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!