Recently, I have read a lot about whether we should worry about how we communicate, especially when publishing material online. Does it matter if we don’t use capitals when we should or we spell words incorrectly or mangle our grammar?
I think it does.
Why? Well, over the past few weeks I’ve been proofreading some rather large documents and on a number of occasions have had to stop and re-read passages to try and figure out what the author was trying to say. Often, the solution is to add or take out a comma or other punctuation mark, which clarifies the meaning. The wrong punctuation in the wrong place or no punctuation can dramatically alter the meaning.
Punctuation acts like road signs. A road sign tells you to turn left and not pull into a stream of traffic speeding towards you. A road sign tells you to slow down if there is a hazard ahead. A road sign tells you to change into a lower gear if you are travelling down a steep hill. Punctuation plays a similar role by directing you to the intended meaning.
Is it worth bothering about? I think it is.
But what about spoken English? If we don’t want people to continually say “what?” every time we say something, correct grammar and language are very useful. People understand what we mean to say the first time and don’t keep having to ask us to explain ourselves again and again.
The added bonus is that these tools also make our language beautiful to hear and read, but – putting that aside – they enable us to communicate quickly and clearly, and then get on with something else. They are invaluable tools.