Simply confounded at the nitpickers' ball

11th April 1997 at 01:00
Anne Barnes has no need to apologise for "nitpicking" in the sample questions for the key stage 3 grammar, spelling and punctuation test (TES, Secondary Curriculum, March 28), for that's exactly what the test is all about - "nitpicking". That's bad enough, but the fact that they've managed to get grammar wrong as well is worse.

Most of the sample questions purporting to be about grammar are actually about stylistic choices in sentence and paragraph construction. Language is systematic, and grammar describes the systems. Choices made by speakers and writers in using the systems are matters of style, not grammar.

But what is really alarming is that the sample test even gets the grammar of these choices wrong - glaringly in offering a sentence comprising two clauses as an example of a "simple sentence": "It was the only sport I was good at" (a defining clause embedded in a main clause).

Faced with such ignorance, what are the children and their teachers supposed to do? And for what? To respond to a pointless political imperative.

What has any of this got to do with use and understanding of the language?

KEITH DAVIDSON 16 Sebright Road Hemel Hempstead Hertfordshire

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