English - What's in a noun phrase?
What's it about?
Sit up at the back! Time for a grammar test. Make up three sentences using the words in italics as indicated:
a) were as a verb in the subjunctive mood
b) too as an adverb of degree
c) singing as a gerund (verbal noun)
This is part of a 1967 English exam, writes Geoff Barton.
The papers included convoluted passages on topics like life in the Soviet Union, followed by arcane questions on vocabulary ("Explain cleavage", demands one, humourlessly). The papers assume knowing about language is an important part of being able to "do" English.
In 1994 I edited a volume of the academic journal English in Education, which featured a controversial article by academic David Tomlinson on grammar. He analysed years of research which seemed to suggest that grammatical knowledge didn't make you a better writer. He said much of it was written to provide "what many in the education establishment wanted to hear" - that teaching formal grammar was pointless.
The establishment's view appeared to be that you don't need to be able to service a car to drive. But you do need to know where the steering wheel is and when to use the clutch.
Similarly, understanding noun phrases will make you a better writer. I'm not suggesting we teach pupils to parrot definitions of gerund and subjunctive. But, as with science, we should teach them how something as rich, empowering and creative as English works. If you're really keen on grammar, join the Pedants Anonymous conversation in the English forum on TES, where teachers reveal their grammatical bugbears.
TES English also has a handy resource of starters on spelling, punctuation and grammar.