The Importance of Grammar — in conversation with the author and teacher N. M. Gwynne

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In generating our materials for our tuition centres, we took a great deal of time to devote some thought into the necessary function of grammar in education and, indeed, how that may have changed in recent years. Thumbing through a copy of the much discussed and veritably excellent Gwynne’s Grammar, we tracked down its author N.M Gwynne for a conversation.


N.M Gwynne on Grammar in Education

“Until the 1960s, a few decades earlier in America, the grammar of one’s language had always been the first of the subjects taught to children throughout the whole of the recorded history of education of some 3000 years, and had been taught to them in all its complexity and in minute detail. Indeed the primary importance of grammar was reflected in the very fact of the first of the modern schools to be set up in England, Winchester, Eton and the rest, were called grammar schools, as many schools in England still are.

There were compelling reasons for this remorseless, uncompromising insistence on a comprehensive knowledge of grammar as the indispensable foundation of education. To do anyactivity well, it is necessary to start off with its technicalities. It is impossible, practically speaking, to become competent chess-player without first learning the moves of the various pieces and what must be done in order to win the game; or to become a competent tennis-player without first being taught the grip for holding a racket and the basic strokes, and so on. And all thinking and communicating, both in speech and in writing, depend completely on vocabulary and grammar — on words and on how words are organised into sentences. And, of course, thinking and communicating are the most important human activities of all, the activities on which all other human activities completely depend, and ultimately — I do not exaggerate even in the slightest degree when I say this — the activities on which the survival of civilisation itself depends.

For equally compelling reasons, the traditional method of learning English grammar was to do this, as a side-effect, so to speak, of learning Latin, even though two languages could hardly be more different from each other, other than in our having inherited the Latin alphabet. Indeed it is becausethey are so different, in the right kind of way, that learning Latin in the traditional way (not the modern way) is the best way of learning English. Furthermore, and most compelling of all, because Latin is such a demanding subject, it provided a training of mind and character of an excellence that could not be achieved in any other way.

The great, all-round value of Latin was so much appreciated by our forebears that, until the late nineteenth century, Latin and Greek were the only two subjects studied at the leading schools. Indeed, at some schools schoolboys were required to speak only in Latin at school, and were not allowed to break into English even on the playing fields! The other subjects were not neglected though, far from it. They were picked up in the school vacations and in other spare time; and, in the first place, those other subjects were learnt relatively effortlessly, thanks to the unique educating-features of Latin, and, in the second place, they were learnt up to a far higher standard than any school-children reach today.

I can safely claim that the importance of English grammar and of Latin are explained and emphasised in my two books, Gwynne’s Grammar and Gwynne’s Latin, in a way that is not done in any other textbook, partly because to do so was not necessary until fairly recently. Indeed this is perhaps one of the reasons for their — to me — astonishingsuccess with the public, in both cases a level of sales which I understand has never been achieved in the same period of time by any other textbook.”


For more information on his books, and for information on teaching and learning the basic academic subjects, starting with Latin and English Grammar, in the traditional, tried-and-tested and most effective way by far, visit

You can read a snippet of Gwynne’s Grammar here.

You can find a fascinating recent interview with him in the Telegraph here too.


As always we’d love to hear from you so don’t hesitate to get in touch.