What Is “Grammar and Usage”?

Lately people have been visiting this site looking for the answer to this question:

"What is the difference between grammar and usage?"

Here is my answer: Grammar has to do with the correct placement of words in a sentence. Usage involves using the proper word.

These are grammatical errors:

Me and Joe rode home together.

There’s many ways to publish a book.

In the first example, we need a subject pronoun, I, as the subject of the sentence. It would be perfectly fine to say "Joe gave me a ride home" (object pronoun). But if we rode home together, Joe and I rode home (subject pronouns).

In the second error, we need the plural verb are–not is–to agree with the plural subject, ways. However, if there were only one way to publish a book, there’s (there is) would be correct.

Those errors have to do with the grammatical role the words play in the sentence.

Below are errors in usage–a word is used incorrectly:

What is your principle reason for applying? (Principle is used incorrectly. The proper word is principal.)

Please insure that Mr. Mohammed arrives safely. (Insure is used incorrectly. The proper word is ensure.)

No doubt there are much more elaborate explanations for the difference between grammar and usage. This brief one works for me. I hope it helps.

Lynn
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Other search spellings: grammer, gramar, differince, diference, explination

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

2 COMMENTS

  1. In the second error, we need the plural verb are–not is–to agree with the plural subject, ways. However, if there were only one way to publish a book, there’s (there is) would be correct.

    why not say… However, if there was only one way to publish…why use were?

  2. Laura, I’m glad you asked. We use “were” to show that something is contrary to fact. In grammar terms, this is called the “subjunctive form” of the verb. Are you familiar with the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”? In it, the father sings “If I Were a Rich Man.” The verb “were” shows that he is not a rich man. In contrast, if he sang “If I Was a Rich Man,” the word “was” would indicate a past time.

    I continue to follow this rule of using “were” to show that something is contrary to fact, but I believe fewer and fewer people are observing it. That means it is likely to disappear.

    I hope that helps. You have given me the idea to write a post on this topic. Stay tuned!

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