What Is Grammar?

What is Grammar?

An Introduction to A Writer’s Grammar

Johannah Rodgers

What if I were to tell you that you know more about the grammar of your native language than anyone could ever teach you?  You probably wouldn’t believe me.  Okay.  I guess I should try to convince you.  Please put the following list of eight words into the correct order according to the rules of English grammar:  

are French young girls standing five there there

(the answer key is at the bottom of the page)

I’m going to assume that most of you got this right.  And, sadly, it is not because I’m invested with special powers.  Instead, you yourself, as a native speaker of a language are invested with powers that allow you to simply know what the correct order of words is.  So here is another question:  How do you know the correct order for these words?  Or, to phrase the question somewhat differently: What is your explanation for putting the words in the order you did?  

Unless you are a linguist,  you will probably not be able to answer these last two questions.  But this then raises the question:  if you know the correct order in which the words must be placed, how do you know how to do this?  Furthermore, why is it that, despite knowing how to do this, you cannot answer the question of why these words cannot be put in any other order than the one you have put them in?

That’s it for the brain teaser portion of this handout.  From here on out, it is just a question of learning to trust yourself when you are writing drafts, understanding that even brief writing projects take place in stages (brainstorming, drafting, revision), and learning a few things about how the English language works in order to revise, edit and proofread whatever writing you plan to put out into the world.

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There are three young French girls standing there.