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The importance of  GRAMMAR

in English
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Why an understanding of grammar is vital for effective communication



Grammar and communication

Languages are natural forms of communication; children quickly learn to communicate using their native language, and soon master the main rules of expression without being taught.
    Indeed, we cannot communicate efficiently if we do not master the essential principles of grammar or syntax. If we imagine language as a big highway, the words are the cars and trucks, but the grammar is the road signs and markings that tell the vehicles driving on it where to go and how to drive. Without roadsigns, a big highway would quickly descend into total confusion. Without any grammar, we could manage to produce some sort of elementary communication, such as "Me Tarzan, you Jane", but we would be unable to form any more complex ideas into words. It follows therefore that mastering the essential grammatical rules is a vital skill that needs to be acquired by all learners of any language - whether it be their native language or a foreign language.

   That being said, it is generally possible to communicate orally, notably through dialogue, with just a minimul mastery of grammer, since oral communication and in particular dialogue are bilateral processes, in which the receiver - the person being spoken to - can request clarification and repetition from the speaker until the meaning of a message is clear. However, even when communicating orally, and even if a poor mastery of the rules will not normally prevent two people from communicating relatively effectively, we need some notions of grammar, as these ensure that speaker and listeners use the same code;
    With written language, grammar is essential ; written communication is deferred or indirect communication, and is unidirectional, so there is no possibility for the receiver to demand verification - at least not under normal circumstances. Written communication and any other form of indirect communication thus depend on correct use of grammar or syntax, as well as of vocabulary and spelling, in order to ensure that messages are immediately comprehensible to the reader, and not meaningless or ambiguous.

Grammar, spelling and words as codes

   Grammatical rules,  spelling and vocabulary, even pronunciaton, are codes, and like any codes, for effective communication to occur, writers and readers, speakers and listeners, need to work with the same codes.  When a writer uses one code, and a reader tries to use a different code to comprehend what is written, the reader may not understand, and the exercise in communication will fail, or partly fail.
  This happens all the time, when readers try to understand a message in a language that they do not master; since they don't fully share the same code, communication is at best incomplete, at worst ambiguous or impossible. Even if there are plenty of occasions where, with a bit of logical thinking, readers or listeners can make a sensible guess and imagine correctly what the speaker or writer is trying to say, this is not always the case.
   The worst  air disaster of all time was due to a misinterpretation of language code: on March 27th 1977, two full Boeing 747's collided in fog on the runway at Los Rodeos airport in Tenerife, Canary Islands . Five hundred and eighty three people died. The inquest determined that the main cause of the disaster was confused communication between the control tower and the captains of the two Boeings. English was being used as the language of communication between pilots and the control tower, but it was not the native language of the people in the control tower, nor of one of the pilots – and communication between the three parties involved went catastrophically wrong.
   This is an extreme example, but it shows how important it can be for the emitter of a message and the receiver to use the same codes.
    Of course, language codes change. The standard pronunciation of British English in 2016 is quite a bit different from the standard pronunciation of 1942. Churchill's great wartime speeches remain perfectly understandable to today's listeners, but we recognise that Churchill does not pronounce words quite the way we do today. Shakespeare is a bigger problem; Shakespeare's plays are full of words that are no longer used today, and there are many passages that are hard to follow for anyone who is not familiar with them already. Today, text messaging has brought in a whole new corpus of words and acronyms that are quite incomprehensible to people who are not initiated.  Some will be part of tomorrow's standard English, others will not. That's the way language codes evolve.
   At any point in time, and for any group or nation of people, there will be normative codes of language that make communication not just possible but simple and unambiguous. For oral communication, the key parameters are vocabulary, syntax and pronunciation; for written communication they are vocabulary, syntax, spelling and punctuation.

Is English really a difficult language to master?

    There is a common feeling among students of English as a foreign language (EFL), that English is a difficult language with lots of complicated grammatical rules to master. This is not really true. As a largely "analytic" language, English has a lot less "rules" to learn than "synthetic" languages such as French or Spanish, with their long tables of tenses and endings and agreements. While English does have tenses and endings and agreements, it has far less than many languages do, and the rules for using them are often quite simple and intuitive.  This is probably one of the reasons for the success of English as a world language. For example, there are only three common verbal endings in English, -s, -ing, and -ed. Compare this, if you can, to Spanish, or French, or even German.
    Analytic languages like English need less grammatical inflexions (suffixes, prefixes), because they use other tools to express the relation between words. In English, the relation between words is often expressed by word order or by the use of prepositions, and the time context by the use of modal auxiliaries, rather by than tenses with grammatical suffixes, as happens in many languages.

   See Five fundamental principles of English grammar

Linguapress essential grammar pages

   The aim of the Linguapress online English grammar  is to demonstrate these rules and principles of English  grammar or syntax as concisely and clearly as possible, and to show that they are often not as complicated as some books would like to imply. It is not necessary, in order to become a proficient speaker, or even writer,  of English, to have read and mastered one of the thick volumes of English grammar and syntax published by the major university presses of the English-speaking world; it is just necessary to have acquired and understood the basic rules, which are actually quite clear. Most native English speakers never go any further than that !
 
    Finally, it should be stressed that Linguapress grammar pages are intended for teachers and for students who have already acquired a good working knowledge of English as a foreign or second language. Beginners may find the explanations a bit hard to follow.

Etudiants francophones: voir Grammaire anglaise sur notre site partenaire angleterre.org.uk

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Cette page en français: ► La grammaire anglaise









Linguapress online
CLEAR ENGLISH GRAMMAR
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Selected grammar pages
Verbs
Verbs: the present tense
Verbs : the future
Verbs: conditional tenses
Phrasal & prepositional verbs
Irregular verb tables
Nouns
Noun phrases
Articles 
Adjective order in English
The possessive
Sentences & clauses
Relative clauses in English
Conditional clauses in English
Word order in English
Reported questions in English
Miscellaneous
Language and style 
Word stress in English
The short story of English
More resources
Reading resources: advanced 
Reading resources: intermediate
Crosswords and word games

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