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 […]

Italian university decides to teach all classes in English

Tweet The Politecnico University in Milano, Italy, has decided that it will teach all of its classes in English.  As you might imagine, this has caused controversy. As European (and other) universities attract a student body from various countries, there is something of a trend to teach classes in English.  Montclair State University, for example, […]

Paying the piper 2: The failure of American high schools

Tweet A couple of blog posts ago, I presented some cockamamie sentences from my students. The sentences suggested to me that the students did not have a handle on the rules for constructing sentences. They confused spoken English with written English, but the sentences cited would not be used in spoken English.  This baffled, and […]

Virtual reality

Tweet Years ago, a friend said he thought that young people today were blurring the distinction between real and virtual relationships.  I said that was ridiculous, that human beings would always need the sights, smells, and touch of other human beings. A relationship based on language alone would never prove gratifying. Now I wonder.  My […]

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 […]

Language learning tool

Tweet I have just learned about a very interesting tool/game for learning new languages.  Here’s a synopsis, copied from a LinkedIn contact: “Language Hunters ( is a not-for-profit organization in Portland, Oregon that utilizes a fun, collaborative and communal accelerated learning tool in the form of an interactive game, utilizing sign language, to learn and […]

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 […]