An Essay on English Grammar

An Essay on English Grammar


The term ‘grammar’ evokes in one’s minds thoughts about rules and regulations that govern the way one makes use of a language. English is one of the most widespread and therefore influential languages in the world and this resulted from the power that the British Empire wielded in the better part of the 19th and 20th Centuries. English was basically rode on the back of colonialism thus making it a permanent fixture in the linguistic atmosphere in many parts of the world. As a result it would have been expected that there will be uniformity in the uptake of the language in the different places where it landed.

One way of ensuring the standardization of the use of English is through the use of grammatical rules. This opened the floodgates for textbooks from the hundreds of thousands of publishers and authors who took advantage of an opportunity in the market for books that teach the learners how to use grammar. In spite of this, very few scholars have come forward to speak authoritatively about the same. This is a peculiar phenomenon considering the fact that grammar is used in virtually all the fields of study that exist globally. Advancements in technology are also advancing the manner in which English speakers learn and use grammar though like the text book industry it is largely supported by self-appointed authorities on the subject. This then places the few scholarly works on grammar that are in existence in the limelight. Martha Kolln and Robert Funk authored the book titled “Understanding English Grammar” in a spirited bid to shed more light on the topic with respect to the manner in which individuals get to understand and implement grammar in their day-to-day communications.

A summary of “Understanding English Grammar” by Kolln and Funk (1997)

The different sections of this book have been arranged in a diligent manner so as to present the message intended by the authors with as much clarity as possible. The book begins with an introductory overview of the study of grammar. This part of the book sets the pace for the discussions that are contained in the rest of the book. Concepts of English grammar that play a major role in shaping appreciation for and communication within a culture are presented in this part of the book. These concepts include the English language itself, speech, writing, structure and language. The influence of these concepts on the way people perceive the evolution of the language, changes and the creation of content within the language are also highlighted.

In the first chapter of this publication, the authors talk about how the growth and spread of the English language has affected the search for experts who are in a position to improve the quality of language used by speakers of English. The chapter also acknowledges the fact that the spread of the English language makes it highly influential in discourse that is taking place across the world. To affirm this observation, the authors cite the travels of Robert McNeil whose interviews of Native Americans exposed the fact that they were already employing the components of English grammar such as sentence structure, vocabulary and punctuation in their speech. The following quote by the authors shows that these native Americans were using a rudimentary form of the language“In many of his conversations, the language he heard included vocabulary, punctuation and sentence structure far removed from what we think of as mainstream English.”(Kolln& Funk, 2011, P. 4).

Kolln and Funk described English in three ways. These were Grammar1, Grammar2 and Grammar 3. The different forms of the English language refer to the different stages of its application as one progressively gets more conversant with the language. The first appropriately named grammar1 refers to the stage in grammar usage that comes naturally to an individual without any influence of formal education. The authors go as far as to state that people are born having a grasp of this form of the English language as seen in the following quote, “The system of rules in our heads.” This understanding of language was largely based on the subconscious mind of the individual.

The second form of the English language is Grammar2 and it is in this stage where rules are applied by the speakers of the language. These rules which dictate the use of grammar are formally described to the learners of the language. The third stage of using the English language is Grammar3 which refers to the use of the English language in communication with others by adhering to what is known as ‘Linguistic Etiquette’ (Kolln& Funk, 2011, P5). This explains the different ways that grammar can be applied in a social setting.

The authors of this book also highlight the different models of English Grammar and how they have been improving over time. These are three forms of English grammar which have had influence in different time periods. They are Traditional School Grammar, Modern Linguistics and thirdly Transformational Grammar.The first one which is known as Traditional School Grammar is derived from the model that Latin followed. It is combination of several prescriptive concepts and rules which then emphasize the structure of the language which is commonly taught in school. This model is focused on the parts of speech and how they relate to descriptive grammar.The challenge of this model is that it imposes language structures from Latin to English and other languages.

The second model, Modern linguistics gained prominence by the 1920sThe push behind the emphasis of structured linguistics as advocated for by this model was from anthropologists whose intention was the formulation of a sound method of grammatical analysis. This period saw an increase in scholarly attention being given to linguistics. Native American linguistics were studied in depth in a bid to improve the level of understanding on the dynamics of language (Kolln&Funk, 2011, P.6).

As the 1950s came to an end, a new theory of Grammar called Transformational Grammar emerged and in the words of Kolln and Funk, this was marked by a “diminished influence of structuralism.” Transformational Grammar involves a logical and analytical process of interpreting the meaning of the structure of sentences.

With respect to present day application of grammar, the authors argue thatthe use of English in the United States has taken a paradigm shift with the application of grammar being largely dependent on the context of the discussion.Unlike the past when language was largely a homogenous affair across the country, the use of language in the USA is largely dependent on the members of the population who use it. Given that language comes from the mind which is a living thing, change remains unavoidable for it and this is the reason why grammar has continued to evolve over time (P. 11).  When it comes to the application of grammar in the classroom, teachers should not only focus on rules but also also pay close attention to the student’s cultural background as this has an influence on the way the learner perceives what is being taught.


The book is concluded by stating that the English language has been remodeled over in the process diversifying its applications and therefore denying the so called authorities of the language the authority to dictate what is grammatically correct or wrong.

The book therefore conveys three major points, the first being from a young age to adulthood we speak English with correct sentences that contain Grammar structure.The second point is that the epistemology of new forms of communication remains largely unchanged due to the fact that the parts of speech remain relevant today. Finally, today’s teachers are gradually acknowledging the fact that their teaching of grammar is based on different linguistic foundations the students have and these may include slang, Native American languages, Spanish and Pidgin.

In an online article that compares the above publication to the views of other authors it emerges that grammar teaching as an exclusive affair is quite futile in improving the use of language by students as compared to whole language instruction that has a much wider approach to the subject (Haussamen, 1997). This futility however seems to escape teachers at primary and secondary academic institutions who continue to allocate it a prime spot in their teachings. This largely follows the content that is held in textbooks. Though a controversial topic with the potential of polarizing the key stakeholders in the delivery of education, teachers prefer to steer clear off the topic of grammar due to their divergent views over the matter. The reason why the textbook publishing industry is thriving in a relatively unchallenged manner is the fact that the issue of grammar has been denied the much needed scholarly interest. This encourages redundancy in the area of language development since these textbooks are very similar in the content they present. At the same time, they are hesitant to deviate from the traditions that exist in the field given it has always worked for them.

On a personal note I feel that language and more specifically grammar is bound to continue changing albeit at a slow pace. With the level of interconnectedness globally through the internet as well as on the mainstream media, young people worldwide have a common point of reference and this is bound to shape the way they communicate. Communication gadgets such as mobile phones and their text messaging services are also leading to new forms of language that maintain the basic structure of grammar but also have the feature of shortened words. This is also the case with micro-blogging sites such as tweeter which limit the messages users send to 140 characters. This obliges users to become innovative in their communication through the use of acronyms and shortened words thus further evolving their manipulation of the English language. The fact that the youth are proud of pioneering this as their language serves to further support this evolution.

Due to the above observations, it is imperative that curriculum developers put in a lot of effort to ensure that the English language is taught in a manner that is effective and practical for the learners. This will call for the vetting of academic texts to establish the authenticity and relevance of the content they present for the teaching of the English language.




Haussamen, B. (1997). Revising the rules: Traditional grammar and modern linguistics. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

Kolln, M., & Funk, R. (2011).Understanding English Grammar.Pearson Education.


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