Your relationship with grammar starts the day you take your first English lesson and say “Hello teacher!” Soon enough you find out about the verb “to be” and “to have”, get an idea about simple tenses, then discover continuous and perfect ones… After that there come the passive voice, conditionals, modals and so on… It seems that the grammar of any language is limited, and in a way it’s true. Brand new grammar hardly ever emerges unlike new words, which enrich dictionaries every year. But still language development never stops, and as learners, we should always keep our eyes and ears open.
Think of the language as a machine. Then grammar is its screws and bolts. Or think of it as a human body. Then grammar is the skeleton while vocabulary is the flesh. Grammar is always there – in any sentence you write or read and in any utterance you say. Along with vocabulary, it can even help you express your emotions!
Let’s see some examples.
- I work for a new company.
- I am working for a new company.
The words are the same but the meaning is different. In what way? In the first sentence, using the Present Simple tense, you state that your work is permanent. But in the second one you mean it’s your temporary job, and/or you are thinking of quitting it. As you can see, the difference is considerable.
Here is another example:
- He has done a lot in his life.
- He did a lot in his life.
Which sentence implies that he is still alive and can do even more in the future? The answer is the first one. How do we know that? The Present Perfect tense indicates that he has done a lot so far. In other words, he is alive and likely to do more in the years to come. In the second sentence, however, the Past Simple is used. As we know, it is used to describe a completed action. So, we can deduce that he has passed away, and nothing else can be done in his life.
Here is one more example:
- The report you have submitted contains mistakes.
- A report you have submitted contains mistakes.
The in the first sentence shows that there was only one submitted report, and that report contains mistakes. If you say “a report”, it means there were a few reports handed in, and one of them has some mistakes in it.
“So what?”, you might say. “If I can find a way to express my idea, what’s the difference?”. There is much truth in that. But remember the speakers of your first language who use poor grammar. What impression do they make? You might think they don’t read much or are inadequately educated. That may or may not be the case, and some people don’t really care, which is also fine. But in many situations that would be problem. For example, in job hunting. For reasons why, check out this article.
If you are reading this (and you are), your English is at least upper-intermediate good, you’ve already come so far, and you can and should be proud of yourself. Just remember that even native speakers often have problems with grammar, so know your strengths and weaknesses. If you are aware of your limitations and want to do something about them, you’ll succeed.
So, does grammar really matter if one is already an advanced speaker? It is, and sometimes more than ever before. What do you think?