Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Dance, who FLG always assumes at some point will say to herself "This guy's a fucking nutjob" and stop reading, writes:
I will say that as a history professor, I don't strongly enforce things at the sentence level. Similarly, I've heard composition profs say that their job is not defined as teaching grammar.

Fair enough. I'm not arguing that a history prof should correct every sentence. I do, however, think comp profs should correct writing at the sentence level.

I dedicate much more attention to the organization and treatment of ideas at the paragraph level, which I think is more important. When I do focus on grammar, it's in the direction of ensuring that grammar supports the rhetoric (eg, don't bury your main idea in a subordinate clause). Line-editing is FAR too time-consuming to do on every paper, although when I get a good example that I can rewrite, I share it with the entire class.

Again, I agree. The important part is the communication, not necessarily whether a student splits an infinitive.

That said, most of my students can put together fairly comprehensible, roughly grammatical, sentences before I get them. Except for consistently using the wrong preposition, which they have managed to infect me with. However, passive voice is not ungrammatical (and I flag pedantry on student papers like mad, with a special shorthand for "not wrong but not helping").

Passive voice does affect readability. I also prefer adverbs to precede the verb they modify and a whole host of other things, including the elimination of "in order to" and "the fact that" in 95% of cases, but I certainly don't expect a history prof to look for these in every paper they grade. The important part is the argument about history. On the other hand, I don't think it's too much to ask for a comp prof to go over grammar and style at the sentence level.

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