Why grammar?

Grammar is usually one of those subjects that people hate. While words undeniably are essential, it would be hard to communicate comprehensibly without grammar.

As an example, let's remove some grammar rules from the first sentence of this column: Those one people grammar subjects are hates of usually.

What do you think, dear Reader? Would you agree that words alone won't do the trick?

The correct word order is indeed significant: Grammar is usually one of those subjects that people hate

Knowing about singular and plural is important as well. Since the word grammar is singular, we need the singular verb is. People, in contrast, is plural, so we need hate instead of hates. Otherwise, we would get: Grammar are usually one of those things that people hates.

We also have to know how to use that. Of course, this sentence would work without it: Grammar is usually one of those subjects people hate. In other circumstances, however, that is required, e.g., She picked up a napkin that had fallen on the floor. We could not say, She picked up a napkin had fallen on the floor.

These rules here are English grammar. Chinese or Danish, in contrast, use only one verb form for both singular and plural, thus not distinguishing between is and are, hate and hates. Italian and Spanish require the use of that in our example sentence.

And although both English and German may put usually at the beginning of the sentence, the position of is will change in German: Usually is grammar one of those subjects that people hate instead of Usually, grammar is one of those subjects that people hate.

Thanks to grammar, languages are given structure to function properly. So if you learn a new language, appreciate its grammar instead of cursing it.

Dr. Daniela Ribitsch originally comes from Graz, Austria. She has lived in the United States since 2009 and teaches German at Lycoming College in Williamsport. She can be reached at ribitsch@lycoming.edu.