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Grammar!!!. Are Grammar Lessons Enough?. A solid body of scholarly research has demonstrated that knowledge of grammar will not, of itself, improve writing style. Occasionally, where grammar lessons replaced time spent teaching composition directly, the grammar classes registered less gain.

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Are Grammar Lessons Enough?

  • A solid body of scholarly research has demonstrated that knowledge of grammar will not, of itself, improve writing style.

  • Occasionally, where grammar lessons replaced time spent teaching composition directly, the grammar classes registered less gain.

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Can Students Make the Link?

  • Transference from fact-based grammar to more organic prose does not always take place, nor should it be expected to.

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  • Peter Rosenbaum writes, “we might as well expect instruction in the Newtonian description of the mechanics of the forward pass to make the quarterback a good passer as expect instruction in grammar to improve performance in the literate skills."

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  • Research shows that student writing skills most improve when incidental grammar training is used.

  • Total reliance on incidental training can leave students feeling that there is a gap in their intellectual development, and that they have not received adequate academic instruction.

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A Solution…

  • The pedagogical solution to this problem is to limit writing-related teaching of grammar to stylistic areas, where it can succeed.

  • In most classrooms, there are two times when stylistic considerations come to the foreground: when we teach editing, the last step in the revising stage of the composing process, and when we teach writing style as a discrete skill.

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Teachers, Keep This in Mind:

  • When considering your grammar lessons, ask yourself:

  • Are students applying grammar to a real communication context?

  • Does the lesson take audience and purpose into consideration?

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  • Will the lesson broaden the student’s understanding of and respect for different varieties of English? Different languages?

  • Are students using grammatical terminology correctly?

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Grammar Superstitions: The Never-Never Rules

  • Many professional writers break the “Never-Never” rules in their writing assignments, but many English teachers force students to follow those rules in their essays.

  • “Either all of those [professional writers] are wrong and never learned their sentence-starting rules, or there must be some kind of graduate club of writers that students are denied access to” (GA 73).

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The Dreaded Sentence-Ending Preposition

  • Superstition

  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.

  • Preposition

  • A structure-class word that combines with a nominal (a word that serves as a noun phrase) to form a prepositional phrase that functions adjectivally or adverbially.

  • above, at, in, of, for, from, to, on

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Phrasal Verb

  • A verb that consists of a verb plus a particle that serves as a preposition.

  • A Verb with Different Particles

  • Phrasal verbs are formed from one verb.

  • take aftertake aparttake back

  • take downtake fortake in

  • take offtake ontake out

  • A phrasal verb is an “essential component of smooth, informal English prose” (GA 72).

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The Abhorred Split Infinitive

  • Superstition

  • Never use split infinitive in a sentence.

  • Split Infinitive

  • To split an infinitive in a sentence is to insert an adverb between to and the verb.

  • to boldly go

  • to firmly lay

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The Contraction of Ill-Repute

  • Superstition

  • Never use a contraction in a sentence.

  • Contraction

  • A shortening of a word or word group by omission of a sound or letter.

  • can’t, won’t, doesn’t, we’ll

  • “Contractions soften the writer’s voice. To write without contractions is to deliver a standoffish, unrhythmical, overly formalized style that won’t ease the reader’s journey to understanding.” (GA 73)

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Three Little Words: And, But, So

  • Superstition

  • Never begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.

  • Coordinating Conjunction

  • A structure-class word that connects two words, phrases, or clauses as equals.

  • and, but, so, because, yet

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The Impudent I

  • Superstition

  • Never use first person (I) in a sentence.

  • Avoiding first person in sentences leads to “ineffective use of the passive voice, the stuffy use of ‘one’ or ‘an individual,’ and other distancing mechanisms leading to such clunkers” (GA 73).

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Helpful Grammar Rules:

  • Well is an adverb, good is an adjective (exception: when well means healthy it is an adjective)

  • Who vs. Whom




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Some Troublesome Verbs:

  • InfinitivePastPast ParticiplePresent Participle

  • Burstburstburstbursting

  • Lay (to put or place)laidlaidlaying

  • Lie (to rest)laylainlying

  • Lie(to speak falsely)liedliedlying

  • Sit (to rest)satsatsitting

  • Set (to put or place)setsetsetting

  • Raise (to lift)raisedraisedraising

  • Rise (to ascend)roserisenrising

  • (Class Notes for English 302: Professor Noguchi)

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Teaching Grammar: Form

  • One can distinguish what part of speech a word is not only because of its meaning, but also because its form can be changed in certain ways: nearly all nouns can take endings that show plurality and possession.

  • Ex: dog, dogs, and dog’s are all nouns both because of meaning and because of the endings (GA24).

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  • One can help clarify what part of speech a word is by the word that frames it.

  • Ex: a word that stands alone after a determiner such as the, a, my, or this is a noun: the dog, a dog, my dog, this dog (GA 24).

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  • “When a word is used in a sentence, it takes on another vital characteristic: its function” (GA 24)

  • Function overrides form:

    ex: the noun school when used in the school cafeteria is by form still a noun, but since it functions adjectivally here, it is an adjective.

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The Form, Frame, Function Tests:

  • Check for meaning

  • Look at the form: what a word looks like, the endings that can be added to it

  • Look at the words that frame it: the words that form a setting in which a word or type of word can fit

  • Look at the function: what the word does in the sentence

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Practice and Application:

  • For younger students: hunt for simple structures such as a noun series or a prepositional phrase

  • For older students: look for structures such as parallelism (ex: “Give me liberty or give me death”)

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Useful Websites for Teachers:





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