Least Tern > English Class > Grammar

A Humbug's Grammar

A Review of English Grammar Based Upon the Prose of Dickens' A Christmas Carol

from John McIlvain

Additional exercises, or perhaps a test, can be found at Dickensian Grammar

Resources for grammar study | Exercises - for all of the below

Subject and Predicate
Phrases and Clauses
Verbal Phrases
Infinitive Phrases
Other Phrases: Gerunds, Participial Phrases, Appositives, Phrases of Comparison
Independent and Dependent Clauses
The Simple Sentence
The Compound Sentence
The Complex Sentence
The Compound-Complex Sentence
Sentence types in a paragraph


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What follows is a "grammar" the premise of which is the undocumented and possibly quixotic assumption that understanding the components of a sentence helps make for better readers as well a writers. It is a "humbug's" grammar for three reasons: first, all the examples and accompanying exercises sentences are taken from Dickens' A Christmas Carol save those few written by me about A Christmas Carol; second, most students find grammar a humbug perpetrated upon them by English and other language teachers; third, and I hope least, my own knowledge in this area is not that of a scholar and what I have learned has only convinced me that anyone who has not invested more time than I have is something of a humbug if he or she believes they truly understand how English works. 

A Humbug's Grammar focuses on sentence structure. It assumes a basic familiarity with the parts of speech. It should be selectively useable at any level from 6th grade to 12th. An underlying hypothesis is that oversimplifying grammar is unproductive in that most ten year olds already speak in and occasionally write complex-compound sentences. The terms used are traditional. Even though there are times the nomenclature seems ill-suited to describe what is happening linguistically, no other descriptors of English have the familiarity to be meaningful to either the average student or teacher. I have used most of this material with able sixth grade students, but have mitigated its complexity by making all testing "open book" in the belief that such testing reinforces the main goal of the unit: to understand how a great writer's sentences are put together. By extension, this study of grammar also encourages the study of Dickens' paragraphs, which vary types and structures of sentences in patterns. The unit itself comes after the reading of A Christmas Carol and has the added benefit of providing a somewhat subliminal review of the novel. Later in the year, exercises echoing the exercises here are made using sentences from other texts being read. These include a Shakespeare play (Much Ado about Nothing) and Rushdie's Haroun. Some of these exercises will be available on this sight in the future. Other work done in connection with this grammar includes a focus on student writing.  This focus encourages sentence combining and the occasionally modeling (or imitation) of Dickensian sentences.

Note: a few of Dickens' sentences have been modified to facilitate the understanding of their structure; some of his punctuation has been "modernized" and some of his spellings have been "Americanized."

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Introduction  | Subjects | Verbs | Subject, Predicate | Objects | Phrases | Clauses
The Simple Sentence | The Compound Sentence | The Complex Sentence
The Compound-Complex Sentence | Sentence types in a paragraph


Least Tern

Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain 3/27/03