Grammar and punctuationAs an eNotes editor, I do a lot of editing of student questions and discussions before I ever start answering them.  It is shocking to me to see the lack of quality grammar...

Grammar and punctuation

As an eNotes editor, I do a lot of editing of student questions and discussions before I ever start answering them.  It is shocking to me to see the lack of quality grammar and punctuation, mispelled words, words used inappropriately, etc. (from high school and college students who are supposed to have been taught). What has happened to our educational system that young adults can't speak and write proper English? 

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have never taught elementary or middle school, but I do have the feeling that grammar and punctuation may be taught poorly or not at all, particularly by younger teachers, who often seem quite insecure about their own knowledge.  This leaves it to those of us who teach at a high school or college level to deal with the problem.  My own preference is to teach mini-grammar and punctuation lessons, using students' work as my jumping off point, because, while I do believe most care about communicating properly when necessary, it is very hard to engage students in lessons that are not about their own writing. 

I am not particularly troubled by the writing I see on this site, choosing to put a positive spin on it.  The students feel comfortable enough to communicate with us in their own way, which is good, I think, they are sometimes under time constraints, and it's better for them to ask improperly than not ask at all, and finally, we do have an opportunity to help them by editing their questions.  Sometimes I wonder if I should take that extra minute to sneak in a grammar or punctuation lesson when I do edit a question, but I'm not sure whether or not I should be doing so. 

As we do seem to be in the middle of a major shift, I cannot help but feel that as this generation learns how easily misunderstandings can arise without proper grammar and punctuation, these will fall back into place or be replaced in some other way.  Can we look forward to a future in which emoticons are expected to clear up all misunderstandings? 

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This discussion naturally leads us, I think, to the question of the eventual cost of the decline of grammar. What happens when the rules break down? Will a new set of rules take the place of the old set? Will we be able to understand one another? 

I don't think that the situation is dire, exactly, but where does the grammatical laziness cited above lead us to in the long run? 

I've already encountered internet comments which were unintelligible, as most of us probably have. Syntax is the biggest problem in these - bigger than spelling. Attempting to read those boggling missives, the danger of a non-grammatical world becomes clear and present. Are we seeing the same thing in the classroom? 

Grammar exists to facilitate communication. If we all follow the same langauge rules, we can expect to understand one another better than we can in a situation without rules.

Do people choosing not to follow grammar rules believe that they will be understood despite the lack of grammar?


sarahc418 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with pohpen that it is more about lack of caring. Yes, they are doing more tweets and texts but that doesn't reenforce good grammar. it reenforces the need for quick writing with few characters. This means that people resort to omitting words, phrases and letters from words. Students don't see enotes as a formal audience and then in turn don't use good grammar and spelling.

My students spelling and grammar is rough in the classroom but it is not as bad as some of the questions and comments I have seen on this website. When students get to the career level and have to write e-mails I worry that they will be in trouble regarding their grammar and spelling. They view the computer and internet as a relaxed audience therefore needing no spelling or grammar thought. 

litlady33 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems like most of the above posts argue that students, in general, know proper grammer, but they choose not to use it. I would have to agree. What worries me is that many people- not only students but also young professionals and even older adults- do not realize the importance of proper grammar/spelling/puntuation in certain situations. People get so used to using informal language and lax grammar when communicating with their friends, that when it's time to, say, write a professional letter or create a resume for a job, they forget how to write correctly. I think we need to teach students that there is an appropriate time for each kind of writing/speaking and how to determine when to speak/write correctly and when it's okay to do so more informally.

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The surprising thing about this is that, as bad as student writing is, students are probably writing a lot more than they ever did before. Think of all the emails, texts, and tweets that they are creating. The thing is, they're creating them for each other, so nobody cares if they are writing correctly.

Many students also do not care to proofread what they write. There is a sense that electronic communication will take care of itself. Spellcheck and Grammarcheck will catch my mistakes, they assume. That is, whenever they pay attention to it.

I know  that with my students, when I force them to proofread, they can find most of their misakes themselves.

jihyunkim67 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've worked with many students who speak English as their second language and sometimes they struggle with grammar, spelling and using certain words. As the previous posts mentioned, I think it is totally understandable for some students to ask questions in rather incorrect grammar because that's what we are here for, to correct and help students learn. The issue with improper wordings and grammar used in some questions deals with lack of care as well, like the post above mentioned and again, I think the free and less restricting grammar regulation is somewhat helpful in helping students ask questions very freely.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The shortcuts that many of our students use when they send text messages are going to result in formal, "proper" English feeling like a second language, with all the mistakes that can lead to. The numbers of students writing eNotes who are attempting to learn in English as a completely foreign second language are another understandable reason for misuses and confusion in attempting to express questions.

I don't get concerned about the mistakes as such as much as I wonder at times if I am interpreting correctly what the student actually intends to ask!

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Post #3 -- on this site there is no necessity to write well or proofread. They write as they would for casual circumstances because that is how they feel. I would also add that there are obviously many students posting questions here who are writing in English as their second language. I tend to be more patient with those students who are doing what I assume is the best they can in a foreign language that is not all that easy to learn and use.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Do you really think that it is inability, or do you think that it is a lack of caring?  It seems likely to me that many of these students would be able to write better if they wanted to.  However, they just don't care because they do not see any downside to writing the way they do.  Particularly on a site like ours, why would they make the effort to proofread?  It's not as if we will refuse to answer their question because of shoddy writing.