The History of Language

Tweet School is out in most places, so I will spend the summer posting about background subjects, with or without exercises to go with them. I’ll write for a while about where language comes from, and more specifically, where English comes from. On a recent trip to the Dordogne region of France, a group of […]

The jumbled-up conditional, er, modals

Tweet My French textbook, French Reference Grammar (1993), has an index entry for the “conditional,” and in the section devoted to it, calls it “the mood of verbs tied to a condition.” My Greek grammar, Greek: A Comprehensive Grammar of the Modern Language (1997) also has a section on the conditional mood. My English grammar, […]

The not so mysterious disappearance of the past perfect

Tweet One of the cardinal virtues of good writing is clarity, and proper use of verb tenses is crucial to clarity. Since most students have never been informed of their purpose, or form, they trudge around in a swamp of verb tenses, using them arbitrarily without controlling them. The past perfect (the “had + past participle” […]

Find the Subject and Verb – “this” and “there” developments

Tweet In previous posts I wrote about Subject-Verb mismatches when a clause intervenes, and when a prepositional phrase intervenes. There is another, perhaps more pernicious, form of mismatching, the There is malformation.  This has become widespread not only in my students’ papers, but on television, in political speeches, and in print articles. Here are some examples […]

Find the Subject and Verb – Prepositional Phrase intervening

Tweet Several previous posts have discussed grammatical problems occurring in my classes this past semester. In the previous post, I discussed mismatched Subjects and Verbs when a clause intervened. This post addresses a similar error pattern, only this time the intervening language consists of prepositional phrases. Here are some examples from my students’ papers: The effects [of […]

Find the Subject and Verb – Clause intervening

Tweet As discussed in a previous post, students have not been prepared in high school to identify the Subject and Verb of a sentence. The argument against teaching grammar is that we need no tutoring to create comprehensible sentences, unless there is some mental dysfunction. Volumes could be written about that contention, and I will not […]

Errors with Prepositions

Tweet This series of posts is about the error patterns in my students’ sentences. The errors interfere with clarity, flow, and aesthetics. There are so many occurrences of basic errors that my conclusion is not that the students are inattentive or sloppy, but that they have never been taught how to construct a solid English […]

Paying the Piper – the failure of American high schools

Tweet A second semester college student included this language in the third, and final, draft of her essay on “love and marriage.”  I like many other people are surprised by the amount of time couples stay together.  Not to mention adopting a child. After the final drafts had been turned in, I culled 22 similarly […]

More About the Scary Science: Linguistics

Tweet An article in the Arts section of The New York Times this morning, “How Do You Say ‘Disagreement’ in the Pirahã tongue?” points up the gulf between the soft science of Linguistics and ordinary mortals.  Since there is no whiff of this science discernible in high school courses (at least in the U.S.), students […]

Bilingualism makes us smarter longer

Tweet An article in The New York Times today makes the case that not only does bilingualism make us smarter as children, it also wards off mental deterioration in older people. I might add my own two cents on this subject. There is no time in life when bilingualism is anything less than a great bonus […]