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bad grammar vs. poor grammar
May 30, 2008 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Which expression is correct when describing grammatical mistakes: "bad grammar" or "poor grammar?"

Every time I hear the phrase "bad grammar" to describe habitual grammatical errors, it strikes me as being incorrect as well. Is it just my ear, or is there some grammatical basis to using one over the other? Bad and poor are not synonyms as far as I know (e.g. a having a bad memory is not the same as having a poor memory). Are there different instances in which they might each be correct?
posted by rinosaur to Writing & Language (7 answers total)
 
Both phrases seem OK to me, but serve slightly different functions. Vis:
"That sentence is an example of bad grammar." Bad=incorrect
"He has poor grammar. He makes mistakes like that a lot." Poor=weak grasp of
posted by adamrice at 11:59 AM on May 30, 2008


Bad and poor are not synonyms as far as I know

Yeah, they pretty much are, in the relevant senses: poor "inferior in quality or value"; bad "failing to reach an acceptable standard : poor" (both from Merriam-Webster).

(e.g. a having a bad memory is not the same as having a poor memory)


Yes it is.

Answer: both expressions are equally good (and equally likely to be applied wrongly to perfectly grammatical constructions).
posted by languagehat at 12:42 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


adamrice: You have artificially chosen different environments to make them seem different. "That sentence is an example of bad grammar" = "That sentence is an example of poor grammar."
posted by languagehat at 12:43 PM on May 30, 2008


I agree with languagehat that, with respect to the original question, both expressions are fine and, what's more, both are often applied to perfectly grammatical constructions out of a sad confusion over what it means to be grammatical.

This is a kind of a separate issue, but, as an aside, it's possible that when the OP said that "having a bad memory is not the same as having a poor memory," rinosaur meant that sometimes you say something like, "I have a bad memory of when I stubbed my toe on this doorstep," vs. "I have a poor memory, and I can barely remember my own name." In one context (referring to grammar), the words are synonyms, but in another context (when referring to memory), they are not necessarily.
posted by chinston at 2:22 PM on May 30, 2008


I think "that sentence is grammatically poor" is much better than either.

Grammar is partially defined as "...the way the sentences of a language are constructed..."
Since grammar is "the rules," "bad/poor grammar" sounds to me like a set of rules that are, themselves poor, rather than a poor usage of the (correct) rules.

But really, whatever, as long as you get your point across.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:32 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Grammar is partially defined as "...the way the sentences of a language are constructed..."
Since grammar is "the rules," "bad/poor grammar" sounds to me like a set of rules that are, themselves poor, rather than a poor usage of the (correct) rules.


But that's not the sense in which it's being used here. Grammar also means:
6. knowledge or usage of the preferred or prescribed forms in speaking or writing: She said his grammar was terrible.
As for the original question, bad and poor are synonyms and so both constructions are fine.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:50 PM on May 30, 2008


Thanks, folks! It's all in my head, I guess.

FWIW, my "bad" vs "poor" example was meant the way chinston explained.
posted by rinosaur at 9:40 PM on May 30, 2008


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