Correct English

Correct Usage: Does It Really Matter?

by Owen Fourie

Brief and quick communication using text messaging systems does not have to follow the rules of correct usage.

Many texters hold this opinion. Correct usage does matter, though, whatever the means of communication might be.

Your purpose should always be to be clear and easily understood.

Texting between close friends might be clear even without correct usage, but when this type of communication affects your formal writing, you are letting yourself down, badly.

Improper usage cannot be blamed entirely on the influence of text messaging systems. It existed before such conveniences became available.

An introduction to a story

The following introduction to a student’s short story is published here with permission.

Simply hearing the story, you would think the usage is fine. Even the flow is good.

Reading it, though, reveals many errors that show this student’s lack, especially in word choice when it comes to homophones.

None of the errors can be blamed on the influence of text messaging.

Here is the opening of the story. [Desktop site viewers will see the errors in blue text. If you wish to see the corrected version, it appears after the conclusion of this article.]

*****

Justin was not happy about the principles decision to limit the high school band practice to Friday afternoons.

More practice’s where needed, so he decided that as soon as Mr. Finicky finished teaching the lessen on proofreading, he would ask to see the principle. It was nearly braketime, so he was sure he would be aloud to go on his mission.

On his way to the principles office, he saw some men who where delivering a new stationary cupboard. As he past by, they asked him were they would find the secretarys office.

“Follow me,” said Justin as he led the way. He had to see the secretary to before he could speak to the principle.

As he entered the principles office, Justin noticed that Mr. Grinder seemed to be deep in thought. He was humming and focusing on his naval.

Is this a bad time? Justin wandered.

“Your math grade is poor and so is your language arts grade,” said Mr. Grinder before Justin could say anything about the band.

“We cant have this—not at this school. What our you and your fellow band members going to do about your grades? Perhaps, if we limit band practice to every second Friday, that will help.”

Justins hart sank as he realized the hopelessness of his mission.

“Now, what did you want to see me about?” Mr. Grinder grinned.

*****

Does it really matter?

You might argue that this story is easily understood despite the errors, and this is true. For many, it would be an easy task to overlook the mistakes and follow the story, so WTF?—why the fuss?

If the usage is not entirely correct, does it really matter?

Yes. It does matter. In the above instance, there is a clear indication of this student’s lack in several areas:

  • knowledge of words and word choice;
  • attention to detail and carefulness;
  • positioning of sight in learning.

Writing reveals a student’s state of learning. Poor usage of language is an indicator of many defects in the learning process.

Continued poor usage cannot bode well for a student’s progress in any area of life that depends on effective communication, particularly in writing.

Fortunately, making mistakes in writing can serve as a basis for effective instruction.

This student no longer makes these mistakes. He has a far better knowledge of words and chooses correctly every time. He demonstrates care and attention to detail.

The key to his improvement was to get him to use sight and hearing together—listening to books being read while following the print with his eyes.

It does matter because, with correct usage,

  1. You are able to express yourself clearly, and this helps your reader or hearer to understand you.
  2. You are able to understand the written or spoken communications of others more easily.
  3. You are able to write without the errors that distract intelligent readers, and they can actually enjoy your writing.
  4. You are able to win the favor of potential employers who take note of correct usage as a sign of care, attention to detail, and credibility.
  5. You are able to enjoy the nuances or subtleties of a language, which is the substance of good humor.

With correct usage, you’ll always catch the joke

On the matter of humor, if your instructor says that you should improve your writing, you might respond by saying, “I’m trying.”

If your instructor, in turn, responds, “Yes, you are trying, very trying,” will you catch the humor?

You have used trying as a verb, which is fine; however, your instructor has used trying as an adjective. He is saying, in jest, “Yes, you are annoying (or tiresome).”

There is a text link in the concluding sentence to an example of a glaring misuse of English. You will find humor here, but the ignorance of the writer means that the humor is not intended.

It is a set of directions for electricians to follow in the event of a power failure. The instructions are posted at a sub-station somewhere in South Africa. Sadly, this does not augur well for the people who have to heed those directions!

This will confirm that correct usage does matter.

—–

Here is the corrected version of the story:

Justin was not happy about the principal’s decision to limit the high school band practice to Friday afternoons.

More practices were needed, so he decided that as soon as Mr. Finicky finished teaching the lesson on proofreading, he would ask to see the principal. It was nearly breaktime, so he was sure he would be allowed to go on his mission.

On his way to the principal’s office, he saw some men who were delivering a new stationery cupboard. As he passed by, they asked him where they would find the secretary’s office.

“Follow me,” said Justin as he led the way. He had to see the secretary, too, before he could speak to the principal.

As he entered the principal’s office, Justin noticed that Mr. Grinder seemed to be deep in thought. He was humming and focusing on his navel.

Is this a bad time? Justin wondered.

“Your math grade is poor and so is your language arts grade,” said Mr. Grinder before Justin could say anything about the band.

“We can’t have this—not at this school. What are you and your fellow band members going to do about your grades? Perhaps, if we limit band practice to every second Friday, that will help.”

Justin’s heart sank as he realized the hopelessness of his mission.

“Now, what did you want to see me about?” Mr. Grinder grinned.

—–

Are there other reasons for correct usage that you think should be mentioned here? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

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