Grammar refers to the system of structural rules which describes
how words combine with each other to form sentences. In this sense,
as a speaker of English, you already have an instinctive knowledge
of English grammar. It is this knowledge which enables us to distinguish
a well-formed English sentence from one which is clearly ill-formed.
For example, native speakers know that
the following sentence is well-formed
David plays the piano
Native speakers can produce and understand
a sentence like this without ever thinking
about its grammar. Conversely, in the
course of everyday communication, no
native speaker would ever produce this:
*piano plays David the
We know there
is something wrong with this second
example, not least because it doesn't
make sense. It is ill-formed—we say
Now if it's true that native speakers
have a functional grammer, then it is
reasonable to ask why we need to study
grammar at all. If we know instinctively
that the first is acceptable and the
second example is nonsense, then what
more do we need to know?
In the most general terms, a knowledge
of grammar is part of our knowledge
of the world and of ourselves. The use
of language is a distinctively human
activity, so it is appropriate for us
to understand how it works. The study
of grammar enables us to say why example
1 is acceptable and the second is not.
It enables us to externalise and formalise
our instinctive knowledge of our own
The study of grammar helps us to communicate
more effectively. Quite simply, if we
know how English works, then we can
make better use of it. For most purposes,
we need to be able to construct sentences
which are far more complicated than
David plays the piano. A knowledge of
grammar enables us to evaluate the choices
which are available to us during composition.
In practice, these choices are never
as simple as the choice between the
first and second example above. If we
understand the relationship between
the parts of a sentence, we can eliminate
many of the ambiguities and misunderstandings
which result from poor construction.
In the interpretation of writing,
too, grammatical knowledge is often
crucially important. The understanding
of literary texts, for example, often
depends on careful grammatical analysis.
Other forms of writing can be equally
difficult to interpret. Scientific and
academic writing, for instance, may
be complex not just in the ideas they
convey, but also in their syntax. These
types of writing can be difficult to
understand easily without some familiarity
with how the parts relate to each other.
The study of grammar, then, enables
us to go beyond our instinctive, native-speaker
knowledge, and to use English in an
intelligent, informed way.
There are tons of resources to help you with your questions
about grammar. Type "grammar" into Google and you'll find pages
and pages of sites dealing with grammar.
Click here for a few very useful