Grammar is something we utilize every single day to help construct language and words we incorporate into our everyday speech patterns and writing practices. To some, grammar may seem like a strict and intimidating practice. However, to others like George Goga, studying and practicing the grammatical process is somewhat of a passion and a hobby.
George Goga is currently an undergraduate student at SUNY Geneseo where he is studying to become a high school English teacher. He has had experience teaching and tutoring students on how to improve their writing and reading skills and is happy any day when he can help edit his friends’ writing. Before teaching his class in August, “Learning to Write Well,” we decided to catch up with George to chat about his grammatical prowess and to find out what students can expect from his class!
GET TO KNOW THE GRAMMAR GURU...
Tell us a little bit about yourself—what encouraged you to become so passionate about grammar? Would you consider yourself a grammar nerd?
"Hello there," I once heard when opening and reading the first lines of a grammar book. I’ve since been interested in how grammar functions, and more, what we can accomplish with it. While reading in middle school, I started to notice specific grammar rules that authors observed in their novels. Both the books and the rules began to interest me more. Today as I read, I move through sentences and identify the grammar rules that help the sentences move along themselves: the rules that help them live. With my history, I would be lying if I said I weren’t a grammar nerd.
From your experience, what is one grammatical rule that people misuse most frequently?
The one grammar rule most often misplaced, in my humble opinion, is pronoun antecedent agreement: Could anyone born in October place their birth certificate on the table, please? Anyone is a singular pronoun, so it must agree with a singular antecedent, not their, but her/his.
Which error humors you the most?
The posse of homophones they’re, there, their: They’re there if you look; they’re searching for their map. This sentence is humorous to me because if we invert the homophones, we get something quite illogical, quite funny: There there, if you look, their looking for they’re map. There there is calming and consoling, but the situation quickly falls into the mud when we need to figure out whether or not the sentence’s author is describing the act, the biological process of looking their looking and whether or not these people are a map they’re map.
In your opinion, why is grammar and practicing grammar so essential?
Grammar is the set of rules on which we build language. If we don’t understand the rules, we don’t really understand how the rules act, so we don’t really know how to artfully reconstruct the rules. Grammar allows us to communicate human ideas and emotions in predictable ways that account for the unpredictable, mysterious, yet wonderful ideas and emotions we have.
We saw that you’re attending SUNY Geneseo to become a high school English teacher and that you even tutor in your spare time. What inspired you to become an educator?
Two wonderful high school teachers inspired and inspire me to teach. Although their lessons are distant chronologically, their characters are always welcoming and kind to the students they teach.
Given the current educational climate, many high school and college students are being discouraged from pursuing teaching as a profession. What advice would you give to aspiring educators or those considering the field?
I think that anyone who discourages another person from pursuing teaching is pulling away a dream. Furthermore, discouraging a future teacher reflects on the country, and speaks volumes about the priorities a country has. Teach on. Please, teach on.
You mentioned that you love to read classical novels in your spare time—Don Quixote being your favorite. What are some of your other favorite novels or genres?
I enjoy reading across genres. As a summer project, I read an introductory Sociology textbook, which I found fascinating, and (surprise) more classical novels, from which I never travel too far. Poetry: E.E. Cummings’ poem “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” is essential.
Have you tried your hand at creative writing? (Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) If so, how does your attention to grammar help shape your writing process?
Yes, I’ve written a few novels that follow a detective across Europe. I’ve also written two mystery plays with the same protagonist. Although I slow down when writing first drafts because I try to correct grammar mistakes along the way when I should focus on writing first and then on editing, the attention I pay to grammar rules helps me compose different types of sentences that work in a multitude of ways. For example, we could write this sentence in many ways by swapping grammatical units: And then, the sun slept. The sun slept. Sleeping, the sun was frigid. The sun descended, then it slept.
Can you give us a preview of what you’ll be teaching during your class in August? What can students look forward to?
I’m excited to teach the class "Learning To Write Well" this August because it will combine reasons why grammar is essential in composition and in life with specific grammar rules that we will be learning. Students can expect a mixture of grammar examples with sloth references (this may seem bizarre now, but during class it will become funny, I hope), a video, individual help while I circulate the room, fun (!), and instruction on the whole piece of writing that goes beyond specific rules.
What are some simple tips or advice to help people become more mindful of their grammatical choices?
Reading more helps infinitely. Read more words, and we’ll know more sentences; we’ll have a style in our mind that we want to develop, and we’ll build it from the bases that our favorite authors have crafted.
And finally, we have to ask: What is your favorite grammatical rule and why?
The difference between the pronouns who and whom because these two pronouns happen to be on the license plate of a Mini Cooper that may or may not be mine. The pronouns are also an example of a grammar rule that can be simplified so that people remember it with ease: if the sentence answers to her or to him or to them, it’s likely whom, a word that ends in an m, just like him/them do (a memory aid); if the sentence answers to he/she/they, it’s likely who. To whom does that Mini Cooper belong? To them.
Now that you’ve learned a few insider tricks of the trade, we hope you’ll join us for George’s class, “Learning To Write Well” on Thursday, August 6 from 7:00-9:00pm at the Brainery! Bring a writing sample of your own in any genre and you’ll be guided through a process that if observed, will improve your writing immediately.
Who knows, by the end of the night maybe you’ll be proud to call yourself a grammar nerd too!