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About This Resource

Bored of Edu
WHO WHAT WHERE
This Parts of Speech website is an extension of the materials used for sections of English 098: English Fundamentals, a remedial English course at Grossmont College, taught by Karl Sherlock. All content, including written materials, diagram illustrations, examples, and art work, are copyrighted and may not be copied, reprinted or distributed without written permission.
 
This site has several objectives.
  • to introduce basic concepts in grammar
  • to introduce techniques for sentence diagramming
  • to provide instruction for common problems in grammar
The menu navigates to specific parts of speech and their subtopics.
 
 
GRAMMAR SCHOOL, AGAIN?!
What does the word "tuition" mean?  Do you "pay tuition" or "pay for tuition"?  Is "tuition" a count noun or noncount noun?  Do you give it or get it in college?  Does tuition come with a price or a cost?  Is the phrase "in tuition" the same as the word "intuition"?  If "intuit" is a verb, is there also a verb "tuit" and, whatever it is, can you tuit? Tuit till you're satisfied?
 
I forget which comedian said it in the 1980s, but over the years I've come to realize its enduring truth:  "Everything you really need to know in life, you learn by the fourth grade."  The zillion things we want to learn, or the myriad things others want us to learn, are not the same as the few major things we need to learn in order to raise us above the abject life of animals.  Those formative years in education teach us how to think, communicate, and express our humanity.  The rest of it we pick up as we go along.
 
This may be why the common culture seems stuck at the third and fourth grade.  Newspapers articles tend to be written at a fourth grade level.  Television news, at a third grade level.  Reality television programs—I shudder to think.  And, regardless of how "smart" smartphones are supposed to make us feel, thanks to texting and Tweeting, verbal skills are trending dumber, not smarter, AAMOF.  SRSLY.  TMI?  An entire generation of young people who have invested heavily into the technology of smartphones seem also to have bought the propaganda, lock stock and barrel, that they lead busier lives than previous generations, and that they need a method of education, and a style of communication, that can somehow "keep up with them" as they are constantly on the go, dividing their attention among many activities and multi-tasking their way through their day.  In fact, this latest generation of college students not only believes it is superior at multi-tasking, but it believes a superior ability to multi-task means superior intellectual capacity as well.  A Washington Post article in 2010 reported the unpleasant truth of it:  college students are actually somewhat worse at basic components of cognitive control because of their culture of multitasking.  Chief among these basic components:  switching and paying attention.
 
PAY ATTENTION
Like a facility with grammar, the ability to pay attention is one of those basic skills you needed to have learned in life by the fourth grade.  Attention means focus, and focus means slowing down to appreciate and understand.  So it is with a college course like English 098 that's trying to teach second, third and fourth grade concepts of grammar and sentence construction.  Understanding English grammar isn't going to "just come to you."  You can't pick up a musical instrument for the first time and start playing the song that's in your head.  It's not the way learning works.  The brain has to do two things:  first, understand; then, trick itself into remembering that it understands.  This is the one-two punch of study and rote memorization.  Making it happen, though, means you have to slow down and focus, not hurry up and finish.  And nagging your friends in a text, about how nagged you feel by your English homework, won't help one whit.
 
Learning English isn't unique.  The same principles of patience and focus hold true for other subjects, including learning a second language:  no matter how much we imagine ourselves as fluid speakers, the reality of fluency takes a longer course of real study and lots of flash cards.  Some parts of it are boring and repetitive, and others are inspiring and creative.  Unfortunately, you don't get to choose one and not the other; they come as a package.  The other factor that all learners of a second language need is immersion:  an environment in which they are forced to "sink or swim" by communicating with fluent speakers.
 
SECOND LANGUAGE, SECOND CHANCE
In a way, whether you are a fluent or native speaker of English, studying English grammar in a college course like this one is a lot like studying a second language.  Stop assuming you already know how to use the language, or that learning how to communicate better than you already do is pointless and unnecessary.  It's not, and it won't be later on, either.  The quintessentially immature and cocky opinion of a remedial college writing course is that it won't have anything to do with your job once you graduate.  The first mistake here is in thinking that a college education is strictly about getting a job, and believing that we teach writing strictly as a vocational skill set.  It doesn't matter what career or job you eventually take up, your ability to use language with sophistication and complex expression will affect every part of your life as a literate member of twenty-first century civilization.
 
Students who tend to do well in this course start it with the right attitude:  that they need to understand grammar and writing better than they do, and that this is a second chance to accomplish that.  They also believe they're capable of learning it.  The sooner you adopt this attitude and begin looking at grammar as a challenging puzzle to solve, the sooner you will acquire the skills that make you eligible for less remedial writing courses.
 
One important way to examine grammar and writing as a puzzle is sentence diagramming.
 
MINDING THE RULES, RULING THE MIND
Every semester, I poll my students about their familiarity with diagramming.  The average response is, 1 in 100 students have done it or know about it, and usually it's the one older returning student—the one who also remembers when teachers kept something in their top desk drawer called "The Board of Education."
 
There was a time in American education when diagramming and corporal punishment were as fundamental to learning how to write as phonics are to learning how to read.  We may be well rid of corporal punishment, but diagramming is still an elegant tool for discussing the sometimes baffling nature of grammar and semantics, and it should never have been abandoned.
 
Why?  Because, without it, students of writing and grammar learn how to compose sentences in a very two-dimensional way:  as a sequence of ideas properly arranged.  I don't argue that this isn't important.  However, as writers enter college with this understanding of the sentence, their education begins to fail them.  They've developed more sophisticated verbal skills, but they hold themselves back from expressing themselves in complex and compound-complex sentences because—well, to be blunt, it's just too damned complex!  The sequence and arrangement of words in a longer and more complex expression is more difficult to manage.  However, if writers looked at sentences, not just as a sequence, but as architecture—a construction with its own infrastructure of ideas and details—then they would become mindful of the architecture of their own thoughts.  And, beautiful prose would bespeak a beautiful mind.
 
Fortunately, simplistic prose does not automatically imply a simple mind.  However, it does hold back a complex mind from expressing itself as clearly and completely as it wants.  For that reason, I strongly encourage remedial writers to remedy their writing through a reacquaintance with diagramming.  Sure, like grammar, itself, there are a few rules about diagramming that may seem a little arbitrary.  However, for the most part diagramming is an elegant and balanced architecture of the semantics of a sentence.  It helps to demonstrate how different parts of speech distribute ideas and information across a sentence, and how the ideas in a sentence relate to one another.  Diagramming reveals the "mind" of a sentence.
 
This last point is perhaps singularly the most egregious problem of beginning college writers:  they know what they want to say, but they can't make their sentences say it.  They and their writing are of two minds, so learning to write means learning to translate what's in their heads into what's on the page.  Again, I strongly feel that if students learned how sentences "think," they would learn to compose their thoughts more like sentences.  Then, they wouldn't have to translate their thoughts into the kind of writing that seems relevant only to professors.  Their minds would be in harmony with their writing.  Beautiful writing, beautiful mind.
Last Updated: 02/07/2015
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