There’s been a lot in the news lately about English grammar, and what should be taught when, as parents have struggled with grammar terminology while homeschooling their kids during lockdown.
Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember having to identify nouns and verbs, subjects and objects – more often than not in French or Latin lessons rather than in English though. We did learn basic grammar, syntax and punctuation, but beyond onomatopoeia, alliteration and the split infinitive, didn’t give it any fancy terminology and that wasn’t until senior school. This is why I too had no idea what a ‘fronted adverbial’ was, although I’ve unwittingly used them all the time; to be honest I wasn’t sure what an ‘adverbial’ was either.
- An adverbial is a word or phrase that has been used like an adverb to add detail or further information to a verb, explaining how, when or where something happened. e.g. I could have danced all night.
- A fronted adverbial is simply putting the adverbial at the start of the phrase, usually followed by a comma. e.g. Earlier, I found out about fronted adverbials.
Also in Key Stage 2 (Year 4 – age 8-9), children are now introduced to the subjunctive – this is something I never heard of until learning Latin at senior school, and touched on in O-Level French (in the latter, how to avoid having to use it mostly). We don’t have a subjunctive form in English as such, so this must be so confusing for children (and adults alike)! Whether rightly or wrongly, I think of it as a ‘conditional +’ clause if I have to. Can anyone explain why they’re being subjected to it at all so young these days?
It also tickles me that that when children are being taught about adjectives and adverbs, they compose terribly florid passages of prose chock full of them; I’ve seen many an adverb poem where every line ends with one. Then, as an adult writing, one of the first things you learn is to get rid of as many adjectives and adverbs in your text as you can – it’s all about ‘show, don’t tell’. Indeed, Elmore Leonard‘s Ten Rules of Good Writing say:
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
I stopped studying English and languages after O-Level. In my various jobs since, I’ve always written reports, policies, articles, newsletters etc. and my cardinal rule has always been, ‘Is it clear and readable?’ (Did you notice the fronted adverbial there by the way? 😀 ) I read the more important pieces out in my head, or even out loud as a check.
Since I started my blog twelve and a half years ago, I also know that I am my own worst proof-reader, yet am pretty good (but obviously not at a professional level) at proof-reading other people’s work – my services can be in demand at school when it’s reports time! So forgive me if the occasional old post crops up in your reader – it’s probably me spotting a howler and editing.
Back in the early days of my blog, I wrote a post about rogue apostrophes, grammar and punctuation. It ended with a wonderful punctuation poem that I found in a little book on punctuation that had come free with the Sunday Times newspaper. It’s so delightful, I’m closing this post by sharing it with you again.
A Victorian Schoolmistress’s Rules of Punctuation
Sentences begin with a Capital letter,
So as to make your writing better.
Use a full stop to mark the end.
It closes every sentence penned.
The comma is for short pauses and breaks,
And also for lists the writer makes.
Dashes – like these – are for thoughts by the way,
They give extra information (so do brackets, we may say).
These two dots are colons: they pause to compare.
They also do this: list, explain and prepare.
The semicolon makes a break; followed by a clause.
It does the job of words that link; it’s also a short pause.
An apostrophe shows the owner of anyone’s things,
And it’s also useful for shortenings.
I’m so glad! He’s so mad! We’re having such a lark!
To show strong feelings use an exclamation mark!
A question mark follows What? When? Where? Why? and How?
Do you? Can I? Shall We? Give us your answer now!
“Quotation marks” enclose what is said,
Which is why they’re sometimes called “speech marks” instead.
What do you think about how grammar is being taught? Discuss!
13 thoughts on “Earlier, I found out about ‘fronted adverbials’ .”
Poor children… I’ve always found George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing a useful guide but I like your punctuation poem.
They are good rules too! No 2: Never use a long word where a short one will do. Nuff said.
I feel like there must be a happy medium. I was taught nothing at school (including secondary school) except nouns, verbs and adjectives. Now I struggle to explain to my undergrads what they are doing wrong in their writing because I don’t know the terminology. I think grammar can be such a useful tool that it would be helpful for students to have some formal education in things like incomplete sentences, comma use and passive voice, though at secondary rather than primary level. Unfortunately the current curriculum seems to introduce these concepts too young, and out of context.
I agree – secondary school is the time for the terminology, primary school is the time to get them writing and expand their vocabulary.
Am I allowed to say I *hate* fronted adverbials? I just can stand the way they sound! As for grammar generally, I don’t actually recall what I was taught but I tend to think I get it right by instinct, having read widely. So many rules – I do think they can tend to stifle creativity and I don’t understand half of what the Year 6’s in my school are being taught… ;D
It depends where you want the stress to come I guess, fronted emphasises the adverbial rather than the verb it’s acting on. They do sound more clunky though. Like you, I get it right mainly by instinct due to reading widely.
I only ever remember learning grammar terms from my study of French. If it weren’t for that, I would probably have no idea what to call tenses and moods. (And I still get confused and have to look up the definitions to be sure.) For me, grammar is so instinctual that I often wouldn’t know how to explain something is wrong, just that I know it is. That was a challenge when I did English tutoring with study abroad students in my final year of university. I do like that Victorian schoolmistress poem!
The majority of mine came from French and Latin. Susan having reminded me of George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing, number 6 has it just right: ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’ So if it sounds right, so what! 😀
Why are such young children being put through this misery – it’s enough to turn them off language entirely. I’d much prefer it if the education system put the effort instead on spelling and basic grammar like the use of the apostrophe.
My experience as a teacher, going from newly qualified where I was left to my own devices (when I might have needed some guidance) to an experienced educator with an over-prescribed syllabus (that left little room for innovation or free-styling), is that politicians interfere too much in matters where they have little or no expertise—much as happens in many other areas.
Fronted adverbial is a definition designed to frighten the bejazus out of everyone and should be stuffed down the throat of whichever minister thought it was a good thing for young minds to know, ahead of recognising political corruption, cronyism and criminality when they saw it.
I think it’s way too much too early. I learned all my grammar in French and Latin and then at university, where 20% of my English degree was English Language.
I too found fronted adverbial recently which brought me here. I can so relate with the not knowing fancy terminology. I too wonder when I hear a new term even though I may use it unknowingly. I know we can look it up online. But could you please suggest a book where I can find all these? I am a non native English speaker.