Why study grammar? We might think it a basic necessity for educating young students—elementary students, and perhaps into middle school—but of little importance by the time of high school, the competent student having gained the adequacy in composition and speech necessary to make him or herself understood to most persons in most situations. Beyond this, any extended study of grammar seems to be for the aesthete or dilettante: not someone to be taken seriously and therefore not a subject worthy of close, careful inquiry.
Certainly, many who pride themselves on their study of the liberal arts do so out of pretension. But, in truth, a real study of the liberal arts—a study that seeks habituation in clear and deep thinking—suffers none of the pretensions which inhibit our ability to understand the world in which we live common to the typical person of today. Any who study these arts in earnest cannot but learn humility: for the object of study, language, always exceeds our total mastery of it. At the foundation of such a linguistic study is grammar: for all the validity and soundness of logic, and all the persuasiveness of rhetoric, rely upon the structures of signification which are discovered in an exploration of grammar.
Thus, our Grammar course—which incorporates much from the paired arts of logic and rhetoric, especially as it aims also for the improvement of our abilities in composition—looks at these significative structures not merely in terms of rules, and correctness, but with an eye attuned to the reasoning which governs our linguistic systems.
From Linguistic Signification, Fundamentals of Grammar:
There are two ways to view the function of English words in communication: first, 1) we can consider the parts as wholes on their own, and thus call individual words by generic classifying names, such as when we say that “smart” is an adjective, or “book” is a noun. Second, 2) we can consider the parts as belonging to some whole greater not only than the parts, but greater even than the aggregate of the parts, in which case the whole is the principle determining factor in what part of speech we say that a word is. For instance, when we say, “The man was astonishingly tall”, we have an adverb, “astonishingly,” modifying an adjective, “tall”, which adjective is in turn functioning as a subject complement, and so our adverb is functioning not as an adverb, but as an adjective. The word “astonishingly” does not modify “was”, for it was not his “being” which was “astonishing”, but his tallness. Naturally, we need first that set of categorizations in order to understand, second, the varieties of use; but a study of those categorizations alone will not suffice for understanding how language use really occurs.
Identifying the precise nature of each part, both in itself and as part of the whole, can be a difficult task. We must note that the functions of each part, considered as a whole, depend upon each part’s relation to the others, and from those relations the whole is constituted or brought into existence. Yet, as we will see, considered from the perspective of another relation (the relation from the end or purpose of any given linguistic construction), the whole antecedes any and all of the parts.
Likely, this endeavor of carefully analyzing our language will cause occasional if not frequent frustration: it seems, for the most part, that we are capable of making ourselves understood without all this byzantine complexity. Is it not the purpose of communication primarily practical, primarily ordered at “getting results”? Why should we bother with tangling up our minds, then? Quite simply: unless we can understand why and how words signify, we are reliant upon others to tell us why and how we ought to use those words. Such reliance ill-fits an intelligent human being. Therefore, if we believe ourselves intelligent—by which I do not mean intelligent relative to other human beings, but rather possessing any intelligence at all—we should therefore be liberated from such dependency.