Reaching for the Sky
So, what comes after we finish grammar? That's a common question. The answer is simply to build on the foundation, get that building up into the sky. Get off the ground and start building walls and roofs.
If we look at the relationship of grammar to writing in particular, we can get the idea. In passing let me say that writing is related to speaking in that both communicate thoughts. Since we do a lot more speaking and have the ability to use tone, volume, pitch, facial expression, and so forth as well as interact directly with the one to whom we are speaking, we generally have greater facility with speaking than with writing. Grammar is only one of many tools used in speaking. In writing, however, grammar becomes more important. Writing requires a preciseness not always needed in speech.
Writing is generally composed of sentences. Those sentences form paragraphs which in turn form essays or compositions of some sort. Most of us don't write in dialogue fashion except in fiction or when quoting someone in a formal report. Sentences are the basic unit of writing, and sentences are where grammar is important.
The point here is that sentences are the basic building blocks of writing. If someone has the ability to create sound sentences that are correct and expressive, then the writing of larger pieces, such as essays or reports, should be a relatively easy task. A good foundation generally means a good building; a poor foundation will not support a good building. In other words, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Tall buildings have strong foundations.
I have read many a student essay where the ideas were really rather good, but the expression of those ideas was poorly executed. In some cases it was because the sentences were not constructed well. In some cases it was because there was little or no variety in construction. In many cases it was because of mechanical errors such as usage, spelling, and punctuation. You will note when reading most student writing that almost all the errors occur within sentences. Common mechanical mistakes detract from reading any piece of writing. The only exception might be the effort to achieve dialect in fiction, but that is not the focus here.
Even the style and clarity of expression is deeply rooted in the sentences themselves. The complexity and variety of structure found in sentences gives pleasure to the reader. Why, I bet most of you were bored with "See Dick run. Oh, see Dick." That gets old fast. Unfortunately, most of the writing books today focus on the paragraph, the essay, poetry, and the short story. They assume an ability to write good sentences. On the other hand, most grammar texts focus on taking sentences apart, being able to find specific parts of speech in a sentence, being able to differentiate adjectives from adverbs, and so forth.
That is why I force the use of the constructions on the student. They must create sentences according to formulas. They must use the constructions they have been taught in the lessons. As a result, they become familiar with those constructions and will then employ them in their own writing in the future. The alternative title under consideration for Jensen's Grammar was Jensen's Sentences. Yes, it is work to write and correct those sentences, but we've already talked about that in a previous article.
Another factor in good writing is the proper use of vocabulary. The carpenter who has only a few tools at his disposal is limited. On the other hand, the carpenter who has his truck along that looks like a hardware store on wheels has many options available. Similarly the student who has a good vocabulary has the ability to be much more expressive and more precise than those whose word hoard is small.
For that reason I always taught vocabulary in every subject and was constantly using words that I felt the students needed to know. Such words would become theirs and would show up in their writing; thus, their writing became more enjoyable and interesting for me to read. You, likewise, will find vocabulary a valuable adjunct to English and other subjects. After all, literacy should be one of your primary goals. The ability to communicate well is the proven common denominator of all successful people. Have those students write those sentences in the grammar books and then go on to our book, Jensen's Format Writing, which is widely available.
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