Archive for the ‘Grammar’ Category

Bet you can read this

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Are you reassured at all that a few spelling errors aren’t necessarily a barrier to written communication? I am. 🙂

Do I Need to Teach Grammar?

The Grammar Police

Does teaching structured grammar make better writers?

Lie or lay?

Prisca and me, or Prisca and I?

Bless our heart, or bless our hearts?

Do these kinds of questions drive you crazy? You’re not alone. Lots of picky people care about proper grammar, so much so they correct you when you speak and smile smugly at their proper erudition.

But I’m not one of them.

The rote study of grammar is one of those subject areas I’ve avoided most of my life. I’ve studied five languages, spoke French well enough to study at a French university and learned Arabic well enough to live in Morocco. I worked as a senior editor for a magazine, ghostwrote a number of short books and was a contributing editor to another magazine.

With all of these opportunities to make grammatical mistakes, you’d think that I’d be an expert, ready to throw down technical vocabulary like participles and subordinate clauses with the best of ’em. You’d think I’d love grammar and would be as enthusiastic to promote it as the next English teacher.


The technical side of grammar isn’t what draws me to writing or learning languages.

As a native speaker, my grasp of grammar is largely intuitive. I speak according to my ear, not according to a prescribed set of rules. When in doubt, I consult grammar reference books. I’ve learned a lot about habits in grammar from grammar check in Word, for example (which is not always accurate so I’m provoked to reevaluate the grammatical choice and see if I agree).

Grammar Police

What has happened for me over time, though, is that because of learning to speak foreign languages, I’ve been introduced to the structure of language and find that I can address my questions to grammar reference books without getting completely lost. I’ve absorbed how verb tenses work, what a clause is, how adverbs and adjectives modify nouns and verbs, what an article does and more.

I learned how to avoid ending sentences with prepositions in English by learning how to do it in French, for instance.

My kids, who have been raised with my lackadaisical approach to grammar, have shown an interesting development as they encounter foreign languages. The older two (19 and 16) were raised with dictation and copywork. We did three years of grammar total. They tell me today that they don’t think they really grasped the nuances of grammar until they studied Klingon (older one) and French (younger one). My next child (14) is studying Spanish. He and I did some grammar together in English, but it wasn’t until he started working on Spanish that he retained any of it. Suddenly he is saying, “Oh, I see how the verb thing works.”

The secret for us: learning a foreign language!

I studied biblical Greek with Noah last fall. Some of the students in our college class lamented the fact that they had not paid attention in English grammar class because they needed a grasp of grammar for Greek. But Noah and I chuckled. We knew that the way we had learned grammar was through foreign language itself. These students would learn what they needed to know in Greek. That’s when they’d get it for English.

So if you find that the study of grammar is a tedious chore in your household, that no one seems to retain it, I do have a recommendation for you. Learn a foreign language. Find someone to teach you and your kids.

You’ll get an appreciation for English grammar thrown into the bargain.

(Just as an aside – my oldest son, Noah, who did not like Winston grammar or dictation is about to enter the linguistics program at University of Cincinnati. He can’t get enough of grammar now. :))

Brave Writer Online Writing Class Groovy Grammar

The Groovy Grammar Workshop empowers parents to implement a natural approach to teaching grammar and stands the whole concept of grammar on its head. Rather than studying terminology and dissecting sentences, students are encouraged to play with language, to explore how words bump up against each other and generate meaning.

While on a walk

Somehow my best educational conversations happen while walking the dog. My son, Liam (11), asked me if I would help him with spelling. This is how it went down:

“Why do you want help with spelling?”

“Because I want to be good at spelling.”

“I thought you were a good speller.”

“Well, not for all words. And plus I don’t know how to use semi-colons.”

“Oh, do you mean punctuation?”

“Yeah, that too.”

“Well for spelling and punctuation, copywork and dictation work best.”

“Well, I won’t do those.”

“Okay, how about we do a spelling bee while throwing a lacrosse ball?”

“Yeah, that would be great.”

“And for punctuation, we could do reverse dictation… how about that?”

“Oh that would be awesome.

We got home and I started throwing the ball with him calling out words like “convenient” and “loquacious.” He needs no work on spelling, we discovered. 🙂 But he sure enjoyed the challenge!

Then that night, at about 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, we began reverse dictation (a process by which I type up a passage from a book without any capitals or punctuation and he has to edit/correct the copy). Yes, this is how it works in my house – weekends, middle of the night kind of stuff.

We did two passages together from Harry Potter and he so enjoyed them, he is begging to do more. We covered more grammar and punctuation during his hour of real interest and enthusiasm than we have in the last four years of home education.

Finally I had to ask. “Why the sudden interest?”

“Well, my online gaming community did a recent survey and found out that only 49% of the users spell correctly most of the time. I want to start spelling right. And no one uses punctuation, but it seems like a good idea.”

And there you go. I swear this child’s entire education is coming from computer games. 🙂

Bad Analogies

A friend sent me these in email and they made me laugh so much I had to share them.

Analogies and metaphors supposedly found in high school essays:

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge free ATM.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

26. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

27. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

28. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

Grammar, Spelling, and Word Games

These require no preparation. Just pick one and get started! No more grammar, vocabulary and spelling guilt.

  1. Over breakfast, identify the parts of speech for every action you perform and item you use. Stump each other, if you can. I chowed the chow while chewing. (Chowed: verb, Chow: noun, Chewing: gerund)
  2. Grab a stack of magazines or books and thumb through them until you find a word you don’t know. Look it up and use it in a sentence. (You can make this a game by suggesting that everyone do it at the same time and then share the word at teatime. See if anyone knows what it means and how to use it before the “expert” teaches them what it is.)
  3. Turn nouns into verbs: I chaired the meeting, I tabled the discussion, I forked over the money, I couched my words in apologies…
  4. Look up the name of a bird and then memorize its Latin name. See if there is a relationship between the Latin and the English. Look it up online and see if you can find out what the Latin means.
  5. Make a word scramble. Everyone picks five words, scrambles the spellings and then passes the list of scrambled words to the right. Set the timer for three minutes. Unscramble as quickly as you can. When the bell rings, pass the list to the right again. Reset the timer and go. Keep going until every word is unscrambled. Work with your neighbor if your list is finished. The goal isn’t to win, but for the entire group to unscramble every single word.