Writer's tool kit

Richard Hudson & Geoff Barton

Words are really fussy about the grammatical company they keep, and none more so than verbs.

Think, for example, of the verb "to stop" and how much more picky it is than its synonym "to cease". We can "cease" to understand our children, but we can't "stop" to understand them, though we can "stop understanding" them. And so on and on.

If you want a verb to work for you, you have to treat it well. You have to know what it's prepared to work with. How do we know? Through experience - experience of hearing and reading other people using verbs.

Another example: consider the verbs called "verbs of believing" - verbs like "think", "believe", "consider" and "regard" - all synonyms, but all used in different contexts. The verb "think" is an everyday word but the others are more "academic" and unfamiliar.

The point is that they each keep different grammatical company, and budding writers have to learn all their idiosyncrasies.

Here goes: You can "think", "believe" or "consider" that something is misguided, but you can't "regard" it. For example, you can't say "I regard that it's misguided". On the other hand, you can "regard" it as misguided, but you can't think, believe or consider it as misguided.

Clear? Perhaps you're in the same position as a lot of key stage 3 and 4 writers - pretty confused.

Sometimes in situations like this a different way of presenting the information, like the table, can help.

In our view, these unexpected patterns of which verbs will mix with which aren't to be seen as trip-wires, ready to make us look stupid. Instead they're sources of fascination.

And if we can get students exploring the unexpected pleasures of language, using graphs, charts and pictures, then the grammar phobia that so many older people have will simply fade away. But not dim away or disappear away or recede away.

Richard Hudson is professor of linguistics at University College, London Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Richard Hudson & Geoff Barton

Latest stories

Will teachers fight a 'catch-up' extended school day?

Will teachers fight a 'catch-up' extended school day?

LONG READ: Longer school days are predicted to be key to a 4-year Covid recovery plan due to be unveiled by the PM next month. William Stewart examines whether this means a bust-up with teachers' leaders.
William Stewart 18 Apr 2021
Covid: Nearly half of teachers have considered leaving this year, according to new research revealing the impact of the pandemic on teacher wellbeing and mental health

Wellbeing and international schools: The research view

Academics studying wellbeing in the international school sector offer insights on what the research tells us matters to the global education community
Mark Harrison, Stephen Chatelier, and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge 17 Apr 2021