First, let me be candid: I may be a copy editor, but I don’t consider myself a grammar master. I leave that distinction to people like my American Copy Editors Society colleague Lisa McLendon, who is a true expert.
Sure, I understand the parts of speech and why tense and noun-verb agreement matter. I could take a grammar test right now and not be ashamed of the results. I can even teach grammar in my editing class without thinking I’m a phony.
But until I can tell you whether to use lay or lie without ruminating about it first, I’ll leave the master status to others.
I don’t need to be a master to know that understanding grammar and sentence structure — and valuing editing — are powerful skills for a writer. I’d tell that to anyone sending out a resume and cover letter. Or posting something online. (In fact, things can get downright uncivil when there’s bad grammar in a post — and if you don’t think that’s true, check the comments.)
“Why is grammar important?” The National Council of Teachers of English has a good answer:
“Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language. As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children — we can all do grammar. But to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences — that is knowing about grammar. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity,” according to the NCTE.
“People associate grammar with errors and correctness. But knowing about grammar also helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.”
You don’t have to be a copy editor to understand grammar. Check out these “7 Self-Editing Tips for Reporters Without Copy Editors.” (Shameless self-promotion aside: I am one of the tipsters.)
Still, if you present a good volume of information to the public, I’d suggest you have copy editors. It makes business sense.
Remember grammar — and editing — is power.