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The Point of Grammar

The Point of Grammar

Author: Michael Sean

The other day in school during a lesson on epithets, Paloma is startled by her teacher's observation that "the point of grammar" is "to make us speak and write well."

I thought I would have a heart attack there and then. I have never heard anything so grossly inept. And by that, I don't mean it's wrong, just that it is grossly inept. To tell a group of adolescents who already know how to speak and write that that is the purpose of grammar is like telling someone that they need to read a history of toilets through the ages in order to pee and ****. It is utterly devoid of meaning! If she had shown us some concrete examples of things we need to know about language in order to use it properly, well, okay, why not, that would be a start. . . . We already knew how to use and conjugate a verb long before we knew it was a verb. And even if knowing can help, I still don't think it's something decisive.

Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty. When you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you've said or read or written a fine sentence. You can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style. But when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. When you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together, see it quite naked, in a way. And that's where it becomes wonderful, because you say to yourself, "Look how well-made this is, how well-constructed it is! How solid and ingenious, rich and subtle! I have no need to pay someone to write my paper, or article, or blog, or whatever that is! I can do it myself and better than anyone else!" I get completely carried away just knowing there are words of all different natures, and that you have to know them in order to be able to infer their potential usage and compatibility. I find there is nothing more beautiful, for example, than the very basic components of language, nouns and verbs. When you've grasped this, you've grasped the core of any statement. It's magnificent, don't you think? Nouns, verbs . . .

Grammar lessons have always seemed to me a sort of synthesis after the fact and, perhaps, a source of supplemental details concerning terminology. Can you teach children to speak and write correctly through grammar if they haven't had the illumination that I had? Who knows. . . .

What Are Inflections In English Grammar?

A process of word formation in which items are added to the base form of a word to express grammatical meanings. Adjective: inflectional. Inflections in English include the genitive 's; the plural -s; the third-person singular -s; the past tense -d, -ed, or -t; the negative particle 'nt; -ing forms of verbs; the comparative -er; and the superlative -est.

Examples and Observations:

"Inflections are morphemes that signal the grammatical variants of a word; the inflectional -s at the end of ideas indicates that the noun is plural; the inflectional -s at the end of makes indicates that the verb is the third person singular, so that we say she makes but I make and they make. In addition, some affixes signal the part of speech to which a word belongs: the prefix -en in enslave converts the noun slave into a verb, and the suffix -ize converts the adjective modern into the verb modernize."

"Word endings can also be inflections, which indicate categories such as tense, person and number. The inflection -ed can change a verb from present to past tense (walk/walked), and the inflection -s can indicate third person singular concord with a subject. But inflections do not change the word class. Walk and walked are both verbs."

Word Stems and Inflections

"Inflections are used then to give us more grammatical information about words. They can be used to indicate singular or plural--what is sometimes known as number--and to indicate tense. They can also be used to indicate other features . . .. When considering inflections, it can . . . be helpful to use the notion of stem. A stem is what remains of a word when any inflections are removed from it. In other words, inflections are added to the stem of a word. So frogs is made up of the stem frog and the inflection

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