Testing for sentence fragments

Tweet We use sentence fragments all the time in conversation.  All speakers recall what has been said before and are familiar with the attitudes and expectations of the people they are speaking with.  A person might even say, “Coming?” which is obviously not a full sentence, but given a clear context, it would be easily […]


Tweet Dear Readers:  I am vacationing in France, Germany, and Austria until the 12th of August, and will begin my posts again then.  The trip is providing interesting ideas for new posts. Many of you are probably on vacation as well, and I wish you a relaxing time. After the middle of August, we will be […]

Verbs Nouns and Modifiers

Tweet The heart of language is verbs, nouns, and modifiers. I gave a simple verb exercise last time, in which students wrote a three-element sentence, Subject/Verb/Object; for example, John plays basketball. If you are teaching a formal linguistics class, there are many terms and concepts that would be introduced at this point, but for purposes […]

The vocative case

Tweet In proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, and Latin, nouns were divided into declensions, each having a distinctive set of endings indicating whether the noun was the subject, direct object, indirect object, or possessive, and also had a case that was used only when speaking to someone.  Poetically, one could also address the sun, or Love, a “little […]

A challenge – can you use anything but the singular “they.”

Tweet Excuse me for writing about sex, but I think I have found a sentence in which the singular they is necessary. A good friend has written several popular books on senior sex, and on her blog she attached the answer a newspaper advisor gave to a reader whose wife had Alzheimer’s Disease and no […]

The plural you

Tweet (I have been in California visiting my son and his family, including a three-year-old and a five-year-old — I’m sure that many of you will understand why I haven’t been posting for the past few days.  They are a constant delight, and profoundly exhausting.) There have been several recent discussions about the lack of […]

Grammar exercises: Site Two

Tweet After explaining a grammatical point to a student, it can help to do some exercises which will allow that point to solidify. Purdue University has devised a set of grammar exercises which illustrate a series of grammatical entities or practices:  count and noncount nouns, appositives, verb tenses, etc.  The link is http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/5/. Their site includes […]

Pronouns – the singular “they”

Tweet I have given my students the job of finding, within their lifetimes, a gender neutral pronoun other than the Queen’s one. Some suggestions have been thon, heer, ha, hs, hiser, shhe, and s/he. Though these might be logical, they don’t quite fit phonetically. We’ll have to try harder. How would you rewrite the C. S. […]

Me and Mary went to the mall.

Tweet My prediction is that sentences using the grammar of  “Me and Mary went to the mall” will some day be considered the standard.  The meaning of this sentence is clear, though some other permutations still would sound very strange, such as “Me is/am hungry.” Discussion of this form, which is commonly used in everyday […]


Tweet DON’T END A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION!!!!! NEVER USE “I” IN AN ESSAY!!!!!!!! DON’T SPLIT INFINITIVES!!!! These old guidelines are obviously not the way we either speak or write, so what use are they?  Steven Pinker calls them Old Wives’ Tales.  Yet we have to have some kind of rules for our language, don’t […]