Far from perfect grammar

My Grammar School inconveniently forgot to teach me grammar. Fact. We had a few lessons about verbs and adverbs, prepositions and commas – and that was about it. When I became a Primary teacher I swotted up on the basics, while older colleagues banged on about the dubious merits of Box Analysis.

box chart grammar alan dapre


As a published writer I am expected to know how words are strung together. I do – but I string them in my own sweet way, dropping convention when I see fit (or through ignorance). My aim is to keep things simple.

Friends who speak foreign languages have a grasp of tenses – such as the Pluperfect tense in French. I vaguely remember that it had something to do with things already done in the past. The nearest English equivalent is the Past Perfect tense – ‘we had written, they had entered’.

Wikipedia has this to say –

Examples of the English pluperfect (past perfect) are found in the following sentence (from Viktor Frankl‘s Man’s Search for Meaning):

  • A man who for years had thought he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering had no limits, and that he could suffer still more, and more intensely.

Here, “had thought” and “had reached” are examples of the pluperfect. They refer to an event (a man thinking he has reached the limit of his capacity to suffer), which takes place before another event (the man finding that his capacity to suffer has no limit), that is itself a past event, referred to using the past tense (found). The pluperfect is needed to make it clear that the first event (the thinking and the supposed reaching) is placed even earlier in the past.

Dull. Dull. Dull. I get a headache just reading and thinking about it.

Quick question. Do you know what makes a tense Perfect?

Quick Answer. A tense is said to be Perfect when the action is over and complete.

Hmm, I also remember the dreaded Past Participle. It is always used for perfect tenses… opened, eaten, rewarded.

Perhaps it’s better not to dredge such stuff up.

The Present Participle is used to create continuous tenses, which show when an action has been going on for some time – even if it started back in the past… I have been sitting here for ages.

That brings me to Gerunds. They are verbal nouns, that always use a possessive adjective instead of a pronoun… I was upset about her leaving.

Writing this, I can see why Grammar left me cold. It is vitally important but when taught badly is almost incomprehensible. Too much and you struggle, too little and you struggle.

So I am heading for the middle way. I might use the odd Gerundive (verbal adjectives) but I won’t let the terminology get in the way of writing a cracking story.

I am glad that young kids have to use appropriate terminology and call a spade a spade – noun a noun. But let’s not take it too far. There is a debate whether kids should say ‘joining words’ or ‘conjunctions’, ‘Doing words’ or ‘Verbs’…

Surely they should be taught in a way that makes sense to them, using words that they understand. Horses for courses.

By the way, does anyone know the difference between loose, periodic and balanced sentences?

Hands up at the back!

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