Some Grammar Helps!

By: Mubarak Abdessalami

            For new theorists in the field of English language teaching for non-native speakers, Grammar is not actually of great importance for they claim that communicating a message is based on language and meaning not on grammar. In other words, when two people understand each other, it is thanks to the meaning conveyed in what they say, and that's the most important objective of all. Grammatical mistakes are not spotted or commented while two people speak to each other. They only expect from each other to be readable enough and they never correct each other. The likely made mistakes are always overlooked as far as the message is transmitted and decoded easily.

            This is somehow tolerable but everybody knows that Grammar is the backbone of the language and without it the language becomes distorted, meaningless and sometimes even barren. The extension of the language relies greatly on grammar so as the complexity of the expanded statement won't be an encumbrance to decoding the message. Hence, Grammar must be respected while speaking or writing. So you make sure your audience or interlocutor will surely understand what you "mean". It is advisable, however, not to rely seriously on the grammatical form on the expanse of meaning. This will lead to mere noise. What is important in priority is to know the basics. And the more you are short and simple, the easier you'll be understood.

            The base form of the simple sentence is Subject + Verb + Object when it is affirmative. Shifting to compound and complex statements however, requires a great care vis-à-vis the order of words and the parts of speech used as well as the placement of clauses, punctuation, tenses and so on within the text of your message. As you see, it is not enough to know a language; it is rather the knowing of the accurate structure of your syntax which counts much. This is crucial to make yourself coherent, clear, and understood. The more a sentence is grammatically approved, no matter how long and verbose it is, the more easily graspable it gets. Despite all, Grammar remains an important factor in making sense of your sentences though grammar alone doesn't make sense; it only helps in the making of it. In Brief grammar and meaning are two sides of the same coin. They only complete each other but once separated they are disabled. Let's try to imagine them "disabled"!

Case I

            Imagine a person who learns a lot of vocabulary items and whose lexical repertoire is opulently loaded. This person is able to make as many fabricated sentences as he wishes, yet nobody could understand or even decipher what he says or writes unless the grammatical form is respected. For example,

1. "Under lays old the man that tree a philosopher who is ".

This is what I could have imagined myself but the person's sentence may well be worse. Any other person who's got the right syntactic structure of accurate sentences in mind could rather say,

2. "The old man who lays under that tree is a philosopher.".

Therefore, not much cognitive effort is needed to decode the second sentence because the message it carries is crystal clear. A lot of words don't make meaning but with a little help from grammar everything will be significant and legible again.

Case II

             Now imagine another person who learns the grammatical rules so well that he can smell the least grammatical mistake in an utterance or a script but whose Lexis is very poor (which is logically unsustainable). What do you think his sentences would look like? Let's envisage one of his:

  • "The table speaks water".
  • This sentence is a hundred per cent grammatically correct. It respects the normal order of the English formal simple sentence [subject (The table) + verb (speaks) + object (water)] but it means nothing or at least it means something inconceivable to the human brain. This case also is not usual at all; the sentence is almost a wizard incantation: The table cannot speak except in fairy tales; and water is not to speak. Later on you'll see more examples of such extraordinary "meaningless correct  sentences"

                Both cases above are worse than each other. Therefore normal speakers of any language should be a mixture of the two persons above so as to reach an advanced level of eloquence like poets, writers or orators of high standard. My intent, however, is to try and investigate to what extent grammar could be helpful in making sentences extend to develop into texts of certain length without harming the meaning but on the contrary improving it considerably.

    Step by step Progress

                The simple affirmative declarative English sentence is made this way:


    However the expansion of the sentence is always possible. The sentence goes from Simple to compound and then to complex ...


                The sentence, any sentence, is endlessly flexible. It takes diverse shapes and meanings. You can generate as many utterances as you wish if you simply master the accurate syntax of the sentence. The intelligible sentence is not accepted as such unless it is grammatically and semantically accurate. Additionally, the intonation and the tone play an enormous role in displaying the genuine meaning of the sentence when it is spoken.

    */ Look at these ones and see how they grow meaningfully:

    The sentence can go expanding like this until it becomes almost a paragraph or often a short passage in a text. In order that the sentence expands correctly and naturally without harming the context and the meaning you should rely on clauses and punctuation to achieve the task properly.


    The phrase in blue is the clause which is used basically to identify who, among all the students named "Ali" you know, does what you said. This clause, in other words, specifies the student you are talking about. He is neither "Ali" who lives near the marketplace nor the one who lives on the other side of the street. There's something here you can do to own more space for your sentence. Because you are talking about Ali who lives next to you, therefore you are talking about Ali your neighbour. It is thus that you can change the clause into a phrase "My neighbour", and gain more room for another clause. See what I mean?!

                Things will go in this stream of generating more details without harming the meaning and the ultimate objective of the sentence use. But beware this expansion may lead to verbosity and eventually you may lose control of the meaning. Besides this, the listener may wonder if what you say is exactly what you mean and if what you mean is exactly what you want him to understand. It is quite a complicated system. It is a little bit risky and it needs too much care and concentration. The further you go with the extension of your sentence, the least sure you are that your addressee will get what you mean easily. Generally speaking, the long winding sentence is not recommended at all. It is always better, as I constantly advise my students, to keep it short and simple.

                No matter what my advice is, the students usually like to be challenging with their long twisting sentences to tell everybody that they master the stuff quite well. No objection! But if things develop to go a bit further than the normal limits everything will collapse. Now let's go on with our chosen sentence to see what are the limits?

    Though this sentence becomes complex and seems wordy, it shows the flexibility of language and the ability of the human brain to coin, duplicate and paraphrase utterances without hurting the original meaning of the sentence: Ali goes to school. All the added words render the image - the listener makes - very clear and beyond any potential misunderstanding. What is the role of language after all? Isn't to communicate clear ideas...

                It is true that language is flexible but this flexibility may turn against the meaning when it becomes misleading. It may churn out a hip of useless words. What is meant by all this? I simply mean that a little grammar helps but meaning should come first. Let's have fun with these examples showing the stupidity of grammar operating alone.
                As it is previously mentioned, the construction of the simple affirmative English sentence is
    SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT : [JOHN + PLAYS + TENNIS]. Read the following and comment. TENNIS PLAYS JOHN. Well, let me do the comment for you. This sentence is grammatically correct because it respects the order of words, ( subject=tennis, verb=plays and object=John ). However it is not acceptable at all. Why not? Because it is meaningless. Tennis can never play John, can it?

    */ Have a look at this series of examples:

    All these sentences are grammatically correct yet they are valueless as meaning holders. They are only funny sentences not more nor less. Some of them, however, may be metaphorical but this inference cannot be justified but through a context. These separate sentences have nothing of real sentences. They are merely a group of words gathering together to have a hilarious party of meaningless correct  sentences.


                What we call language is never words or phrases alone; it is not grammar alone either. It is both, added to them many other factors that I didn't want to tackle in this paper because this would create some disorder. Nevertheless, may be another time we'll talk about them in a separate article or articles. But as for now, do please remember that meaning cannot be clearly conveyed unless you get some help from grammar. So befriend with it, it is helpful.

                If grammar, the very vital element in the normal construction of our speech, is permanently disregarded, one day we'd prefer communicating through gestures, facial expressions and shrieks to speaking at all. Animals will mock us, our new communicative style will look a blurring dirty copy of the original which is theirs and which is innate in them. Ours will be fabricated and that would be disastrous for our nature as human beings. What is going on in the quickly made business low-leveled action films, some cheap serials as well as some Rap songs is a threatening alarm for sure.


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