The newly introduced testing of school pupils throughout England in a bid to determine their understanding of grammar, spelling and punctuation has sparked widespread debate about grammar in general. How much do we know about our language? How can we learn it? And does it even matter?
You may not have to know exactly what a conjunctive is to be able to use one properly, but there's no reason why we shouldn't know what it is. School wasn't too long ago for me, but I have absolutely no recollection of being taught how to properly place a semi-colon, nor do I recall even the slightest mention of intransitive verbs, predicate adjectives and other such terms. It seems to be a subject that has been somewhat neglected. Because of this, I would say it's a positive thing that the Department for Education are attempting to build on the abilities of youngsters in schools throughout England. However, the new 'SPAG' (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) tests arguably aren't the best way to instil this knowledge of grammar into our education system. There is controversy over whether this will generate unnecessary angst amongst students and if simply ticking the correct answer is enough, with many saying that much more is needed. After a bit of research (including a couple of attempts at various grammar quizzes) and having a look at sample tests on the Department for Education's website, I can certainly say I agree; these tests seem to simply skim the surface, attempting to tackle grammar at a superficial level only. There should be a depth to the study of our language and from there knowledge should be further developed through discussions, assignments and reading. Then we can put what we have learned into practice.
Grammar should be taught in schools, and taught well. We should know how to correctly use it. It can be a nightmare admittedly, and the vast majority of people do not view gerunds and present participles as compelling topics of conversation, but it is important. One argument is that it just doesn't matter - when it comes down to it, strictly enforcing English grammar at every point of contact isn't how we communicate anyway and as a result, having an understanding of grammar is fairly obsolete. Grammar is the foundation on which our language is built, though. Although we may not realise it our spelling, punctuation and grammar can have a huge effect on our everyday lives. A CV with multiple errors which is poorly written could mean you don't reach the interview stage for a job you really want. Terrible spelling and punctuation in a sales email could prompt a potential customer to turn on their heel and search for an alternative business; a business with employees that can communicate correctly.
The reality is that people do pass judgement on things like spelling, grammar and punctuation. Poor execution of important 'rules' can reflect negatively on you as an individual, as well employers and businesses as a whole. It's something that affects people of all ages and educational backgrounds.
Our language is continuously evolving. It's true that grammar provokes elitism, often unnecessarily so. Those taking an elitist stance on the matter may often ignore the importance of prevalent factors in the English language today, such as widely recognised Americanisms, trends and language used in online communication channels. There are various things that can influence the way in which we communicate, but the bare bones of the English language, the skeletal frame of English grammar, remain the same. Having these skills is undoubtedly a valuable commodity, or a necessary evil, for those who continue to argue against its importance.