Tuesday, May 5, 2009


As regular as the duck-shooting season, an argument erupts about the teaching of grammar. When people discover that I was once an English teacher they want to know what I think about it. It seems to be some sort of touchstone. I included the use of terms like noun, verb and adjective in my lessons. The explanation between ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ is best covered by a grammatical explanation. Students need to learn the difference between the active and passive voice. After all in adult life they might end up in advertising or writing TV scripts.

Ambiguities provide a good avenue into grammar. The advertisement ‘Handsome Persian Strips’ for a carpet sale provokes an interesting lesson. ‘What terrible minds you have.’ Equally useful is to tie grammar to literature, for example, Shakespeare's Egyptian queen speaking about being displayed in a Roman triumph ‘I shall see some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness’ or Hopkins ‘let Him easter in us’. But I did not and do not see the point in sterile exercises.

I confess that high school Latin did help me. You learn a lot about your native tongue when you study another language.

The critics might be better occupied if they turned their sights to the sub-editors of the Dominion Post. There have been some howlers let through of late. A recent example. ‘womb’ instead of ‘room.’ Wrong noun.

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