New Ryerson Course: Grammar and Punctuation

New Ryerson Course: Grammar and Punctuation

I have a dirty little secret when it comes to being an editor: I rely on my ears to edit text, rather than a thorough knowledge of grammatical rules.

Or rather, I have done so in the past. This secret is no longer quite so dirty because I’m taking (yet another!) course at Ryerson, this time on grammar and punctuation. It started in early September, and I’m now nearly halfway through it.

I didn’t take the course while I was completing my certificate because it was only a half-length one for no credit – it didn’t make sense to take it then. Now, much to my chagrin, the University has decided to convert it into a full-length course that goes towards completing the certificate – a year-and-a-half after I finished the program. However, the utility of such a course is hard to deny, so I’m attending class every Tuesday night until mid-December.

Several things about the course have been surprising. For one thing, I thought my knowledge of grammar would prove to be rudimentary, but it appears that it isn’t so basic after all. Thanks go to a lot of people for that, including my old French teachers, my high-school Latin teacher, and Mignon Fogarty of Grammar Girl fame. Despite this, it’s surprising how hard my reliance on things just “sounding right” has been to break, especially after learning which grammar rules are correct despite contradicting my ear-sense.

I’ve discussed grammar topics before, like my stance on the serial comma. But there are other grammatical debates I have a clear stance on. For example, I’m a staunch advocate of “they” being used as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, considering that gender-neutrality is in the bones of English’s linguistic forebears. Beyond all this, though, there are plenty of things about grammar I still have yet to learn (and develop an opinion on).

So what about you? What sort of grammar rules do you hold dear, or feel are outmoded?

4 thoughts on “New Ryerson Course: Grammar and Punctuation

  1. Cathy Witlox

    I’d have to write a whole post to answer your question, but I would like to comment on relying on one’s ear to edit. A good friend of mine has copy edited both award-winning and bestselling novels, yet she has emailed me on occasion to ask whether the pronoun he or him is appropriate in a sentence (a fairly basic grammar lesson). She edits fiction and creative nonfiction by ear, and she does so very well and incredibly successfully for many large publishing houses. I would recommend her in a heartbeat to anyone looking for a fiction editor.

    For academic, technical, or educational works, however, editing by ear doesn’t cut it. Critical readers of these texts expect from the writer authority, accuracy, and correctness, not just in the subject matter but in presentation. An author who is careless with language can be perceived as careless with the “facts,” too, so the copy editor who edits his or her work must be knowledgeable about the rules and conventions of the language to serve the author well.

    All this to say, hurrah for you for taking the grammar course, Christina! As a freelancer, you want as many opportunities available to you as possible, and a strong grounding in grammar can open new doors.

  2. Phil Dwyer

    I’m with you on gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns, but not on the Oxford comma. We used a simple rule-of-thumb for this when I edited magazines: if the absence of the comma leads to ambiguity over the intended meaning, use it, if the meaning is clear, omit it. This may sound unnecessarily complicated (much simpler just to make the ‘rule’ and stick to it, surely) but it did have the virtue of making us think about why the comma’s there in the first place. For me, the sole purpose of punctuation is clarity. If it’s not making things clearer, it’s not doing its job.
    In general though, I think it’s helpful to remember that grammar is retro-fitted to languages by grammarians. There’s an interesting book on the politics of grammar which I recommend to people. It’s by Jian Ghomeshi’s sister Jila. It’s called Grammer Matters (The social significance of how we use language). I also liked Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence.

    1. Christina Post author

      Hi Phil,

      I’ve heard of that book by Jila Ghomeshi, and was curious about her last name – thanks for confirming that she and Jian Ghomeshi are related!

      As for your comment about the serial comma, I agree with you, but I also admit that I tend to be quite comma-happy, and use them generously (as you can see in my writing, I tend to rely on parentheticals a lot!).