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20.1: Why It Matters: Grammar

Skills to Develop

  • Explain the function of nouns and pronouns.
  • Explain verb types and their correction conjugation.
  • Explain the function other parts of speech, including adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and articles.
  • Explain common punctuation marks and the rules for their correct usage.
  • Explain common sentence types and common errors in sentence composition.
  • Explain the active and passive voices, as well as the reasons to use both.

Why is it helpful to explain patterns of academic grammar and punctuation usage?


Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)

Language is one of the most powerful tools that people have at their disposal. Communication is the primary way we connect with others. Through words, we can inform, motivate, or injure. Language is also incredibly personal and unique: the way people speak can tell us so much about them—it tells us what groups they associate themselves with. Different communities (which can be determined by profession, age, ethnicity, or location) develop specialized words and constructions that distinguish its members from other people.

This kind of differentiation can be both a good thing or a bad thing. On the positive side, these specializations help groups become closer to each other, and they help people create a sense of identity. On the other hand, these differences can put strain on communication between members of different groups.

For the sake of communication across cultural lines, standardized rules and conventions are necessary. This is where grammar comes in. Grammar is composed of the rules that govern English. An understanding of these rules is essential for communication. Errors in grammar can easily lead to misunderstandings. Additionally, when you speak or write with poor grammar, others will often make judgements about who you are as a person. As Williams and Colomb say, “Follow all the rules all the time because sometime, someone will criticize you for something.”[1]

Code Switching

Code switching is the ability to use two different varieties (or dialects) of the same language. Most people do this instinctively. If you were writing a paper, you might say something like “The experiment requires not one but four different procedures” in order to emphasize number. In an informal online setting, on the other hand, you might say something like “I saw two (2) buses drive past.”

The most important facet of code switching is knowing when to use which variety. In formal academic writing, “standarized” English is the correct variety to use; this section will cover the rules and conventions of Standard American English, which is used in academic and professional situations. As you go through this module, remember that these are the rules for just one type of English.

About the Videos in this Module

You’ll quickly recognize a distinctive voice and format in the videos in this section of the course.  David, Grammar Content Fellow from the Khan Academy, has charming insights and a straightforward, encouraging approach to deepening your understanding of language. Watch this video for an introduction to David and his position on grammar:


  1. Williams, Joseph M. and Gregory G. Colomb. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 3rd ed. Boston: Longman. 2012, p. 14. 
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