The Architecture of Grammar: The Ultimate Guide with eBook
Does the word grammar make you cringe?
Many people do cringe at the word "grammar," and understandably so. The word may remind you of your school teacher tormenting you. Or perhaps your parents lectured you about why we should care about grammar. That's far from the best way to love grammar, isn't it?
Whether you're a business owner who wants to make your writing clear and compelling or a writer who wants to improve your skills, this guide will help you get on track with some basic notions and terminology. This guide is adapted from one of Trivium Writing's featured books, The Architecture of Grammar, written by Léandre Larouche.
Table of Contents
- Grammar Definition
- The Origins of the Word Grammar
- Why Grammar is Important
- Is Grammar Really Necessary?
- Grammar in English
- Grammar vs Spelling
- Grammar and Syntax
- Grammar vs. Punctuation
- Grammar Checkers are Not Always Right
- Grammar Rules: Are They Legitimate?
- Correct Grammar in Your Writing
First, let's define grammar.
Grammar is how we arrange words in sentences. Grammar is also what allows us to be understood by other people. Without it, we cannot transfer information from one person or a group to another. As outlined in The Architecture of Grammar, grammar components include parts of speech, phrases, clauses, and sentences.
The Architecture of Grammar is one component of Trivium Writing's Architecture of Writing method. What makes this writing method so special? Simplicity. At Trivium Writing, we treat writing—and, of course, grammar—as information blocks to build meaning. Each grammar component is an information block, and by laying out block after block, we create clear, compelling texts.
Every grammar component is important in your communication. For example, certain parts of speech and phrases should not be overused. Some clauses and sentences should be used in specific ways to make writing more engaging. And, of course, with each grammar component comes grammar rules to follow.
In this sense, grammar works like architecture. Just like in building a house, you need different materials (grammar components). You also need to think about the different levels (parts of a sentence) to build solid foundations before you can move on.
The Origins of the Word Grammar
The word grammar came from the Latin word "grammatica," which is derived from the Greek word "grammatikos," meaning "of letters." The first use of the word grammar in English was in 1530, and it was used to describe the study of language. In the 1600s, grammar began to be used to refer to the rules of a language.
Grammar is one of the three liberal arts known as the "Trivium." The Trivium consists of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Ancient Greeks considered grammar, logic, and rhetoric as the foundation of any person's education. In other words, a person's power comes from these skills. Trivium Writing was founded to bring attention to the Trivium.
As Christopher Mulvey points out in The Development of English Grammar, "The story of the development of English grammar involves not only the history of the English language but also the history of England itself. "The starting point of the English language," Mulvey notes, "is the language we call West Germanic, and the starting point of England is the arrival of West Germanic peoples in Britannia in the fifth century."
Since then, English grammar has evolved a great deal. It was impacted by other languages such as Norse and Norm-French and was more recently impacted by globalization and the Internet. Today, commentators often note that the quality of writing has declined in the past 20 years. It's important to note that, while it is true, good writing has also become more important. After all, there is more information available than we can ever consume.
Why Grammar Is Important
Grammar is a key to being successful. People pay attention to how you communicate when you make a point, fill out a form, or submit a page-long argument. With the Architecture of Writing method, instead of being intimidated by a sentence that has more than one clause, you can identify the building blocks for your sentences, and build them easily and effectively.
Learning the building blocks of grammar and how to use them is critical to your future. It helps you showcase your knowledge, and it also improves your speaking. The better you write, the better you think—and the better you think, the better you speak.
Grammar is also context. By mastering grammar, you master the narrative. And, when you master the narrative, you have power over other people. It makes you look intelligent, educated, and trustworthy. You can then use this stature to advance your career or your business.
The Architecture of Grammar is based on the notion that if you can write well and know nothing, you can make a living because you can express other people's ideas. If you know how to write and are knowledgeable in one field, you can make a fortune because you can position yourself as a leader.
Is Grammar Really Necessary?
Even though grammar is a great advantage, some people question why they should bother learning the rules of grammar. After all, many native speakers often flout them without negative consequences. But it's not about how native speakers use English but rather how correct usage enables you to communicate more effectively with others at work.
Incorrect grammar can lead to misunderstandings. Consider the sentence, "I didn't do nothing." The person who wrote that may have meant, "I didn't do anything." However, the person reading it could think, "I (he/she) didn't do nothing."
If you know how to use grammar, you avoid looking unintelligent or uneducated. You also avoid getting confused when other people make mistakes. In the end, grammar is a common tool we use to understand each other. It's important to use it with intention.
Grammar in English
Grammar is different from one language to another. For example, French and Spanish use commas very differently than English. The same goes for the German language. Not only does vocabulary change between different languages, but so does grammar.
Grammar in English comprises all the rules that make sure a sentence is properly constructed and understandable. These rules include sentence structure and punctuation, which are comprised of the different grammar components: parts of speech, phrases, clauses, and sentences.
What makes English grammar different from other grammars is the extent to which it is straightforward. Proper, or correct, English grammar has more to do with how clear and logical your sentences are. While that's also true in many other languages, it's particularly acute in English.
As a non-native English speaker, I had to learn English the hard way. It involved using the dictionary and grammar books profusely. However, I realized my struggle was also my advantage. French, a more wordy and complex language, made me see the simplicity of how English works.
Grammar vs Spelling
Grammar is different from spelling. While spelling includes words that are spelled differently but have the same meaning, grammar is about using words correctly within a sentence. This guide is focused on grammar, but you should note that spelling differs from a country to another. There are different varieties of English:
- British English
- American English
- Canadian English
- Australian English
- and more!
Generally speaking, you should use the spelling of the country where you are publishing. If you are American publishing in the United States, it goes without saying you should use American spelling. But if you are Canadian or British publishing for an American audience, remember to switch up.
Spelling isn't the worst mistake a writer can make, but it's good practice to write in the audience's language. Anything that distracts the reader from the information you convey is a nuisance. Readers who see unusual spelling may think it's a mistake or wonder why a word is spelled in such a way.
If you publish your writing yourself, it's up to you to decide which spelling you are using. If you are working with a publisher, though, you'll have to follow the publisher's style. Style guides are documents that outline how writers should write for a given publication.
Grammar and Syntax
Grammar is made up of two major components: syntax (the rules about the ways words are put together), and morphology (the rules about the ways words are formed). There are also a number of smaller, related concepts that fall under the category of grammar, including punctuation, parts of speech, and verb tenses.
Syntax can be an intimidating concept, but The Architecture of Grammar makes it easy to understand. AOG simplifies syntax into blocks. The book's first lesson is that "We build sentences by stacking information blocks on top of one another." These information blocks can be understood through question words:
In grammatical terms, these information blocks are:
- Parts of speech: different word categories that give us isolated pieces of information such as “who,” “what,” “where,” “which,” “whose,” “when,” “how,” and “why.” Every word in a sentence is a part of speech.
- Word Roles: the role a word plays in a sentence. Unlike parts of speech, word roles don’t say what words are; they say what words do.
- Phrases: groups of words that convey more complete information such as “who,” “what,” “where,” “which,” “whose,” “when,” “to whom,” “how,” and “why.”
- Clauses: Clauses are simple ideas, or incomplete thoughts, that do not allow you to convey an understandable point. They allow you to express part of a point.
- Sentences: Sentences are complex ideas, or thoughts, that allow you to convey an understandable point. They’re made of one or multiple clauses, phrases, word roles, and parts of speech.
Grammar vs. Punctuation
A frequently asked question is whether grammar is the same as punctuation. The short answer is "no". Punctuation is one aspect of grammar. The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines punctuation as "the marks used in writing that divide sentences and phrases; the system of using these marks."
In The Architecture of Grammar, I argue that "punctuation gives meaning to sentences by indicating the relationship between different parts of your text (clauses, phrases, word roles, and parts of speech). Without punctuation, it is virtually impossible to read a text."
The Architecture of Grammar is divided into six sections, two of which focus on punctuation:
- The Basics
- Sentence Structure
- Basic Punctuation
- Advanced Punctuation
- Style and Audience Alignment
Punctuation is important in grammar because it shows the relationship between words. Even the tiniest punctuation mistakes, like misspelled words, can cause tremendous confusion to readers. They can hinder your message and mean something entirely different.
Grammar Checkers are Not Always Right
Most people cannot easily identify their mistakes and would rather just avoid the entire process of editing and revising their work. Because of that, the Internet is loaded with free online tools that claim to check your grammar. While some of these tools are helpful, many of them are not accurate.
Worse still, some grammar checkers introduce errors into your writing. That's why it's important to have a solid guide to English grammar you can trust. After all, not all mistakes are created equal. Some aren't so obvious, and with so many exceptions to rules, judgement is essential.
You should definitely use grammar checkers to make your life easier. I personally use Grammarly and Antidote because they are good in different ways. While Grammarly does a great job of finding big-picture mistakes, Antidote is excellent at finding smaller issues and consistency problems.
There is power in combining human and artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence tools cannot replace humans fully, but they can make them more efficient. Often times, artificial intelligence tools such as Grammarly simply do what a human could do at a larger scale and with more accuracy (though it's never perfect).
Grammar Rules: Are They Legitimate?
Correctness is a contested topic in grammar and in linguistics more generally. Some people believe that grammar rules matter a great deal, while other people believe they are elitist. In linguistics, there are two main schools of thought:
- descriptivists: people who believe that grammar should simply describe the way people speak and write, without regard to what is correct or incorrect. Descriptivism takes a very organic view of language and follows language closely in its evolution.
- prescriptivists: people who believe that grammar rules are meant to stay the same and that we should adhere to English grammar. Prescriptivists often have a sense that grammar protects the language against decay and that walking away from it hinders comprehension.
ThoughtCo, an educational website, offers great illustrations of descriptive and prescriptive grammar. It not only defines the schools of thought but also offers examples of the two. Although The Architecture of Grammar approach is moderate, it does fall to the side of prescriptive grammar because the vast majority of students need a prescriptive approach to grammar.
The rationale behind AOG is that grammar is a code through which we understand each other. Terminology helps us understand the architecture of grammar and create a web — or structure – that leads to an understanding of how the English language works.
AOG provides suggestions and definitions to learn English grammar. While it does not address poetry, it does talk about tone and style, which are useful across the genres. The AOG cover represents the view from a New York City penthouse. The concept behind the book is that if you learn how to write well and effectively, you are going to be more successful—and perhaps more likely to buy a penthouse.
Correct Grammar in Your Writing
Is there such a thing as correct grammar?
Yes, and the best way to learn it is by reading The Architecture of Grammar. AOG is not simply a grammar suggestion, but is a list of 30 fundamental grammar rules you can use today to improve your writing. AOG assumes no knowledge of grammar and gives you all the most important lessons.
These aren't elitist, hard-to-understand rules; these simply are the way you need to arrange your sentence for them to be correct and make sense to your audience. AOG teaches grammar rules by using fun, relatable examples and it asks you to write about something you care about.
One of the most important aspects of grammar is the knowledge of what is correct and when. Something may be correct for one audience and incorrect for another. These are lessons a dictionary can't teach you; rather, reading and writing experience will tell you. The Architecture of Grammar will also help you increase your knowledge of grammar.
Article by Leandre Larouche
Leandre Larouche is a writer, coach, and the founder of Trivium Writing.