Sunday June 17, 2012
Mastering the rules of language
By KEITH W. WRIGHT
Knowing the key terminology in both formal and functional grammar is the route to proficient English.
TO be a competent speaker and writer of the English language, one needs to be skillful in the lingo that comes with grammar. Some of the terms commonly used in formal grammar are a little difficult to grasp unless their particular function and purpose in a text is understood.
Inflection is the change made in the form of a word to alter its meaning or function, ie. by affixation, eg. prefixes and suffixes; or by an apostrophe “s” to signify possession as well as to express grammatical and syntactical relations — Case, Number, Gender, Person, Tense, etc. Example: “turn — return”, “boy — boy’s”, “woman — women”. Verbs inflect regularly through “suffixation”, that is, by adding suffixes, eg. “talk — talks, talking, talked”.
Some irregular verbs vary “internally” in their inflection, eg. “drink — drinks, drinking, drank, drunk.” Adjectives inflect when depicting comparisons, eg. “tall — taller, tallest”.
Correlative is the grammatical term used for words that complement or function with each other in a construction but do not occur side by side. Example: Both Anna and Annabel were chosen in the team. The term correlative conjunction is used to describe word combinations such as “either — or”, “not only — but also”, “neither — nor”, “whether — or”, etc.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
A countable noun is one that (a) has both a singular and plural form, eg. shoe/shoes, child/children, woman/women, etc. (b) cannot be used in its singular form without being preceded by a determiner or a possessive, eg. my shoe, a child, that woman, etc.
In contrast, an uncountable noun (a) has no plural form, eg. furniture, luggage, courage, poverty, petrol, information, etc. (b) can take only a singular verb, eg. Your luggage is missing. — That furniture was expensive. (c) can be used with or without a preceding determiner or a possessive, eg. Information can be valuable. — Petrol is now very expensive. Some nouns can be both countable and uncountable, eg. wine, money, grace.
Gerund — Verbal Noun
A gerund or verbal noun is a word ending in “ing” that functions as a noun while retaining its verbal force. A gerund can play different roles in a construction, functioning as:
(a) a subject: Sailing is the love of her life.
(b) an object of a verb: He prefers swimming and fishing.
(c) an object of a preposition: By waiting, he gained a better deal.
(d) a complement: Seeing is believing.
(e) an adjective (gerundial adjective): Washing clothes is a chore.
A gerund or verbal noun has the same form as a present participle, ie. ending in “ing” but it performs a very different function.
Compare these two sentences: The child is running to the swing. (present participle) — The child likes running in the park. (gerund — verbal noun). When a gerund performs a verbal function, it can have three different kinds of objects, eg. (i) direct, (ii) indirect, (iii) retained.
(i) Brendan is skilled at building boats. (direct object)
(ii) Bruno is popular for teaching the boys boat building. (indirect object)
(iii) The boys were pleased at being taught boat building. (retained object)
When a gerund or verbal noun is preceded by a noun or pronoun, the possessive or genitive form should be used. Example: “Your winning the race was a wonderful achievement.” NOT “You winning the race was a wonderful achievement.” — “We appreciated Shanti’s helping her friend.” NOT “We appreciated Shanti helping her friend.”
A particle is a class of word that does not fit easily into the regular “part of speech” categories. Particles always maintain their symbol combination form, ie. they are not changed through inflection, eg. not, to, out, in, up, at, for. Particles can be adverbial: We are going out. — Prepositional: He has been looking for you. — Infinitival: I want to go.
A quantifier is a term used to categorise descriptive, qualifying and modifying words that express “quantity”, “volume” or a form of measurement. Quantifiers can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns. When such a word also has a heightening, lowering or lessening effect on another word, it can also be classed as an intensifier.
Quantifying countable nouns: many articles — several incidents — numerous accidents — a few drinks — little children — enough sales.
Quantifying uncountable nouns: little comfort — limited news — some wine — enough information — total evil — much discomfort — various clientele.
A schwa sound is the neutral, indeterminate or unstressed vowel sound heard in words such as “ado”, “panda”, “sofa”, “river”, “alone”’, “doctor”, “colour”, “runner”, “estimate”, etc. The phonetic symbol for a schwa sound is “ə”.
Schwa sounds are made when a part of a word is unstressed, eg. “again”. The use of the schwa sound, while accepted by many dictionary publishers when phonetically demonstrating alternative ways that different words are pronounced, has seen a significant fall in spelling proficiency in many primary English-speaking countries. Students tend to spell words as they say them using the schwa sound, eg. aproch — approach, docta — doctor, estamate — estimate, runa — runner, etc.
■ Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English. The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English proficiency of people with different competency levels. E-mail
contact@4Sliteracy.com.au for a free copy of the PDF file on The Art of Pronunciation.