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Poor Grammar or Poorly Written Grammar?

I recently had to attend a slide show presentation on fraud prevention, and on one of the slides the below sentence was written (it was one of a few bullet points that were intended to highlight ways of spotting potential fraud).

'Poorly written grammar, syntax and spelling.'

However, should it not have read as below instead?

'Poor grammar, syntax and spelling.'

'Poorly written grammar' doesn't quite sound right to me, and 'poorly written syntax' and 'poorly written spelling' definitely don't sound right. A 'poorly written book' or a 'poorly written article', however, sounds perfectly fine. I'm not really sure what the conventions are here?

Comments

  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭

    @Mark_S, I must say I hate the phrase 'poor grammar'.

    Whatever is wrong with the slide, the important words are 'poorly written'.
    The message to the fraud-spotter is to look for the tell-tale signs of performance on the part of the fraudster.

    I think I'd prefer to separate the general POORLY WRITTEN
    from the particular GRAMMAR, SYNTAX, SPELLING

    I don't think there should be any conventions other than

    • optimal use of space
    • salience of the key information

    The conventions of prose seems misplaced here:

    • capitalisation of Some
    • use of and
    • punctuation with a full stop

    These, I believe, suggest to you and other readers an inappropriate structuring of information.

  • @DavidCrosbie said:
    @Mark_S, I must say I hate the phrase 'poor grammar'.

    Whatever is wrong with the slide, the important words are 'poorly written'.
    The message to the fraud-spotter is to look for the tell-tale signs of performance on the part of the fraudster.

    I think I'd prefer to separate the general POORLY WRITTEN
    from the particular GRAMMAR, SYNTAX, SPELLING

    I don't think there should be any conventions other than

    • optimal use of space
    • salience of the key information

    The conventions of prose seems misplaced here:

    • capitalisation of Some
    • use of and
    • punctuation with a full stop These, I believe, suggest to you and other readers an inappropriate structuring of information.

    Thanks, @DavidCrosbie . How can you separate the general from the particular?
    Also, I don't really understand your last three bullet points. The word some isn't capitalised, and I don't understand why using and or a full stop is incorrect?

  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭

    Sorry, I meant capitalisation of of Poorly.

    The capitalisation, the word and and the full stop are correct for prose.
    The slide isn't prose. It aims to present points which constitute a hierarchy.
    To show this in prose, the sentence would have to be considerably longer.

    I take it that the point of the presentation is to advise on signs to look out for to make sure that a text is not a forgery. Presumably it applies to emails — possibly also letters — purporting to come from a bank or suchlike. One sign that an email may be fake is that it's poorly written.

    As you say, we also speak of poorly written books or poorly written articles. This usually means that there's something wrong with the style or with the arrangement of information.

    • A poorly written novel may be in a disagreeable style, and may lack clarity in plotting or description of characters, settings etc.
    • A poorly written article may be in a style that is not appropriate for the publication and its readership. Worse, it may lack clarity.

    Poorly written emails are likely to have different faults. If written by a Russian criminal rather than a British or American banker, they are likely to contain mistakes in English. The person making the presentation believes that the mistakes to look out for are in grammar and in spelling. He or she makes a puzzling distinction between grammar and syntax. My guess is that they think that syntax is word-order and grammar is everything else.

    How can I separate the general from the particular? Well, the general is the judgement that an email or letter is poorly written. The particular is the set of individual errors which suggest a foreign and non-professional writer.

  • @DavidCrosbie said:
    Sorry, I meant capitalisation of of Poorly.

    The capitalisation, the word and and the full stop are correct for prose.
    The slide isn't prose. It aims to present points which constitute a hierarchy.
    To show this in prose, the sentence would have to be considerably longer.

    I take it that the point of the presentation is to advise on signs to look out for to make sure that a text is not a forgery. Presumably it applies to emails — possibly also letters — purporting to come from a bank or suchlike. One sign that an email may be fake is that it's poorly written.

    As you say, we also speak of poorly written books or poorly written articles. This usually means that there's something wrong with the style or with the arrangement of information.

    • A poorly written novel may be in a disagreeable style, and may lack clarity in plotting or description of characters, settings etc.
    • A poorly written article may be in a style that is not appropriate for the publication and its readership. Worse, it may lack clarity.

    Poorly written emails are likely to have different faults. If written by a Russian criminal rather than a British or American banker, they are likely to contain mistakes in English. The person making the presentation believes that the mistakes to look out for are in grammar and in spelling. He or she makes a puzzling distinction between grammar and syntax. My guess is that they think that syntax is word-order and grammar is everything else.

    How can I separate the general from the particular? Well, the general is the judgement that an email or letter is poorly written. The particular is the set of individual errors which suggest a foreign and non-professional writer.

    @DavidCrosbie this all makes perfect sense. Thank you for your detailed reply.
    You are indeed correct with regard to the point of the presentation.
    Could the phrase poorly written grammar be used in prose? Do we agree that poorly written spelling and poorly written syntax couldn't be?

  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭

    Could the phrase poorly written grammar be used in prose?

    Not by me, @Mark_S . But that's because I come to the the question with a background in language teaching and some of the theory behind it.

    From my perspective, grammar is a system inside your head, or else a serious attempt to describe the system. It isn't performed. It's unconsciously known by every human past infancy — except for a tiny percentage of people with pathological disorders.

    When people perform communication though language, yes, things do sometimes go wrong.

    • When we're tired, or drunk, or simply not paying attention, we can make random mistakes.
    • When trying to communicate in a language we don't quite know — as infants learning our own language, or in later life learning a foreign language — we may commit relatively consistent errors. This can also happen if the grammar in our head is of one dialect and we're learning to use another dialect — Standard English, for example.

    Writing is prone to mistakes if we let our attention wander. Typically, we write something which is itself grammatical in isolation, but the combination with what we've already written is ungrammatical.

    When children learn to write, they're very likely to make mistakes. But they may also commit errors because the grammar in their heads is OK for the spoken language, but not ready for the demands of the written language. And some children may have the grammar of a non-standard dialect in their heads, leading to errors in the standard dialect.

    When mistakes are made, the grammar is fine. When errors are committed, the grammar is incompletely (or even wrongly) learned. I can't bring myself to think of either as poor.

    So, for me, poor grammar is an unacceptable concept, as is poor syntax. The word spelling can denote performance as well as product, so I can accept the phrase poor spelling.

    Since I can't accept poor grammar/syntax, I can't accept poorly written grammar/syntax.
    For the other one, it doesn't make sense to say written spelling, so it's just as silly to say poorly written spelling — or, indeed, well written spelling.

  • @DavidCrosbie said:

    Could the phrase poorly written grammar be used in prose?

    Not by me, @Mark_S . But that's because I come to the the question with a background in language teaching and some of the theory behind it.

    From my perspective, grammar is a system inside your head, or else a serious attempt to describe the system. It isn't performed. It's unconsciously known by every human past infancy — except for a tiny percentage of people with pathological disorders.

    When people perform communication though language, yes, things do sometimes go wrong.

    • When we're tired, or drunk, or simply not paying attention, we can make random mistakes.
    • When trying to communicate in a language we don't quite know — as infants learning our own language, or in later life learning a foreign language — we may commit relatively consistent errors. This can also happen if the grammar in our head is of one dialect and we're learning to use another dialect — Standard English, for example.

    Writing is prone to mistakes if we let our attention wander. Typically, we write something which is itself grammatical in isolation, but the combination with what we've already written is ungrammatical.

    When children learn to write, they're very likely to make mistakes. But they may also commit errors because the grammar in their heads is OK for the spoken language, but not ready for the demands of the written language. And some children may have the grammar of a non-standard dialect in their heads, leading to errors in the standard dialect.

    When mistakes are made, the grammar is fine. When errors are committed, the grammar is incompletely (or even wrongly) learned. I can't bring myself to think of either as poor.

    So, for me, poor grammar is an unacceptable concept, as is poor syntax. The word spelling can denote performance as well as product, so I can accept the phrase poor spelling.

    Since I can't accept poor grammar/syntax, I can't accept poorly written grammar/syntax.
    For the other one, it doesn't make sense to say written spelling, so it's just as silly to say poorly written spelling — or, indeed, well written spelling.

    Thanks, @DavidCrosbie .
    I think I understand the points that you've made, but can I just clarify your distinction between a mistake and an error.
    Are you saying that, in the context of grammar, a mistake is defined as when someone is aware of the correct way to write something but accidentally writes it incorrectly, and an error is defined as something that has been learned incorrectly and therefore is written incorrectly?
    Thanks again for your help.

  • That's more of less what I mean, Mark. It's not a distinction I make every day, but it does reflect the way I react when people speak of 'correct' and 'incorrect' language.

    It's a key distinction in the study of language learning. Systematic errors are a sign of what has been unsuccessfully taught but not learned. Sporadic mistakes are not really informative.

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