One of the jokes I am constantly faced with as an English major is the most annoying phrase “grammar Nazi.” This annoys me first and foremost because people who use this phrase are accidently comparing people in the world who strive for clarity in written communication and who, at times, may hold too tightly to proper grammatical structure with the kinds of people who commit genocide – the kinds of people who are so intolerant that they forget that other people are human because they carry a specific label. And I’m not saying they’re doing this on purpose. I’m sure they’re not. They think it’s a joke and laugh it off and move on with their lives.
But, this is not the only reason that this phrase annoys the crap out of me. It is also supremely exasperating because most everyone who uses it presupposes that every single person who knows and appreciates proper grammar is so attached to proper grammatical use that literally everything else pales in comparison, which just isn’t true. Sure, if you ask me to edit an essay for you, I’ll point out grammatical errors. Does that mean that I’m going to point out the grammatical errors in the texts you send me? No. Why would I do that? What would be the point?
All that being said, it does raise the question of whether proper grammar is that important. Some people will hold on to the rules of grammatical structure until their dying day. Some people really could not care less. And some even flout the rules on purpose.
I think that there are instances in which it matters, such as academic essays, journalism, non-fiction writing, any kind of writing you have to do for your job, etc. I also think that there are instances in which this does not matter as much, like in personal emails, texts, class notes, and similar thing. And on top of that, I do believe that there are times in that first set of instances where the rules do not necessarily always apply.
The purpose of grammar and grammatical structure is to make your writing as clear as possible. You want your writing to be understandable, and you don’t necessarily want to make your readers work to understand you (at least, I hope not in this day and age. There were ages filled to the brim with elitism where that was basically the point, but I’d like to think we’ve moved past that). If you’re writing an email and you don’t capitalize anything or use any real punctuation marks except commas, but it still makes sense, then it’s totally okay. If your grammatical structure and your grammatical errors actually make it harder to understand what you’re trying to say – that’s a problem.
I do believe grammar is important to learn, because knowing the rules is the first step to properly overstepping them.
Grammar is very important in the world we live in today, if only because it is the set of rules that everybody knows to some extent and that is the standard to which the literary world is held.
There is one point to which I am steadfast, however, and that is the importance of the Oxford Comma. This is the comma that comes right before the word “and” when you have a list of three or more things in a sentence. Some people do not believe in the use of the Oxford Comma – formatting their sentence as such “I need cake, butter and eggs.” I personally believe that the Oxford Comma is super important because it clarifies the list. To use one of my favorite examples of why this is important – if you say “I went to the club with the strippers, George W Bush and Barack Obama,” you are implying that Bush and Obama are strippers! Whereas, if you say “I went to the club with the strippers, George W Bush, and Barack Obama,” it is perfectly clear that these are three different objects in your sentence, not two objects that describe the first.
So yeah, you can circumvent grammatical rules if you know what you’re doing, but I advise the use of the Oxford comma. Always.