No one questions the importance of language. It's very different with grammar.
Grammar is not merely a set of rules to memorize and follow so that you can speak correctly and write better. Grammar is really an analysis of language. Like a technical manual, a guide to English grammar goes beyond the surface to show you the essential parts of our language, how they relate to one another, and how they fit together into sentences. Just as knowledge about the operation of one combustion engine illustrates the principle behind all combustion engines, so a study of grammar teaches you the basic construction of all sentences. Even as they grow more complicated, they still operate on the same principle.
Using language is like driving a car. When you drive, you think about the road, the traffic, and your destination. As you drive along, you don't have to remind your hands to steer or your foot to press the proper pedal. If you did, you'd freeze at the steering wheel. There is too much going on at once.
To a driver, operating a car becomes automatic. It is much the same with language. When you talk, you don't think in terms of grammar. You think about ideas, about what you want to say. Your mind is not on the process but on the goal you want to reach with your words.
You can be a good driver without being able to name the parts of an engine and explain how they work, but knowledge of a car's mechanical system helps you judge its performance and anticipate its response. An engineer can diagram the mechanical system of an automobile to show its parts and their relationship to one another. (See Figure 1-1.)
In the same way, a grammatical diagram shows the parts of a sentence and their relationship to each other. (See Figure 1-2.) Both diagrams serve a similar purpose. When you check the diagram of a sentence, you discover the relationship of its parts, and their function becomes clearer.
Understanding the system that makes English work-its grammar-can help you spot and label problems in your speech and writing, then learn to eliminate them.
A study of grammar provides an inside understanding of language. You learn what the parts of speech are designed to do and why. This discovery enables you to cut through to the core words of a sentence and thus become a more effective reader.
In this way, knowledge of grammar gives you greater control of your language when you read, speak, and write.