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The "Grammar" Page

Grammar: One of the "Divides" we need to bridge?

What is "Grammar" anyway?

This word--as do many, if we stop to think about it--has a number of meanings. These meanings depend on who's using the word.

When linguists use the word, they mean something quite specific; not something most people are accustomed to. For linguists, Grammar refers to all the structural knowledge that a speaker must have given all the things she does with the language she speaks and understands. The site that you will find by scrolling over "linguists" provides a rich set of examples of the sorts of topics linguists think about. Here is another such site, and finally, a discussion on Wikipedia (a trusty first step, but never the only step) provides an overview.

When grammarians use the word, they're most often referring to traditional descriptions of sentence structure and the pieces of language constructing them--"parts of speech" for instance--that people have identified.

But what many teachers, editors, and others mean when they use the word grammar is usage. And usage refers to the choices of sentence "pieces" and sentence forms that are accorded the privilege of preference in what we can call "standard or mainstream edited American English." "Edited" is an important word, because it implies written American English, and that's exactly what people are referring to.

We'll try to connect these three meanings; they constitute one set of divides for us to bridge.

Another place to build bridges comes in the territory of usage. A critical point to remember is that in order to write in a formal situation--at a university, in a school, or at any other sort of job--we all need to learn a new system. Writing is not like talking (whether we're "talking" a spoken or a signed language)

Writing is almost a different language; we need to learn its grammar.

Now, whose grammar is the one we want?

Ideally, we want them all. But, then we want to know how to choose the most fitting one of them when we need to.

Having that control is part of what general literacy involves, and making that control both explicit and accessible--well as helping faculty who are working with students toward that access--is central to WRAD.

Some Helpful Grammar Sites

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Grammar? Grammar and Mechanics? Sentence Fragments?

The following paragraphs offer links relating to grammar. The information on these links goes from labeling and describing parts of speech--in explanatory ways--to talking about the larger questions: What makes a sentence "complete?" How do I get my subject to agree with its verb (and how do they find each other)? What if someone tells me I have a "dangling" or "misplaced" modifier; where should I look first? What does my grammar checker mean when it tells me that some sentence is passive and I should do something? When is a paragraph a paragraph? What does the word "mechanics" refer to in that often used phrase "grammar and mechanics?" The questions multiply.

To begin with, here is a site with six other sites described and linked. The writer is a professor at a community college. I’ve looked at the webpages, and, indeed, they are helpful (as well as up and running). They do range from sites that address grammar (the structure of sentences), usage (the preferred structures of sentences), and more general issues related to writing. Importantly, the sites explain topics and issues. The University of Oregon site (you’ll see it on the page) explains many of the fundamental terms—noun, verb, adjective, etc.—providing some very helpful insights.

Professor Butler's Favorites This site in general is quite a good basic writing resource as well. If you seek out the Writer's Block, you'll be directed to a range of other sites, as well.

And here is another site that is quite comprehensive.

Dr. Goodword's site: is a varied and variably helpful site. Its webweaver, Robert Beard, is a linguist who inhabits this site as the character “Dr. Goodword.”

What about Usage? What is that?

"Usage" is a term that people who are concerned about such things use to refer to preferences for, well, the use of words, phrases, and sometimes structures in spoken, but especially in written English. These are preferences that hold across all writing--whether we're writing a letter, a lab, a memo, or a monograph-- (of course, systems such as contemporary text messaging have their own preferences for usage,as you can see on the WRAD home page) Here are some sites that should be helpful in guiding us as we make wording or structural choices.

Decisions about usage are generally made by people who are recognized writers, educators, or in some other way, constitute strong and venerable voices about what sorts of sentences are better than other sorts, and should constitute "Standard English." One such voice is the regular "On Language" columnist for the New York Times magazine, William Safire, who most insightfully took note of the reality that language changes--unstopably and irretrievably--when he said, roughly, "Well, when enough of us are wrong, we're right."

The American Heritage Dictinary of the English Language has an excellent usage panel, and this site is helpful, as it discusses a range of topics, including preferred structures--under the "grammar" link

But this second site seems to be an industry, with a book and a 2009 calendar! Nonetheless, it has a huge list of words and terms to search or browse through

Stay Tuned for More


A Placeholder of Interest

What is "Lorem Ipsum"?

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What does all of this mean? Why does it grace unfinished web pages? Lorem Ipsum is, itself, a text; it has a discourse significance. And this small section represents a chunk of it. You'll learn what a rich tradition it has as you discover its story.