The Grammatical Error: An Enemy of Progress?

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By Sinothando Siyolo

This article is exclusive to the online Edition 1 of VARSITY Newspaper. 


Speaking from the premise that the University of Cape Town uses English as a medium of instruction, students should not be marked down for their grammatical errors in their assignments. Grammatical errors should not stand in the way of students’ progress. There are plenty of other aspects in assignments which are arguably more important than correct grammar. These may include the effort the student has put into the assignment and the structure of an assignment.

Image by Sipho Mpongo.

By marking a student down because of incorrect grammar in an assignment, you are basically saying that language is the only, and most important, measure of intelligence. In my opinion, this is wrong. Yes, the grammar that is used verbally is not the same grammar one should use in an academic essay, but then again, think of those students who are at a disadvantage with regards to English. There are students from township schools, or students who did English as their first or second additional language, and then came to university where the spoken grammar that is mostly used, even by the English home language students, is not the one that should be on an academic assignment. As English is not every student’s home language, it is unfair to grade each student’s assignments according to the same standard. In fact, even students who do speak English as their first language are likely to make a few grammatical errors – but this does not mean that they are not fulfilling the other requirements of the assignments.

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That being said, one should try to avoid making grammatical errors to the best of their ability, as sometimes incorrect grammar could lead to your sentence not making sense. For example, the simple placement of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence completely. Take this, for example: “A panda eats shoots and leaves” vs. “A panda eats, shoots and leaves. Note that in the first sentence, the panda eats (bamboo) shoots and (bamboo) leaves. In the second sentence the panda eats, then shoots, then leaves.

Anyone can make grammatical errors. While each case is context-specific, I think that there should be a fair amount of leniency when it comes to minor errors which do not affect the meaning of a sentence. The most important things in an assignment should be evidence of answering the question, critically analyzing the course content and good essay structure. No one, and nothing, is perfect.

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