The Third Person Singular -s or: let’s talk about priorities

Recently I was shocked – if not really surprised – to hear that not much seems to have changed in some English classes of (German) schools. I learned about a fifth grader who was not doing very well in English. I asked what his problem seems to be and was told that he had made a lot of mistakes in his last test. Naturally, my next question was: well, what kind of mistakes, and was totally astonished as to the prime nature of his failure. Continue reading

Is it I or is it me?

Harry Potter fans might answer this clearly as all characters in J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series say ‘It is I’ – something my linguistic mind always stumbles over for a brief second when reading it.  A student in one of my classes also recently asked about this.

Modern English does not have a case system, like e.g. German. The functions of subject and object in a sentence are determined by word order. Thus in the sentence – The cat is chasing the dog – who chases who(m) is clearly determined by the position of the two noun phrases ‘the cat’ and ‘the dog’. If I change the position of the noun phrases and say – The dog is chasing the cat – the situation changes dramatically from the perspective of the cat.

In German, e.g., which has a case system, we could have something like Den Hund jagte die Katze. The subject would be the cat even though Continue reading

Modality (1)

On the page The Verb Structure Circle, I discussed the four basic building blocks of the English verb: the simple forms 1 (so-called ‘simple present’) and 2 (so-called ‘simple past’) and the aspects continuous and perfect.

What this basic approach to English verb structures does not cover is modality. What is modality? Continue reading

The Verb Structure Circle

All parts summarizing the basic forms and combinations of the English verb structure system have been put together under the page The Verb Structure Circle, the single posts have been deleted (as I suspect them to be the reason for the page not showing correctly when using Internet Explorer 9; I read that word press blogs don’t show there when bits and pieces have been copied and pasted into posts from Office Word, which I have done with the slides.)

Some Remarks on ‘Correctness’

This morning we discussed my verb structure circle system (see under pages) in one of my classes. It was, again, as I found, a very interesting discussion. There seems to be one point of misunderstanding, though, when I question the validity of right or wrong claims: my position is not ‘anything goes’ and ‘rules don’t matter’. Continue reading

Greetings from the Islands

I’m on vacation and it seems when I am on vacation, so is my blog. I have spent the last week on the wonderful North Sea island of Amrum. The weather was great, as has been the last weeks in Germany.

For this week, I am in England and the weather is just as fine as it was on Amrum. So my blog’s vacation will continue.

An Overview of the English Verb Structure System: Introduction

What is grammar?

Whenever you ask this question, e.g. in a first year Introduction to Linguistics course or to learners of English, the first reaction is often one of bafflement. Isn’t the answer rather obvious? Tenses, prepositions, if-clauses: all the stuff you were supposed to learn in school.

When I ask adult learners of English, which area of grammar they feel they have the most problems with or feel they need more practice in, they most often answer: tenses – closely followed by prepositions. The first year linguistic student as well as most learners of English equate ‘grammar’ with verb structures or ‘the tenses’. Especially in a German context there seems to be a certain obsession with ‘tenses.’ And many learners of English worry about getting the ‘tenses’ right, even students I consider quite advanced. Although, when asked, most agree that vocabulary is much more important than correct ‘grammar’, there seems to be a certain unease or insecurity when it comes to using the ‘tenses’. Continue reading

Grammar as Fact or Grammar as Choice

The above distinction was originally made by Richard A. Close in ‘A Teacher’s Grammar’ (1992). He had already formulated his ideas 30 years before, but published a revised version in the early 90ies. I believe the distinction to be quite valuable, even if not always clear-cut.

Grammar as fact concerns such aspects of the language that are non-negotiable if I want to be able to communicate with the majority of speakers of the language. Facts of grammar describe the essential regularities or rules of a language that define it and organize its meaning. Continue reading