Prioritizing on learning grammar

While pursuing my grammar studies, I am deciding on what to memorize and what to look up. Memorizing all grammar rules would be completely impossible; I must move ahead with what I can commit to memory. My English grammar flash cards point to the problem. You’ll note that there are 600 cards! 600 individual points of grammar to contend with.

Besides the daunting overall scope of the project, individual topics present an overwhelming amount of choices. This site (external link) lists 12 specific rules on subject-verb agreement. Straus’s excellent Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation lists 14 for the same topic. And  this is just for one subject. Experts generally agree that their are eight parts of speech, all of which break down into dozens and dozens sub-topics and rules.

I’m glad I am not in a classroom for the courses I have coming up. Tests would have to be open-book for me to pass. But doing these exams on-line will give me a chance to look things up; if there is a clock running on tests, though, I might be in trouble. Six weeks to go until the certificate course at Berkeley begins. (internal link.)



It seems unlikely

An unnamed teacher at DeAnza College (external link) wrote at some length on how difficult it was to find the verb in the sentence below. The verb being the word ‘seems.’ To make things clear, nearly every English grammar book states that a verb indicates either action or a state of being:

“Taking dangerous risks seems to frighten most hardworking people.”

The teacher’s remarks, in part, were these:

“You may argue, and with reason, that not all of these words indicate action to you. But even if you only see taking and hardworking as action words, you still won’t be able to find a verb–because the verb in this sentence is not an action word at all. Nor is it clearly a state of being. And anyway, what exactly is a state of being? It’s tough to define. So how do you find a verb?”

The teacher went on to write that verbs “[A]lways tell the time (also called the tense) of the sentence.” Without discussing that assertion, which is true, consider another sentence in a book on better writing:

“The students seemed confident.”

In this case the author argues that seemed is indeed a word indicating a state of being. She writes that it could be said “[T]hat the students are in a condition of being confident.”

Good grief!  Even English teachers have to produce tortured explanations for the most basic rules. I’m learning what I can, but I am sometimes more confused than I think I should be.






The grammar books have arrived

Most of the English grammar books I ordered have arrived and I am starting to go through them. On Monday I’ll begin the on-line course I signed up for (internal link); right now I am working through a book called Better Grammar in 30 Minutes a Day. Although I am having difficulty with the exercises, even with identifying verbs, I scored a minor victory this morning when I noticed a typographical error in the book. Click on the image to see how they wrote “Principle” in the heading instead of “Principal.” So, although the lessons are difficult, I think finding this error shows I am closely reading the material.

I’m also finding support in my struggle with grammar from grammarians. They, too, wrestle with a subject so vast as to appear overwhelming. Robert Burchfield, in Unlocking the English Language, writes: “An entirely adequate description of English grammar is still a distant target and at present a seemingly an unreachable one, the complications being what they are.”

July 19, 2015 UPDATE: This wonderful page (external link) explains the difficulty with finding verbs in sentences and then gives great advice on how to find them.













July 20, 2015 UPDATE: Found another typo in another English book. The word should be “your.”



The vernacular of verbs is decadent and depraved

“The verb is the business end of a sentence, the sentence’s reason for being. That’s where the action is. Without a verb, even if it’s only suggested, there’s nothing going on, just a lot of nouns standing around with their hands in their pockets. A verb is easy to spot. Just look for the moving target, the center of activity that tells what’s going on. No wonder the verb is the most interesting word in a sentence.” Patricia O’Conner. Woe Is I (2009)

From that clear and exciting introduction, Conner goes on to immediately caution us that the verb is the most complicated word in a sentence. Indeed, I am finding that even the lexicon of the verb is inherently difficult and confused. Every web page and book disagrees on the number and names of verb types. Rather than first embracing what a verb does, the beginning student is faced before that with what kinds exist and how to reconcile all the many types that populate one’s reading.

These are just some of the names for verb types:


State of being




Transitive active

Transitive passive (indirect object)

Intransitive complete













No wonder I never understood grammar

Good news first. The course on grammar basics that I recently signed up for (internal link) is very well done. I think completing its 16 sections will give me a solid background for taking the U.C. Berkeley extension course (internal link) in September. Now for the bad news: grammar is hard!

Consider these two sentences from The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer. “A relative pronoun introduces a subordinate clause that modifies a noun or a pronoun occurring earlier in the sentence and connects a dependent clause to the main clause. It is also a substitute word that refers to its antecedent and stands for that antecedent in a subordinate clause.” Sheesh!

To understand what a relative pronoun is we would first have to know what five other words or phrases means: subordinate clause, pronoun, dependent clause, main clause, and antecedent. And what it means to modify a noun. This will be slow going, I don’t know what the expression is for “learning everything at once.” But that feels like what I will have to do.

Fun fact! What does a noun describe? Yes, a person, place or thing. But also an animal and an idea. To reduce the question to its simplest terms, The Chicago Manual of Style puts it like this. “A noun is a word that names something, whether abstract (intangible) or concrete (tangible).” See? I’m learning.

July 16, 2015 Update. Another book says that activities are nouns. Like the word “orbiting.” Does that mean circling or turning are nouns? I cannot think of a sentence in which the word “orbiting” could be used as a noun. Or is this a possible sentence? “Orbiting is an activity.”




American Companies Driving Down The Wage Floor

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama recently spoke out on a subject that is obvious to any American technology worker: employees aren’t lacking, wages are. Large tech companies want restrictions on immigrant labor eased so they can pay less. I’ve written about this problem myself (internal link), but the Senator does a much better job of explaining it:

“As Microsoft’s layoffs show, there is a surplus—not a shortage—of skilled, talented, and qualified Americans seeking [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] STEM employment,” he said. “Each year, universities graduate twice as many students with STEM degrees as find STEM jobs. According to the Census Bureau, more than 11 million Americans with STEM degrees are not employed in STEM jobs—or three in four STEM degree holders. Among recent graduates, about 35 percent of science students, 55 percent of technology students, 20 percent of engineering students, and 30 percent of math students are now working in jobs that don’t require any four-year college degree—let alone their area of specialty.”

Read more:



Getting Ready for my Editing Course

Well, I’ve ordered the required books for my extension course at U.C. Berkeley (internal link) and I am out $152. Since I am spending money, I thought it best to continue. I’ve now signed up for an on-line course on punctuation and grammar at (external link).

My goal is to get grounded in the basics of grammar so I can concentrate fully on the editing portion of the Berkeley course. I don’t want to take time to learn what a gerund is when I can learn now. The UniversalClass program is designed to take 12 hours to complete and there is assistance from a teacher if I have questions. I’ll have posts in the future about what this course is like and how I am doing.