Since I think a lot of you are word lovers, I may be preaching to the choir, but it scares me a little when people ask things like “Why does grammar matter?”
If it’s an honest, innocent question, that’s fine (although it makes me sad for our education system). When it’s an objection like “But that’s not really important!” it drives me a little crazy (I’ve had this discussion with a student recently. It hurt my heart.). The horrible irony of questions and objections like this is that the people saying them have to use grammar to say them.
That’s right. Grammar is how language works. It’s the system the language follows. Without it, you can’t say anything. Ok, maybe, you could say gibberish (unconnected words), but you can’t actually communicate well with words without any grammar. Grammar is the rules that glue words together so that people can understand what you’re trying to say.
Even if you somehow break all the rules of grammar and manage to convey your point, you know what? You’ve almost certainly set up new rules that allowed the words to function – which means there was still grammar. You were still following some sort of structure: otherwise, the “sentence” would have no meaning. Nonverbal and graphic communication also have their own systems of rules (A.K.A. grammar).
I think the people who ask stuff like this are tired of schoolwork – it requires a higher level of grammar. Yep. You heard right. Languages have several levels of grammar (English does, anyway.). Depending on what you’re doing, you may need a higher or lower level. School homework, academic publishing, and areas of nonfiction require the highest levels of grammar. Regular speech? Not so much. Even casual writing (like this) is less strict about grammar (“How Good Does My Grammar Need to Be?“).
That doesn’t mean you can ignore grammar completely and expect to be understood. If you want to write using a lower level of grammar, the main point is to use enough that people can still get what you’re saying. Watch out for the “Top 5 Grammar Rules Not to Break,” and if something is confusing, try improving the grammar. Odds are, it’ll get clearer.
But I’ve babbled on long enough. Long story short: the answer to the question is communicating ideas and making sense. That’s why grammar matters.