Following many requests for help, Grammar Puss has decided to start a new blog for parents. Grammar Puss for parents

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Telling the difference between phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs and phrasal-prepositional verbs

Somebody asked me about these different types of verbs recently.  I hope that the following will help you distinguish between them.  Let's start off with some examples:
  1. The eagle took off into the wind.
  2. The eagle stretched out his talons towards the water.
  3. Hungrily, the eagle looked for a meal.
  4. The eagle put up with the wind patiently.
Each of these verbs (highlighted in red) includes a verb and a preposition.  In the last example, there are two prepositions forming part of the verb.  However, there are differences in the way these verbs can be used and how they interact with other sentence elements.

The verb in sentence number 1. is a phrasal verb, which is used intransitively, i.e. it does not take a direct object.  We can see that the sentence has the elements:
           The eagle        took off       into the wind.
           subject (S)      verb(V)       adverbial (A)

One of the ways that phrasal verbs 'behave' is that you cannot usually place an adverbial between the verb and the preposition.  So we could not say: The eagle took into the wind off.

Sentence number 2 has a transitive phrasal verb.  It takes the direct object (Od) 'his talons'.  We can analyse the elements of this sentence:
           The eagle stretched out his talons towards the water.
                 S               V              Od                  A

As with intransitive phrasal verbs, we are unable to place the adverbial phrase between the verb and the preposition: The eagle stretched towards the water out his talons.

However, transitive phrasal verbs can be separated by the direct object.  So we can manipulate in the following ways, even when a pronoun replaces the noun phrase filling the direct object slot.
  • The eagle stretched his talons out towards the water.
  • The eagle stretched them out towards the water.

Sentence number 3 uses a prepositional verb.  We can analyse the elements of this sentence:
          Hungrily, the eagle looked for a meal.
                A           S             V          Od

The direct object in a sentence with a prepositional verb has to follow the preposition, so it cannot act in the same way as a phrasal verb, splitting the verb and particle.
  • Hungrily, the eagle looked a meal for.
  • Hungrily, the eagle looked it for.

Another difference between prepositional verbs and phrasal verbs is that an adverbial can split the verb and preposition in a preposition verb, even though the direct object cannot do this.
  • The eagle looked hungrily for a meal.

Sentence number 4 is different in that the verb is followed by two prepositions.  This is a phrasal-prepositional verb and it is always used transitively as a direct object has to follow the prepositional part of this verb.
          The eagle put up with the wind patiently.
                 S              V           Od          A
In a phrasal-prepositional verb, the first preposition is the phrasal part and the second preposition is the prepositional part.  The rules stated above about adverbials apply to each part of these verbs.  Adverbials cannot usually split the verb from the phrasal preposition, so we can't have:
  • The eagle put patiently up with the wind.
But the adverbial can split the phrasal and preposional elements:
  •  The eagle put up patiently with the wind.
Likewise, the direct object cannot split the verb; it has to follow the final preposition:
  • The eagle put up the wind with patiently.

There is no doubt that the flexibility of English, in enabling prepositions to be used in these types of structures, adds tremendously to the creativity of our language.  

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Survival at 40°C Above: developing sentence structures with KS2 children

I've recently discovered Debbie S Miller's book: Survival at 40°C Above.  This book would be ideal for linking cross-curricular topic work on habitats with literacy, as it is beautifully written and exemplifies many of the sentence elements that we would want to introduce and develop with children.  As soon as I started reading it, I could hear the mellifluous tones of David Attenborough in my head, guiding me through the Simpson Desert in the literary, non-fiction style that has become a genre of its own.  I haven't read any of Debbie Miller's other books yet, but am looking forward to Survival at 40°C Below!

With a text as good as this, it would be possible to develop many aspects of children sentence level writing but, of course, a literacy unit would probably only focus on one or two of these at most.  There are excellent models of the following elements; I've provided a few examples from the text for each one, together with the relevant Sentence Toolkit tools which you could use with these.

Noun phrases which provide beautiful description as well as precise vocabulary.  Although the content is non-fiction, these phrases help create the literary style of this text.   (Sentence Toolkit: tape measure)
  • This vast, rippled desert (premodification only)
  • the tan coloured skin of this large lizard (postmodified with prepositional phrase)
  • the long, wind shaped dunes that twist and turn across Australia (postmodified with relative clause)
 Powerful verbs and verb phrases (Sentence Toolkit: hammers)
  • The goanna detects the shadow of this predator with the tiny sensor eye on top of his head and immediately races to hide in a tuft of spinifex.
  • Darting across the sand, this striped lizard discovers a perfect spot to bask in the sunlight that also offers a good lookout for possible predators.
  • Triops erupt from this new source of life.
Adverbial phrases of where, when and how (Sentence Toolkit: saw)
  •  By noon the sand is blistering hot beneath a cloudless sky.
  • During this scorching time, the goanna moves to a grove of gidgee trees.
  • Each shiny strand acts like a tiny mirror.
Subordinate clauses.  There are a variety of these - adverbial and relative, using conjunctions and non-finite forms, particularly the present participle.  The text exemplifies how subordinate clauses can be placed in different positions in the sentence for effect.  (Sentence Toolkit: spanners for adverbial clauses and tape measure for relative clauses)
  • As the night sky melts away, the Simpson Desert horizon glows like a campfire. (adverbial, finite)
  • Flicking his tongue, the goanna laps up a good meal of protein. (adverbial, non-finite)
  • Seeds lie dormant, lacking enough moisture to sprout. (adverbial, non-finite)
  • Some of the kangaroos lick their arms and paws to cool themselves. (adverbial, non-finite)
  •  The moon casts soft light on new seedlings that will turn dust bowls into lush carpets of plants. (relative)
Punctuation (Sentence Toolkit: screwdrivers)
The text provides good models of punctuation, in particular brackets and commas to mark phrases and clauses.

To see other texts recommended on this blog, click here.  And for more Texts that Teach, check out this link.

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

I notice from my Feedjit link that many foreign visitors are finding this blog by searching for 'prepositions' or 'prepositional phrases'.  I hope the information you find here is useful, but if there are any specific queries you have, leave a comment and I'll try and help!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Me, myself and I



I was interested to note the differences in the testing of pronoun use in the recent KS2 Grammar, punctuation and spelling test, compared with the sample questions previously provided to teachers by the Department for Education.


Previous questions focused on the correct use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ in a number of sentences and included plural subjects and objects, where a pronoun had to be added to a name in the subject or object position. (Click on link above for more information on this.)

In contrast, the May 2013 paper focused only on the selection of a pair of pronouns which would make sense when completing the cloze sentence provided.   Neither ‘I’ nor ‘me’ was included in the pronouns provided and the subject and object required were singular.  

Is this change because the Government has decided it would be unfair to expect 11-year olds to use a grammatical feature correctly, when they are bombarded daily with such poor examples of use?  In fact, how can adult members of the public be sure about the use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ when so many ‘communicators’ on television and radio (including those in entertainment, business and politics) constantly get it wrong? 

I have just returned from a holiday in Holland, where the standard of spoken English was extremely high.  I did not hear ‘I’ or ‘me’ used incorrectly once.  Yet, within 24 hours of returning home, I had heard about 4 or 5 examples of incorrect use on BBC radio and television programmes.  I understand that many dialects use non-standard constructions and I have no issue with this in conversations and informal speech.  However, I do expect those who represent organisations and companies in the media to use standard English.  We often hear politicians and business leaders lamenting the fact that children leave school without the required standard of English.  Well, it’s about time they started setting a better example to everyone and sharing some of the responsibility with teachers and schools!