Two weeks ago, we discussed why having grammar awareness is vital to having good grammar skills. Today we will explore ways you can work to increase your own awareness of grammar without taking a grammar course.
Learning to be aware of grammar is probably one of the most difficult tasks you will face on your journey to good grammar. I know from personal experience. Even though I have been a grammar aficionado for many years, it was not until I took a graduate level course in English syntax (i.e., grammar) and began teaching it to non-native speakers that I developed my own grammar awareness.
My grammar professor in graduate school once told us that native speakers are the worst people to be teaching grammar. And it is true. It is not because we do not know the rules—we do; the rules are second nature and instinctual to us. It is because we lack the ability to explain grammar and approach it consciously without proper training. It is because we lack grammar awareness.
So how do you approach increasing your grammar awareness? Perhaps the first step is to understand that the entire process takes a lot of time, effort, and practice. Good grammar is not something that you can achieve overnight, and even people who love grammar struggle with it on occasion. In that sense, dedication to learning is a necessary step in increasing your awareness of grammar. Once you have that, there are two different ways to increase your awareness. One way allows you to increase overall awareness, and the other targets your specific trouble areas.
1. Increase your general awareness.
Parts of Speech
Whenever I teach grammar, I institute a five minute activity at the beginning of every class that involves naming parts of speech. By getting my students to recognize and name parts of speech, they begin to realize how the parts of speech interact with each other and what that means for grammar. Once they get pretty comfortable with this exercise, I begin to ask them, “How do you know?”
That is, they must be able to explain to me why their answer is the correct one. When they explain their answers, they are being trained to think consciously about language. Why is this word an adjective? It describes a noun. Why is this word an adverb? It modifies the verb. This exercise teaches my students to understand what words are doing in their sentences; they are identifying the function of each word. Knowing how words function together can strengthen their awareness of language. You can do the same thing.
For additional parts of speech information and practice:
- Read my own explanation of parts of speech.
- Practice naming parts of speech at Vocabulary Spelling City.
- Get more practice at EZ School.
People may hate me for suggesting this–and I fully agree that diagramming sentences is not exactly a fun way to spend your free time–but it works. Remember: the road to good grammar is not a smooth and easy path. If the amount of frustration and effort is directly related to an increase in grammatical knowledge, sentence diagramming is the way to go. Diagramming sentences takes learning parts of speech to a whole new level (the sentence level, actually) by looking at how sentences are constructed.
Want to try diagramming on your own?
- Check out helpful tips for diagramming sentences at Your Dictionary.
- Note: though there are additional links on this page, the links seem to be either broken or not very helpful.
- Apply what you learned and practice at Wisc-Online.
2. Target your trouble areas.
If you know what you most struggle with, you can actively target these spots. First, you need to have a trick or a way of figuring out the correct answer. Have trouble with your and you’re, for example? The trick that I learned initially was to expand the contraction of “you’re” into “you are” in the sentence. Let me give you two examples:
“I know _____ leaving soon.” –> “I know you are leaving soon” –> This is a good, grammatical sentence. –> “I know you’re leaving soon.”
“I think you left _____ shirt in my car.” –> “I think you left you are shirt in my car” –> This does not make sense. –> “I think you left your shirt in my car.”
Now, here comes the not so fun part. In order to apply these tricks, you must stop your writing to determine whether you have used the correct word or not. This is tough and will slow down your writing process, especially at first. But the more you do it, the more the rule will come naturally when you are writing. Applying tricks such as the your/you’re one described above can help you become more aware of how you are using grammar.
Need some tricks of your own? Try these sites:
- 10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling by The Oatmeal
- 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly by Copyblogger
Still have questions or want to make sure you have the right answer? Tweet me at @amshofner. I am always happy to discuss grammar with you.