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Grammarology 2.0: The introduction

TESL Toronto would like to present one of our members, Brett Reynolds, in a regular guest blogging position as he discusses Grammarology 2.0!

In this column, which will run roughly twice a month, I’ll tackle grammar questions from two viewpoints: first, traditional school grammar, as exemplified by the Oxford English Dictionary 2nd edition and grammars such as Reed and Kellogg’s Higher Lessons in EnglishHenry Sweet’s A new English Grammarand their progeny; and second a more modern analysis following The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) and its companion A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar.

Although there are various approaches to grammar, a glance at published textbooks and school curricula, and observations of various classrooms shows that “current traditional grammar” dominates English language teaching in Ontario. This is typically a catch-as-catch-can mingling of traditional school grammar with various modern innovations and ESL-specific rules of thumb. The LINC grammar items listed in the LINC 5-7 Curriculum Guidelines exemplify this nicely.  On page 336, we find phrase defined as:

“A group of related words that does not contain a subject and a predicate. A phrase cannot stand alone as a sentence. There are several different kinds of phrases: prepositional phrases, participial phrases, adjective phrases, gerund phrases, infinitive phrases, verb phrases, and so forth. A phrase is named for the word that introduces it.”

This begins with the traditional definition but continues with a thoroughly modern idea of a phrase. You don’t find various types of phrases, such as verb phrase or adjective phrase, discussed in traditional grammars. There, a phrase is roughly a syntactic unit larger than a word and smaller than a clause and lacking a main verb. Of course, this conflicts with the modern idea of a verb phrase. This seemingly unconscious blending is similarly evident in the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (discussed here) and TESOL’s “Grammatically Speaking” column (discussed here). On the other hand, the LINC document also includes adjective clause, a term that would have been familiar to Reed and Kellogg but is not used in the CGEL.

Beyond this mix of the traditional and the modern, the LINC document includes definitions that reflect neither approach. Consider the definition of linking verbs as “verbs that express state or feeling rather than action,” (p. 335) which could do with some attention and which brings us to our inaugural question: what is a linking verb anyhow?  Now online!

Brett Reynolds teaches English in Humber's EAP program. (OK, who's fooling who with this third-person stuff?) I speak Japanese, remember a fair bit of French, and know something about a few other languages too. I'm crazy about grammar, and spend too much time online for my own good.

  • Grammarology 2.0: What are linking verbs? - September 27, 2011

    […] The first in this series […]

  • Wahid Muntari Mende - September 28, 2011

    Could you expand and give examples on the group of related worde that has no subject nor predicate?
    Ex: Prepositional……………….
    Adjectival…………………… etc.


  • Brett - September 28, 2011

    @ Wahid
    Examples of prepositional phrases (PPs) would be:
    on the roof, in school, with a little help from my friends

    And here are some adjective phrases (AdjPs):
    happy, very happy, very happy about the new comments

    I hope that helps.

  • Grammarology 2.0: Even you surrender - November 15, 2011

    […] The fourth in this series […]

  • Grammarology 2.0: Present perfect vs past tense - December 5, 2011

    The fifth in the series looks at the present perfect vs the simple past.

  • That vs Which - January 9, 2012

    […] Grammarology 2.0 aims to take the discussion of grammar up a notch or two (your mileage may vary) and should appear about once every few weeks. It’s written by Brett Reynolds, who teaches EAP at Humber College and is just about as nerdy about grammar as you can get. He’s is always happy to take questions, which you can send to *{margin:0; padding:0;} #socialbuttonnav li{background:none;overflow:hidden;width:65px; height:80px; line-height:30px; margin-right:2px; float:left; text-align:center;} #fb { text-align:center;border:none; } […]