I confess to being a grammar nut (or is it “Nazi”?) and, what’s worse, I’m proud of it. I don’t have any problem with writing that incorporates bad grammar in dialogue or even, in some circumstances, in the author’s own words, but only if the author chooses to write that way on purpose.
Language is one of the tools of our craft and we need to know the correct way or ways to use it, even if we have characters that ask “do you want to lay down?” or claim that something happens “between you and I” (my personal pet peeves). We need to know what language we choose and why. Without that underlying purpose, we’re simply writing badly.
My college-age students often tell me it doesn’t matter, but I don’t buy this idea. I’m happy to explain–twenty times twenty, if necessary–various grammar concepts from subject-verb agreement to the difference between the verbs lay and lie. The problem is that some incorrect grammar structures are now embedded so firmly in the colloquial language that people think they’re correct. Present them with the truly correct structure and it sounds wrong to them. One perspective is to see this as a step towards language evolution, but, until it’s an approved element of the language, it’s not correct and we should use incorrect language only on purpose and not through ignorance.
My favorite grammar books include children’s books by Lynne Truss (good for all ages–they’re fun!):
- Eats, shoots & leaves (commas)
- The Girl’s Like Spaghetti (apostrophes)
- Twenty-odd Ducks (hyphens, parentheses, quotation marks, periods, and more)
These fabulous books help with grammar in ways that kids and adults can enjoy. If you want a more adult approach to punctuation, try Truss’ adult book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation or Janis Bell’s Clean, Well-lighted Sentences: A Guide to Avoiding the Most Common Errors in Grammar and Punctuation, which explains basic concepts in clear, well-written prose.