Sunday, March 02, 2008

Grammar and Clarity

Every so often, you read posts by linguistic types arguing that grammar and clarity have nothing to do with each other. Sometimes, that's true. Even though "I feel badly" isn't grammatically correct, its meaning is clear enough.

We just read, however, that gun violence costs us $100 million a year. How much of that could we have avoided had the Founding Fathers been a bit more careful with their modifiers, or if earlier scribes had left the original punctuation intact?

This graphic comes from the Virginian-Pilot. Click here for the story.

To all those who argue that grammar and clarity are separate pursuits, we respond with this example. How long will the dispute go on?

The thing is, people rarely intend to be unclear with their writing and speech. The rules of grammar do, however, give a good framework for determining meaning. When the author of a statement is no longer alive to explain it, we can apply the rules and translate as well as we can. When those rules aren't followed, it becomes guesswork.

Good grammar doesn't guarantee you're saying anything worth reading. But we can't think of a better way to ensure people your words are understood.

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