Imagine 60-foot balloons meandering across the Rockville skyline, shaped like punctuation marks. Instead of seasonal treats, your favorite bakery has cupcakes decorated with semicolons and exclamation marks. Each house in your neighborhood is adorned with essays. The Riddler, with all his question marks, is bringing up the rear of the county parade.
Okay, so maybe the world isn’t quite ready for my vision of National Grammar Day. Did you even know National Grammar existed, celebrated on March 4th each year?
First-time celebrators, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the grammar gang, the semi-colon squad, the exclamation nation—you get the idea.
At the Macklin Center for Academic Success, grammar is a frequent topic of conversation when I work with students on their papers. Some are self-proclaimed grammar gurus, always on the lookout for rogue errors on signs and in emails. Others find themselves vexed by a set of intricate rules that don’t always make logical sense.
Me? I’m somewhere in-between. As a kid, “reading” was my favorite subject but I hated “English” and “spelling.” I was passionate about storytelling, which encouraged me to be creative and not rigid when writing. For most of my life, I didn’t really understand the rules; I learned the way one learns to play by ear or shoot on a rusted hoop in a driveway.
This changed the more I studied great works of literature, especially poetry. The way a poem can create a current of emotional tension with a simple piece of punctuation showed me that structure can empower creativity. As I spent years learning and teaching writing, I became more attuned to grammar as a thing of beauty as opposed to a favorite tool of the pedantic.
I work with many students who, like me, are looking to grow as grammarians. Whether it’s picking up on the nuances of a new language or trying to strengthen your understanding of your native tongue, there are some simple things you can do to improve your grammar.
Read and write. Find a book of poems or dive into your favorite fiction. Argue with someone on reddit or discuss a passion on an old school message board. Go back and find some of those old papers you’ve written. Look through them, focusing on any aspect of grammar you want to know better. Record yourself reading the paper aloud and play that back as you read again—are ear and eye on the same page?
The more you explore any language, the more the rules and quirks fall under your command and become an extension of the way you express the beauty of life and its complications. If grammar is something you struggle with, try out one of these suggestions or make a writing appointment at MCAS. And for those who already feel like their command of grammar is strong, I have a simple plea—treat others with grace. Instead of being the person who asks “I don’t know– CAN you”, use your understanding to share a little tip and help someone along their journey with language.
After all, under the punctuation mark balloons and figurative fireworks, there is room for all of us at the parade celebrating National Grammar Day. Well, except for maybe the Riddler. Everybody knows you shouldn’t end with a question.