Monday was National Grammar Day, an occasion for us all to celebrate the rules that give form and structure to linguistics. It is a divisive subject, with firm supporters pitched against those who don’t think it matters a jot.

On the one hand, more and more people are claiming that good grammar is a thing of the past. Books like Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Trust lament the fact so many people not only seem to miscomprehend grammar, but also that they continually use punctuation in an ineffective way. However, there are those who welcome the constant evolution of the written word, even if that means accepting the use of words and phrases like “lol”, “totes” and “whatevs” in day-to-day life.

Even the keepers of the English language are getting on board with the direction it’s taken. Oxford Dictionaries Online has been updated to include terms like “onsie”, “guyliner” and “obvs” – so if you want to cut your words in half or smash two together, now’s the time!

As you can see, grammar, punctuation and spelling are all subjects people continue to feel passionately about – even if they choose to ignore them. I for one know what a fuss a misplaced comma can cause; as a blogger, I’m usually informed within a matter of minutes if I have made such a mistake.

Grey areas

However, as with many topics people are passionate about, grammar comes with numerous grey areas. For instance, a basket checkout at the local supermarket with a sign advising you to queue if you have “10 items or less” may make some of you wince. That’s because “less” is historically used only as a measure of something you can’t count, such as: “I’d like less milk in my coffee than last time.” If what you’re talking about can be counted, such as items in a basket, “fewer” is the preferred term. Yet while “fewer” is, nine times out of ten, more likely to be correct than “less”, readers will understand your meaning regardless. So, to save a bit of space on a shop sign, no-one is going to complain about this little grammatical rule-break.

The thing is, language is continually evolving and so the likelihood of everyone who puts pen to paper sticking to the strict rules of English grammar is unlikely. If we attempt to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales today, at best it takes a while to get used to the language and at worst we will finish every tale with no real idea what happened. That’s because the written word has changed a lot since the 1300s and it’s still changing today.

It’s important to remember there are no rules enforcing the use of grammar either. If we split an infinitive, the world won’t end. So many other mediums of expression have been allowed to evolve, so why not language? Breakthroughs in technology mean that cinema lovers don’t have to watch a grainy black and white picture accompanied by piano music. Instead, they can see 3D extravaganzas set in mythical worlds and starring creatures they can only dream of.

Technology has also changed the way we write. No longer are we restricted to recording our thoughts with ink and paper, and letters aren’t our only form of written communication anymore. Instead, we can type out a message to someone on the other side of the world and send it knowing they will be able to read it seconds later. This speed may mean that many of us are willing to overlook the finer points of grammar in favour of getting our message out there as soon as possible.

Grammar as a second language

So, language is a constantly evolving thing and life’s too short to get all worked up about grammatical errors – but what does this mean for those who speak English as a second language? English grammar is hard enough to learn if it’s your mother tongue, so what’s it like for someone learning the language?

I asked Paula, our brilliant Brazilian-Portuguese translator who has lived in the UK for ten years. Her answer might surprise you. Paula told me that she actually found it easy to get to grips with English grammar because the rules are similar to that of Portuguese and so are easy to learn. She added that she learnt to write in English before she learnt to speak it and that she still finds this simpler.

In terms of the lack of grammar and the many abbreviations that can be found on social media sites, Paula pointed out that Facebook language is its own dialect and so doesn’t cause any slip ups when it comes to keeping up with the latest English updates.

However, the factor that most helped Paula pick up the finer points of English grammar was her own schooling back in Brazil. Unlike in the UK, at Brazil’s schools grammar, spelling, writing and literature are all taught separately, allowing kids to focus on one topic at a time. In the UK, all of these subjects are taught in one English language class and this lack of focus might be what makes grammar such a foreign subject to native English speakers.

So, while the constant evolution of language should be celebrated, that’s not to say we should just stop caring about grammar. Paula says that having a thorough understanding of Portuguese grammar helped her to learn English grammar, because she was able to compare the two. “Not having knowledge of grammar makes it harder to learn another language”, she said.

What do you think?