Well, I would fail the new kiddies grammar test

1 Circle all the adverbs in the sentence below:

Open the drawers carefully and quietly when using the filing cabinet. (1 mark)

Erm, what is an adverb?

No, quite seriously, I do not know: I\’ve never studied grammar in any language.

8 Underline the subordinate clause in each of the following sentences. One has been done for you.

Although his Mum thought they were very smart, Peter disliked his new trousers.

Before he could go swimming, Ali packed his towel.

The twins asked Dad to turn up the heating as it was cold.

After drinking his water, Mark washed up his glass.


14 Add a suffix to this word to make an adjective. dread ____________

(1 mark)

What is this adjective thing you speak of?

5 Label each of the nouns below as either abstract AB, collective CL, common CM or proper PR noun.

Last Sunday, the team was filled with excitement that they might win the trophy!!

So there we have it, I am, at 49 years of age, less educated than Michael Gove thinks I should be at 11.

Ho hum.

Nope, completely lost me.

33 thoughts on “Well, I would fail the new kiddies grammar test”

  1. So you live in Portugal – did you never study a foreign language ? Do you communicate with the locals ?

    And you went to school in the UK and know no grammar ? Not exactly something to be proud of.

    What Gove is asking for is not unreasonable.

    Go to France and see how much grammar the kids have to learn there. Not only do they have about 10 different tenses, the have to conjugate them and know all about sentence construction. It is seriously OTT. Gove is just asking for basics.

    Tim adds:

    “So you live in Portugal – did you never study a foreign language ? Do you communicate with the locals ? “

    Unless you count school French, no, not formally.

    My (past, long time ago and I’ve forgotten a lot) ability to hold a business meeting in Russian was done on the listen, speak, make mistake, try again basis. As is my ability to shop, get the house fixed, pay the bills etc in Portuguese. I will admit that my current attempts to learn Czech are greatly aided by having known Russian in the past. The numbers are the same for example, which is a great help.

    But the learning method is the same. Wander around, talk to people, see what works. You know, the same way children learn languages.

    It’s fairly easy this way to get to 400, 500 words which is what you actually need to navigate through life. And absolutely no one, ever, speaks grammatically.

    “And you went to school in the UK and know no grammar ? Not exactly something to be proud of. “

    I was just in that gap. Where it was assumed that you would learn grammar through Latin and or Greek. But without actually being taught Latin and or Greek.

  2. Me too!

    Thing is though, this stuff really doesn’t matter to most people unless they plan to become English teachers or on-line grammar pendants.

    I was taught all this nonsense in school (in the 70s & 80’s) and passed the O level (grade B as I recall), but have never since been required to know the difference betweeen an adjective and an adverb, and I’ve forgotten now, and frankly don’t give a tinkers cuss about it.

  3. I can do all of that. But I couldn’t have done it at 11. I studied grammar for a year at secondary school.

    I do think this is more than slightly OTT for primary school kids.

  4. I disagree with the above posts.

    Kids should be taught English grammar as early as possible. When they start learning a foreign language and the teacher starts banging on about verbs and clauses, it’s 10 times as hard to get a handle on it all if you haven’t encountered them in your mother tongue.

    I teach grammar to adult students but was never taught it myself, and I got an A star in English GCSE and a similar A at A level.

    I believe that people who are ‘generally’ well educated learn how to write and speak properly by imitating the speech/writing patterns of their parents, teachers and favourite authors. They can survive fine without undergoing any formal grammar tuition. However, I happen to teach people who, outside of class, have no decent role models to imitate, and who therefore need to be taught this stuff formally.

    As for the grammar itself, it’s really pretty easy stuff. There’s a poem (though I don’t have it to hand), which helps you to remember most of it…

    Verbs describe what we all do: she ‘rode’, he ‘laughed’, we ‘played’, it ‘flew’.
    Adverbs describe how things are done, like ‘slowly’ read or ‘quickly’ run.

    And so on.

  5. All the above completely miss the point. Education is only partly about learning facts, it is as much about learning to think logically and applying the facts you know. Hence grammar, whilst of use to linguists, is very much more use for teaching logical analysis of a problem.

  6. I too, to my eternal frustration, was never taught this stuff at school. I’m 47 and have had to pick up what I can over the years. But it is very hard to make it sink in now.

    It is so much simpler to teach it to kids.

  7. Nick’s got it in one. Education is not so much what you learn as learning to learn. Once you can learn, you can learn anything.
    And the inability to learn underlies many of the subjects discussions here. Why so many of the people criticised hold such curious & erroneous opinions.
    And if you don’t know how to learn, you don’t know how to teach. Grammar doesn’t seem important until you have to work through an instruction manual, written by someone with no idea of it.

    To confess a personal fail, I’ve little knowledge of grammar myself. Which meant I struggled for hours yesterday trying to get machine translation to render my English into Polish. But I do know just enough of it to be able to understand what was happening, in a language I have only a couple dozen words of, as I tried various sentence structures. Was able to recognise verbs, nouns, adjectives & spot how their endings were changing in response to their relationships with each other. Bloody helpful for the person on the other end, who desperately needs this information.

  8. Same with me; early 40s, English education, never taught any of this stuff about English.

    Should have been. And yes, at that level probably by 11. Otherwise it’s more difficult to know what’s correct.

    Did a bit in Latin and French, the teachers of which were very frustrated that we didn’t know the grammar of our own language because it made it more difficult to teach the foreign one properly.

    But the worrying thing is that it’s my generation who are now teachers, most of them probably taught as badly as I was. No wonder they don’t want to teach it – they aren’t certain of it themselves.

    After generations of slow improvement, we are now sliding rapidly downhill.

  9. You are how old Mr Worstall?

    Your use of English has been acquired from experience over a period of decades by imitation, and your self-confessed lack of formal training in English is evident in the way you write.

    However young people starting out do not have the luxury of decades of experience and imitation, they have to get jobs based on their knowledge at the time.

  10. 1. carefully, quietly
    an adverb is a description of an action

    Although his Mum thought they were very smart,

    Before he could go swimming,

    as it was cold.

    After drinking his water,

    A subordinate clause can’t stand on it’s own (ok I had to ask someone about this)

    14. dread-ful
    adjective – a descriptive term

    5. Sunday – proper noun
    team – common noun
    excitement – abstract noun
    they – collective noun
    trophy – common noun

  11. A small mistake in Adam5x5’s model answers:

    “they” is a pronoun, not a collective noun.

    “team” is the collective noun in this example.

    And don’t get me started on “its”…..

  12. “…your self-confessed lack of formal training in English is evident in the way you write.” Bollocks. Snobbish bollocks. Tim writes the way he chooses to write, after decades of sorting out what he wants to sound like. Grammar lessons of the underline the verb in red sort we’re talking about here, are the least useful strand in a great weaving of influence and habit and knowledge. Knowing you’re breaking the rules when you do is a great defence against pedants, that’s all. We should all aim for clarity, logic and sense, maybe humor, even poetry sometimes, and bugger the 5% of the rules we’ll break on the way.

    Tim adds: Darn right too: and Ambrose knows, given that he was there to see me struggle through my English A level…..

  13. Thanks Pechorin,

    If you really want to depress yourself, listen to the BBC coverage of the Formula 1.

    Two choice quotes from today.
    “They want to be absolutely first on the grid”

    “He has absolutely turned the lights on in this championship”

  14. Try understanding well-written grown up German with no basic understanding of grammar in your own language. Since the sentence structure can be quite different, you need not only to understand German grammar but your own too.

  15. What Fred said. Our German teacher spent the first week of lessons teaching us the English grammar that six years of allegedly formal education had failed to instill.
    If you don’t understand subject-verb-object, modal verbs and cases then your German will not just be illiterate, it will be incomprehensible.

  16. The thing I found hard to ‘get’ with German was the complete lack of a continuous tense…

  17. TW does not take this liberal attitude to science and maths: he is always denouncing arts graduates for daring to venture into fields they should, by training, know nothing about,(in his opinion), Economics especially ,a subject that was ruined by mathematicians (remember the Black Scholes formula that predicted the options market and set off a market collapse,collecting a Nobel prize on the way?).
    Rule One of Economics: (IMO) if a relationship cannot be explained in words ,it probably does not exist.

  18. It’s common to describe parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.) in terms of their functional properties, so an adjective is a ‘descriptive term’ and a verb is a doing word. This is inaccurate – parts of speech describe syntactic and morphological, not semantic behaviour. Words are labelled as adjectives because they a) premodify noun phrases, b) they can stand alone in the predicate, c) they can be made comparative or superlative and d) they can be modified for degree (e.g. by ‘very’ or ‘quite’).

    Another common misconception is that ‘grammar’ and ‘style’ are the same thing and Gove looks like he’s fallen into that trap. I had high hopes for him but he seems even more intent on diktat from the centre that his predecessors.

  19. I’m 58. From 7 to 11 years of age, I was at an RC Junior School, and we were being taught to differentiate between nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. Also spelling and vocabulary. Our assignments included comprehension, spelling tests, and essays. That was all mainstream stuff by the time we had reached the age of ten.
    They did this by instilling unwavering respect for authority, from the day we started Infant School at 5 years old. We were a fairly nondescript gaggle of kids from a working class town in the North East of England. Every one of us was reading fluently by the age of seven.

  20. For the benefit of others. I’ll expand a little on what Mr Chimpsky above is saying.

    I saw anon’s post above @ 4 about his poem to remember nouns/verbs etc. The fact that he couldn’t remember it struck me as a fatal flaw in a mnemonic. I thought I would help out Tim with the famous (and memorable ) squaddy’s response to to the question of whether some mechanical object or person was functioning:

    “The fucking fucker’s fucking fucked.”

    There was a sentence (I thought) that contained respectively (if you leave out “the”) adjective, noun, adverb and verb (though I suppose the full verb is “is fucked”). Tim just needed to remember “adjective, noun, adverb, verb” and his problems were solved.

    Turns out I’m wrong. The first “fucking” is in fact “an attributive modifier of a noun, like an attributive adjective”.* The second “fucking” is “a pre-head modifier of a verb, analogous to a pre-head adverb.”*

    I think Tim’s basic point stands – it is perfectly possible to use normal English words in a grammatically correct way without knowing whether the word in question is an adjective, an adverb or even a pre-head modifier of a verb.

    * for a fuller discussion of why/how “Fuck is one of those fucking words you can fucking put anywhere in a fucking sentence and it still fucking makes sense” please consult this link http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3864#more-3864. Other posts on that blog (Language Log), particularly by the great Geoffrey Pullum, deal with other nonsense by people who know less about language than they think (HT to Paul B, who has led me to waste even more of my time…)

  21. Tim,

    “I am, at 49 years of age, less educated than Michael Gove thinks I should be at 11.” –

    In the matter of taking money to provide an education, the perfidy of the Benedictines is, for once, on a par with that of the Jesuits.

  22. Bloke in Spain

    “Education is not so much what you learn as learning to learn.”

    Sorry, but if I need brain surgery I want my brain surgeon to have studied brain surgery.

    These bloody leftists and their hatred of elites get everywhere, don’t they?

  23. Is it really possible to go through life with an enquiring mind and not find out what an adverb is? I suppose one must take Tim’s word for it. I’d always assumed that the claim that Sherlock Holmes had no knowledge at all of astronomy was hyperbole on Watson’s part, but perhaps the delicate flower of ignorance can be preserved after all.

    remember the Black Scholes formula that predicted the options market and set off a market collapse,collecting a Nobel prize on the way

    I’m familiar with a Black-Scholes formula (are you?) but I don’t recognize the description of this one. Does your proscription of mathematics apply equally to physics?

  24. Paul B
    I am not sure why you have referred me to Ian Stewart’s mistakes on Black-Scholes: I never said that Black Scholes was at the root of the sub-prime fatuity as he appears to have done.I said that Black Scholes were at the root of a Wall Street lurch all of their own (when they went into business as Long Term Capital Management and were caught out by the big Russian default I think ,from memory). They did get a Nobel Prize though. (You have to laugh.)
    You ask if I am familiar with Black-Scholes (wasn’t there a Merton too?) and their magic formula.Therein lies the point I am trying to make : people like you and Worstall demand the utmost respect for Maths ,but in W’s case, remain proudly ignorant of a basic technical knowledge of language.( You appear to demand a respect for both which is consistent but I fail to see why Physics should be incorporated into the basic working-practices of Economics ,the way Maths was, leading to the Sorbonne & Cambridge students’ revolt in 2000 against ” Autistic” science and the” imaginary worlds “the free play of numbers was made to explain in contemporary Economics.)
    As I would have thought our sense of reality is formed by language ,it would be incumbent on its practitioners to make sure what they write makes sense or has any reality.Worstall’s glibness over the parts of speech means he has no criteria for judging style.
    A bogus official statement such as “The situation has been resolved “is crap (unreal) because it uses an abstract noun and a passive verb .TW does not have the technical resources to tackle this as an intellectual reflex.
    As Wittgenstein said “The limits of language mean the limits of my world”.

  25. @Luke

    I know what each part of grammar is for, and I don’t use the poem myself as I only dimly recalled it being mentioned to me.

    Why is there this imbecilic need to attack people needlessly?

  26. Black-Scholes does not predict anything. It is risk-neutral. It relies on the circular assumption that if you hold the option and sell the delta of the stock then the instantaneous return of the portfolio will be insensitive to the change in the stock price.

    LTCM were not blown up by options but by their highly leveraged bond trades and some M&A arbitrage positions. Even though these trades would have made money in the end, the market shock following the russian default caused them all to go underwater and when their counterparties made margin calls they ran out of money. They were not able to stay liquid for longer than the market remained irrational.

  27. I’m in my 40’s, and we did adverbs/adjectives and common/collective/proper nouns around the age of 8, at my state primary school. I’m not sure that I would have been able to identify a subordinate clause by the time I was 11, though.

    (If it’s at all relevant, I think there was very little expectation that any of us would do Greek or Latin.)

  28. Why do kids need to be taught how to learn. Humans are a naturally curious animal and left to their own devices kids will learn anything. How do babies learn to speak in the first place. They aren’t taught this.

    School is a place where society instills into kids what they should know and how they should act. There is a bit on the side of teaching basic numercy and literacy but the rest is just fluff.

  29. DBC Read: you referred to “the Black Scholes formula that predicted the options market and set off a market collapse”. The failure of LTCM was a result not a cause of adverse market conditions. It was Scholes and Merton who were partners in LTCM and who received a Nobel Prize, Black having died. Merton had some involvement in the original design of LTCM’s trading approach, but Scholes was brought in purely to sell the fund to investors.

    The collapse of LTCM had nothing to do with the Black-Scholes formula, and very little to do with Merton and Scholes: when they wisely argued that LTCM should not be involved in “merger arb”, they were overruled. LTCM’s problem was that it made highly leveraged trades in illiquid markets: they should have had a Keynesian on board to remind them that “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”.

    What I meant to ask is whether you think mathematics should not be used by physicists (I apologise for expressing myself ambiguously).

    I don’t agree that mathematical reasoning should not be employed because it can be used to confuse the unmathematical. Mathematics is a precise language which ensures that arguments in it are either sound or provably erroneous. Whereas arguments in natural language can involve many subtle traps, because words have shades of meaning and one can switch from one shade to another mid-stream. I share your suspicion of an economic argument that can’t be expressed qualitatively in words, but for quantitative purposes I want to see the maths.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with using the passive voice (see Language Log). What’s weaselly is the use of agentless constructions to avoid mentioning the agent – “we regret that mistakes were made”.

  30. Virtually every human being knows what nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, gerunds, subclauses, auxillaries, conjunctions, contractions, articles, infinitives, inflections, participles, participles, and prepositions by the age of 3. They just don’t know the names for them.

    Human grammar is the most incredibly intricate thing – the stuff you learn at school bears as much relation to the real thing as counting on your fingers bears to solving nonlinear differential equations, and is just as hard. But it’s learnt instinctively.

    I think the point of the post is that of all the things they could and should be teaching kids, formal grammar is probably one of the least useful. It’s actually positively damaging, in that people will often override their instinctive understanding with some half-remembered (and wrong) formal grammatical rule. People trying to write more formally (e.g. in scientific reports) often use worse grammar than normal.

    But like many things that can be done instinctively, progressing past a certain point can only be done by learning the theory. Sportsmen study mechanics and physiology and aerodynamics. Artists study light and perception and geometry.

    You learn by trial and error, until you’ve got as far as you can get by that method. Then learning the theory and thinking about what you’re doing makes you clumsy again, until your cerebellum learns the new way of doing it. Language is, presumably, the same.

  31. It all rather depends on whether you think that grammar is prescriptive or descriptive.

    Gove clearly thinks it’s the former. He’s wrong – though I don’t deny the value of teaching people the prescriptive approach if their ear fails them.

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