Grammar, Grammar, and More Grammar!

“In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms: the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on improvement in writing” (Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer, 1963).


Confession time? Grammar has never been a good friend of mine. (Surprise, surprise). The foundation of my grammar comes from various teachers, moving from one school to another, and simply just not having a consistent education. At least that is what I believe. After reading this article, there are probably multiple reasons as to why grammar has never been my friend. Patrick Hartwell, the writer of this article “Grammar. Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar”(, uses other scholars and sources to support his argument of how grammar and experimental research is crucial in this field of composition. Hartwell uses Janet Emig’s term “magical thinking” as part of the base for his article. The term “magical thinking” is “the assumption that students will learn only what we teach and only because we teach” (Emig, 105). For me, I took this definition as there is this invisible rule that the only reason why students are able to take in the information that is given to them is that their teachers are giving them the information. Students are capable of learning outside of the classroom as well.

Apart from Emig, Hartwell also uses Janice Neulieb as a source to discuss grammar. Neulieb wrote, “The Relation of Formal Grammar to Composition in College Composition and Communication” where she wants to reconstruct the definition of the word “grammar”. Her new definition of grammar, “the internalized system that native speakers of a language share” (140). She also expresses a certain goal for this field that is geared toward helping students. “Our goal should be to help students understand the system they know unconsciously as native speakers, to teach them the necessary categories and labels that will enable them to think about and talk about their language” (Neulieb, 150).

What I found interesting was how the article was mainly focused around four questions in order to point out the various grammar issues. Out of the four questions, I believe the first one is the most important. “Why is the grammar issue so important? Why has it been the dominant focus of composition research for the last seventy-five years?” (Hartwell, 108). This is not a simple question as it may seem. There are people who believe in teaching grammar the traditional way and then there are people who believe in teaching grammar the non-traditional way. The reason why the grammar issue is so important is because of the students, native speakers of English and non-native speakers of English. “Developing writers show the same patterning of errors, regardless of dialect” (Hartwell, 123). If problems are being shown in both native speakers and non-native speakers, then the different questions and experiments that Hartwell has pointed out to us could be just what the field needs in order to solve these problems.

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