Grammar Usage

21st June 2013 at 01:00


A whole new futbol game

The use of social media sites in language learning does not have to preclude good grammar - in fact, it can introduce students to words through a familiar medium.

We begin with a lesson starter of verb conjugation. "Tuiteo, tuiteas, tuitea ..." The group soon deduces the words' meaning - tuit (tweet) and tuitear (Twitter) will be included in the 2014 edition of the Royal Spanish Academy's dictionary.

Next we follow an El Clasico football match between Real Madrid and Barcelona on the Twitter feed of sports daily Marca. Students quickly appreciate the value of the medium: bite-sized chunks of colloquial language prompting immediate intellectual engagement. A yellow card is instructive. "Amarilla? (yellow) That means the noun must be feminine." Then up pops the construction antes de plus infinitive ("before doing something").

Twitter is a rapid-fire vocabulary builder, multiplying your stock of "ar" verbs in minutes: marcar (mark), salvar (save), ganar (win) and, more unusually, amonestar (to warn or admonish). It is grammar coaching by stealth. Estrella means "star", for example. More exotic is the expressive power of the reflexive verb estrellarse, as Karim Benzema's strike explodes off the side netting. Given a choice, which teacher wouldn't have Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on their side?

Dr Heather Martin is head of modern languages at St Faith's Independent Prep School in Cambridge, England


- Brush up on grammar basics with TES Connect's flash cards. bit.lyGrammar Flashcards

- Try a resource from TESEnglish, full of lesson starters on spelling, punctuation and grammar. bit.lySPaGactivities

- Explore the history of the English language with lessons on Beowulf and the Lord's Prayer in Anglo Saxon. bit.lyHistory OfEnglish

- Use milpin's Spanish Grammar Notebook to help students remember the key points. bit.lySpanish GrammarBook


- Practise prepositions in French with lydiadavies' resources. bit.lyFrench Prepositions

- Revise grammar basics with johncallaghan's activities. bit.lyGrammar Starters

- Make English grammar fun with itjohn1's interactive lesson. bit.lyGrammarPPT

- Introduce your class to news writing in TESEnglish's activity. bit.lyNewsReportWriting


A way with words

While we live in an age of relentless mass communication - think Facebook and Twitter - some say there has been an equally unstoppable decline in the quality of how we use language.

It is against this backdrop of emails, texts and tweets that dynamic septuagenarian N.M. Gwynne brings us Gywnne's Grammar, a little book of grammatical treats designed to engage and enthuse even the most reluctant teenager (and which may also show their teachers a thing or two).

A former businessman who worked in London and Australia before turning to teaching, Gwynne has taught the children of a Silicon Valley millionaire via Skype and instructed students as young as 2 in Latin. His teaching repertoire includes English, Greek, French, arithmetic and history, and in a single day, Gwynne says, he has taught people as far apart geographically as India, Europe and the US.

But his message is simple: "We cannot think without words ... we think in sentences ... all our thoughts can only be properly expressed in a complete (for which read grammatically correct) sentence."

The response to the book has been universally positive. Witty, engaging and highly educational stuff.

Gwynne's Grammar: the ultimate introduction to grammar and the writing of good English is published by Ebury Press.


It's all Greek to me

Today, the term "grammar" can be used as a generic and derisory way to refer to any aspect of English to which people object. But historically people viewed it very differently. The word grammar derives from the Greek grammatike (tekhne) meaning "(art) of letters" and in ancient times it was often linked to philosophy.

The first known attempts to study grammar took place in Iron Age India, perhaps as early as the 6th century BC. In the West it emerged as a discipline among Hellenistic scholars from the 3rd century BC. The oldest extant treatise in Greek on the subject is the 2nd century BC Art of Grammar, attributed to Dionysius Thrax. Latin grammar developed by following Greek models, while the Auraicept na n-eces, an Irish primer, may have been written as early as the 7th century AD.

In the Middle Ages, grammar was considered one of the seven liberal arts in Europe, alongside disciplines such as rhetoric and arithmetic. It was not until the latter part of the 18th century that grammar came to be widely understood as a subfield of the emerging field of modern linguistics.

There has always been a difference between language as it is written and as it is spoken, with the rules of grammar being derived from the way language was used by the upper classes. In this way, it became essential not only for communication but as an indication of the user's standing in society. It would be interesting to get your students to dissect this in historic essays, letters and poems.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today