Tuesday, July 31, 2007

1.0--On Things Grammatical

A. Here’s the problem:
Those of you who attended ninth grade at PCDS received one of the most thorough groundings in English language, grammar, and usage known to Western civilization. You were drilled—even if at times that drill may have felt like a three-eighths inch cordless variable speed Black & Decker—in all the fundamentals and now, fortunately, you couldn’t forget them even if you tried. They’re with you the rest of your life.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that a few of you didn’t quite get it all stored in long-term memory the first time. Also, being seventeen-and-a-half and having many things besides English grammar on your minds, you get a little careless from time to time and forget to apply what you already know. Thus problems arise, since as an English teacher, my eyes are highly trained by thirty years of reading student essays. I find errors in grammar with a keenness of vision exceeded only by a hawk circling the sky searching for the field mouse which will be its mid-morning snack. I have about as much compassion as the hawk, too. In my system of values, no paper containing basic grammatical mistakes is eligible for a high grade.

B. What to do:
Train yourself to read your drafts with hawks’ eyes. Write the draft twenty-four hours before editing; you’ll have a better chance of seeing what it says rather than what you meant to say. Read it aloud, sentence by sentence, slowly, forcing yourself to slow down to a speed that lets you see what’s really there. Always trade drafts with a partner and help each other reduce the number of what the tennis players call unforced errors.

All these strategies take time, so they all require you to begin early and break your essay writing down into a process: draft, rest, edit for content, rest, edit for style, rest, proofread for mechanics, and if possible repeat the last five steps again. Many of you won’t always have or take the time to be so meticulous about your work, but learning what to look for and putting in the time are essential steps toward making yourself a better writer.

C. Chapter Outline

1.1 Subject-verb agreement
1.2 Verb tenses
1.3 Pronoun agreement
1.4 Vague pronouns
1.5 Possessive pronouns
1.6 Comma splices
1.7 Passive voice
1.8 Dashes
1.9 No excuses, no mercy