A lot of people think grammar rules are handed down from somewhere on high - that at some time, someone somewhere was dubbed the boss of how we should speak and write.
Not so. Grammar is really just a description of how people use the language. Yes, there are rights and wrongs. But these aren't based on dictates. They're based on questions of whether any given usage violates our established standards. I divide these standards into three categories: grammaticality, idiom, and dictionary definition.
Grammaticality just means that words are grouped in a ways that follow our standard methods (syntax). "You write" is grammatical. "You writes" is not.
Idioms are word groupings so common that they're dubbed correct. Sometimes they're expressions that originally would have been considered ungrammatical or nonsensical: "I'm going to ‘high tail' it out of here." Other times, they address issues such as which preposition to use with any given word: "disinterested in" as opposed to "disinterested to."
Dictionary definition is pretty straightforward. If a majority of respected dictionaries document a usage, it is thus sanctioned.
Yes, there's some in-fighting. For example, dictionaries have different standards. But the biggest rift is between groups called "descriptivists" and "prescriptivists." Descriptivists are associated with a "If that's how people use a word, that's how it should be used" approach. Prescriptivists are associated with a "Rules are rules and no amount of abusing them changes that" philosophy.
But the gulf between these groups is smaller than you might think. They both base their concepts of "right" and "wrong" on common usage. The prescriptivists just pick a farther-back point in time on which to base their rulings. (Think: children of Irish immigrants insistent that it's time to close the border to all Mexican immigrants.) I've never met a prescriptivist who insists that we should all still say "thou" and "thine." I've never met a descriptivist who says that, if just one person says, "You writes," it is thus grammatical.
Personally, I don't see that there's much to fight about. It's like a couple who fight over when it's time to fill the tank. The husband say to fill it when it's down to a third of a tank. The wife waits till it's down to a quarter. They can fight all they want, but as long as they stick to their guidelines, they're not going to run out of gas.
In the grammar world, nobody is arguing anything equivalent to "I know the fuel light's been on for 20 minutes, but let's see how much farther we can go." They're just arguing about which line means "time to fill up."
It's a valid question - "Where should we draw the line?" - but I let others duke it out. For now, I feel pretty safe here in the passenger seat.
A lot of people I talk to think grammar is beyond their grasp, hopelessly mysterious, brutally pedantic. None of these things is true. And, from what I've seen, the best place for a grammarphobe to start is by asking: "Who writes all these crazy rules, anyway?" Because the answer is, "You do."
Causes June Casagrande Supports
Planned Parenthood, ClimateCrisis.net, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Pet Orphans of Southern California, KIVA