Jack Stevenson, a writer in Kentucky, wrote a
handy grammar guide that includes this succinct
English grammar provides guidelines for choosing words, arrangement
of words, and punctuation of sentences. We do most of our thinking
with word symbols. If we cannot arrange word symbols correctly, we
probably cannot think clearly and probably cannot communicate
effectively. Consider the following analogy:
Sadly, many schools today have downgraded grammar instruction or have eliminated
2 = 3 + 5
If you were to submit this equation to your mathematics teacher, you
would be deemed innumerate. Correct symbol manipulation is an
essential aspect of mathematics. Correct manipulation of word
symbols is required for fluent English language communication.
English language communication is effective if the reader or listener
understands the message the writer or speaker intends to convey.
The Decline of Grammar
The Naturalist Fallacy and the Demise of Grammar Instruction
(with Practical Advice on Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics)
by Robert D. Shepherd, Educational Materials Director,
Core Knowledge Foundation
Welcome to the Real World. Here's a Spot Check
by Mark Goldblatt, National Review, May 6, 2005. Excerpt:
"You're ready for college ... Not so fast, Poindexter. Here's a pop quiz (answers below) ...
Okay, pencils down. Each question is worth ten points. If you scored below 70, you
failed. More to the point, your teachers failed. They've failed you,
miserably, for twelve years. Those hundreds of hours spent in
classrooms with posters of William Shakespeare and Alice Walker on
the walls, those hundreds of hours spent as your teachers prattled on
about the joys of creative writing -- those hours are worthless,
utterly worthless, and you can't have them back. Those A's you
received for free-verse poems, those stories you wrote to explore
your feelings, those papers returned to you without a single
grammatical correction -- they're worthless too. You didn't learn what
you should have learned, what you needed to learn.
See you in remedial English this September."
Don't Forget Grammar! American Educator (American Federation of Teachers), Spring 2004.
"A survey from ACT shows there's ... a big disconnect between high
school teachers and college professors on the importance
of grammar. ... Respondents agree that
English proficiency is vital to students' achievement. But, there is
a great divide between those respondents when ranking the importance
of six English skills: grammar and usage, organization, punctuation,
sentence structure, style, and writing strategy. ...
High school teachers rank grammar and usage skills as the
least important, while college teachers rank them as the most
important English skills."
What Does it Mean to Teach English?,
Teacher Quality Bulletin, Vol 4 Number 14,
National Council on Teacher Quality.
"While college English professors are sticklers for correct grammar and
usage, too many high school teachers are like, 'Hey, whatever, man.' At
least that's the finding of a national curriculum survey released last
week by ACT. The survey of about 1,100 college English teachers and
828 high school English teachers asked each participant to rank six
components of writing: grammar and usage, sentence structure, writing
strategy, organization, punctuation, and style. For the college
instructors, grammar and usage took first place, while the high school
teachers ranked it dead last."
The War Against Grammar (PDF)
by David Mulroy,
Wisconsin Interest, 1999, Vol. 8 No. 2. This was the original article by Mulroy that he later expanded to book length.
"The War Against Grammar"
by David Mulroy
Review of The War Against Grammar by David Mulroy, reviewed by Diane Ravitch.
"...Mulroy's book has important things to say to American teachers
and parents. In 1996, Mulroy, a classics scholar at the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, attended a public hearing about the state's
academic standards and innocently suggested that all high school
seniors should be required to identify the eight parts of speech in a
selection of normal prose. He thought it a 'modest and reasonable
suggestion.' To his surprise, he was plunged into controversy,
supported by parents, but strongly opposed by pedagogical experts,
who informed him that the NCTE disparaged the value of any grammar
instruction. After this disturbing discovery, Mulroy began to research the
reasons why English teachers have become opponents of grammar ...
He [found] those who were hostile to grammar instruction cast themselves as
progressives and saw proponents of instruction in grammar as rigid traditionalists.
These negative views toward grammar, Mulroy writes, became dogma in the nation's schools of education."
Academics KO Grammar Again
by Malcolm A. Kline, July 18, 2006.
Kline notes that college professors have "painted [themselves] into a peculiar corner.
They urge the rejection of traditional grammar as chauvinistic, or,
more frequently, 'hegemonic.' Unfortunately for them, they eventually
have to read papers by students who have previously been taught by
teachers who also share this outlook."
Why the Anti-Grammarians are Wrong: The Problems with Previous Research on Grammar:
Here's an interesting article on the fallacy of claims that the teaching of grammar is not beneficial.
English 101: Prologue to Literacy or Postmodern Moonshine?
by Nan Miller, professor of English, John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, June 19, 2006.
(Full PDF is here.)
"Since freshman composition became a required course at Harvard in
1872, it has seen many changes -- but none so radical as the changes
brought about in the 1970s, when composition theory became a
specialty. Postmodern theories about teaching composition have
transformed writing programs nationwide, and this paper examines what
has become of freshman writing courses at the two flagship branches
of the University of North Carolina -- N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill.
Most striking among the changes imposed by composition theorists is
the disappearance of literature and grammar instruction from course
content. The following study exposes six conspicuous fallacies upon
which the new system is founded and shows how postmodern theories
about teaching writing have weakened freshman composition, as well as
contributed to a decline in the quality of student writing overall.
Corrective measures are discussed at the end of the study."
The Great American English Class
by Peter Berger, December 1, 2003.
The author teaches English in Vermont, and argues that his students will need fundamental skills
for the numerous writing tasks in everyday life and typical occupations:
"I'm all for self-expression and the power of words, and I've never
been accused of having lost my passion for either. I pace and pound
on my lectern the same way I did when my eyes and legs were younger,
and I still glow when the light goes on in a student's eyes. But all
students aren't 'young writers.' The fact is more of my students
will grow up to read their local newspaper than will read Lord
Byron. Most won't be penning lyric poetry. They'll be writing memos
and filling out accident reports and voting. That's what I need to
equip them to do. ...
"The widespread adoption of instruction based on the 'Writing Process'
has contributed to the problem. This method, endorsed for decades by
the English establishment, purports to break the act of writing down
into the steps that 'real writers' follow, like brainstorming,
drafting, and revising. ...
"For example, the process requires that students, many of whom can't
write well, meet for editing 'conferences' with other students, many
of whom also can't write well. Not much good can come when the blind
lead the blind. Process boosters also encourage students to ignore
spelling and punctuation in their draft 'sloppy copies.' In theory,
they're supposed to make corrections later. Unfortunately, later
often never comes, and even when it does, kids frequently haven't
been taught to recognize and fix their mistakes.
"I want to inspire my students. But my duty is to teach them the
code. Otherwise they'll be in the dark forever. Back in 1974 the
National Council of Teachers of English recommended that teachers
ignore writing errors in the name of 'Students' Right to Their Own
Language.' This view prevails in many quarters today. The trouble
is, when you have your own language, you're the only one you can talk
Method Underlines Value of Grammar: Old Teaching Technique Revived Because Johnny and Jane Can't Write
by Paul Moses, Newsday, June 4, 2003.
"The 3rd-graders ... marched in turn to the blackboard, drawing a collection
of lines and connecting dots that would be foreign to many who graduated
from college in the past 20 years or so. ... The enthused 8-year-olds were
learning to diagram sentences.
In teaching her students this long-lost skill, [teacher Janet Kennedy] was
reviving the educational equivalent of a woolly mammoth.
The educational establishment -- the Urbana-based National Council
of Teachers of English, along with many researchers and curriculum developers
-- long ago declared that any systematic teaching of grammar belonged to the Ice Age.
... But grammar, once the meat and potatoes of any child's education, is back on the table.
University administrators, fed up with the poor writing of incoming students,
have pressed the College Board ... to include a section on writing and grammar
on the SAT college admission test."
- Kids return to basics of grammar
by Rosalind Rossi, Education Reporter,
Chicago Sun Times, April 26, 1999:
"Grammar--a dreaded subject for decades--is making a comeback
in some Chicago area schools." This is a good article (unfortunately
there is no current web link to it).
Why the Bad Grammar?
by Veda Charrow, Washington Times, December 16, 2004.
"...have you ever wondered why so many people who should know better
make grammatical errors? Earlier in the 20th century, professional
writers and educated speakers could be expected to make few, if any,
grammatical errors. ... I have no doubt that the reason for this
profusion of grammatical errors is that most American elementary and
high school students aren't taught English grammar anymore."
- Have we really descended down to this?
Here's how New Trier Township High School starts a
description of grammar on its website:
"Although no one can claim that learning the grammar of the English language will
make you a better writer ..."
A Picture of Language: A Diagrammed Sentence Is a Bit Like Art (PDF)
by Kitty Burns Florey, American Educator, American Federation of Teachers, Summer 2008.
A veteran copy editor fondly remembers diagramming sentences and contends
that the practice still has the power to charm, entertain, and educate today's students.
Grammar & Lit, editorial, Richmond Times-Dispatch,
January 2, 2003. Excerpt:
"When [one of our editorial colleagues] was new to the trade, his
editor summoned him for a chat. 'What does this sentence say?' the
boss asked. The novice explained what his sentence meant. 'But what
does it say? Diagram it.'
His skills were rusty, but he managed to diagram the words. He
discovered they did not clearly say what he wanted them to say. Mrs.
Hall, Mrs. O'Connor, Mr. Ballard, and his other long-suffering
English teachers were right: Grammar is good. It promotes clarity and
compels the writer to order his thoughts. The rules may seem
arbitrary, but they help to liberate the mind. A grammarian also
knows when and how to break the rules.
When the State Board of Education revised the Standard of Learning
for English last year, it increased the attention paid to grammar.
Diagramming no longer will rank among the lost arts."
If you can't diagram it, don't write it
by Linda Chavez, February 5, 2002.
Putting Grammar Lessons on the Line:
Despite Broad Opposition, Some Teachers Are Dusting Off Sentence Diagramming
by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, February 3, 2002, Page C01.
Some teachers reviving grammar lessons
by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, May 12, 2002.
Since many schools have drastically reduced or even eliminated formal instruction
in grammar, parents have scrambled to find materials to use at home in
teaching this essential prerequisite for good writing. Here are some
suggestions they've posted online:
- Fran Eaton:
"Try a basic grammar book which I've used with lots of kids -- "Easy Grammar".
It's a big book, with permission given to make copies of the pages for the
- Dave Ziffer:
"After several years of suffering with ineffective grammar
books, I finally found the ONLY grammar book which, in my opinion, teaches
grammar effectively and easily. It is called "Easy Grammar" and you can buy
both student and teachers' manuals cheap on the internet at:
We used Easy Grammar on our two daughters this past year and the effect was
stunning. In one semester they learned more from this book than in three
previous years' worth of struggle with inferior books."
- Barb Hendrickson:
"I would make sure that you pick up 'Easy Grammar PLUS.' This is the
same basic material as Easy Grammar, but with tests and reviews built in."
(Editor's note: I can second the comments about Easy Grammar. We worked with these
books at home, and my son not only quicked picked up elements of grammar, he
actually enjoy the process and his progress! An interesting feature of Easy Grammar
is its early emphasis on understanding prepositional phrases, which seems odd but
winds up drastically simplifying the effort to grasp sentence structure.)
- Marilyn Keller Rittmeyer:
"I have found out where the old Warriner's English can still be ordered.
Call 1-800-HRW-9799 and request the Holt Rinehart and Winston 1999 Language
Arts Catalogue. Website of HRW is
http://www.hrw.com. You do not want the
updated 1997 and 1999 edition of Warriner's. You want the last copyright of
the Old Warriner's which can be found on page 59 of the catalogue. The
sales rep says that HRW has been receiving more and more requests for the
old series, and they are thinking of putting it back into print. He told me
that there is definitely a trend toward classical education sweeping the
nation; publishers certainly attempt to be on the front of any educational
wave, as we all know. Hopefully this wave will not disappear. I suspect,
however, that we must remain ever vigilant since the fights we have been
engaged in have occurred over the decades and centuries. Back to Warriners:
The Catholic school my sons attend puts 7th graders through Warriner's
Third Course [which HRW recommends for Grade 9]. There are 7 total texts,
starting with the Introductory Course recommended by HRW for Grade 6. I am
going to recommend that the charter school I am involved with use this text
with Grade 5. The final text is called the Complete Course, which is a
review as well as substantial extension [per the sales agent] of the entire
high school program. It is recommended for Grade 12, but I am recommending
that the charter school use it at Grade 11, and then do a senior thesis for
English class in Grade 12. The HRW sales rep confidently claims that if a
child goes through all 7 texts, that child should definitely be able to
write well or else the child does not deserve to graduate [his words
verbatim]. Having all children write well by Grade 12 is a laudable goal, I
- Jeraldine R. Kraver:
"Although I teach at the university level, I teach grammar to nearly all
my students. A text that I really like is designed for remedial
students (but don't tell my juniors and seniors!). It is
"The Least You Need To Know About English Writing Skills"
by Paige Wilson and Teresa Ferster Glazier.
Harcourt Brace publishes it.
It addresses the kinds of issues students need in order to revise and
"edit" their writing. Thus, it is not really a primer in the sense of a
book that drills students without a clear sense of larger application.
It is loaded with exercises that have answers in the back. In addition,
it comes with a teacher's packet of practice tests. The discussions are
cogent and not too bogged down with grammar jargon.
In addition, there are a number of really solid web sites via college
writing centers that address grammar. Purdue University's OWL (On-Line
writing lab) is very popular. I really like a site that was created--I
think--at Boise State and can be found at
Paradigm On-Line Writing Assistant. The focus is paper writing
(and it rocks for that!), but under editing they have a
discussion of "Grammar for Writing."
Like the Wilson/Glazier text, that is the tack they take--addressing
grammar issues that are directly related to the student's need to revise
and edit. It is a great site.
- Donna Garner:
"...Glencoe's 'Grammar And Composition Handbook'
(High School 1 for 9th and 10th grades, High School 2 for 11th and
12th grades). ...
The handbook is one of the best
grammar/composition books I have ever read. It reminds me of the
handbooks which were used years ago. However, the Glencoe writers
have blended traditional grammar with up-to-date, current terminology
and explanations. The writers have not only done a credible job of
explaining succinctly yet clearly the major points of grammar, but
they have also included some easy-to-utilize explanations of such
things as Internet resources, Boolean searches, logical fallacies,
thesis types, modes, research paper writing, business memos, and
As a traditional grammarian, I was impressed that the authors dealt
with some of the harder points of grammar instead of just ignoring
- Tamie Berg, a teacher in a
Core Knowledge school in Colorado:
"We are in our second year of teaching Shurley Method. So far, it has been a
wonderful experience. We are using it in 1st through 6th grades. I teach
5th grade. The kids learned more in the first year than I ever expected. I
think it is a wonderful program.
The advantages are many...
1. The students are not only able to identify parts of speech, but gain a
greater understanding of those parts of speech and how they work together.
2. The students learn how to write expository paragraphs, essays, and
3. The students learn editing skills.
There are many more advantages, as I am sure others can tell you.
The downfalls are few, but you need to know...
1. New kids coming in sometimes have a hard time catching up, especially if
the parents are unwilling/unable to work with them at home.
2. I expected to get through much more of the book, but only was able to
get through the second unit in my first year with the program. The Core
Knowledge Curriculum takes up much of my time, and Shurley, for the first
few years can be time consuming, so we just did the best we could."
"Our school uses the Shurley Grammar program...K-9. It is very good...we
have been pleased with the results. Lots of rote memory and jingles that
the kids definitely retain. I would like to hear others thoughts on this
as well. My first grader can parse a sentence showing subject nouns,
verbs, adverbs, adjectives, articles, complete subject and complete
predicate. He can also accurately put capital letters where they need to
be in sentences, including first word, names, etc., end punctuation, etc.
The best part...he can transfer this learning to writing his own
sentences...he knows that when he writes he needs a subject and a
verb...and doesn't like 'boring sentences'! He loves to impress me by
coming up with good adjectives and adverbs to 'improve' his sentences!
It has been fun!"
- Brad Frieswyk, a Chicagoan who has coauthored three grammar books,
wrote to us about "Prototype-Construction Approach." This interesting perspective on grammar
is intended to give students more of a sense of the role of grammatic elements.
see his website, and also see a paper there
"Where to Begin Teaching the Complexities of Grammar."
- John Derbyshire asked his National Review readers for suggestions
on grammar books, and
wrote about some of the replies (National Review Online, August 23, 2003). Here are some excerpts:
"...Several readers told me to go to
home-schooling websites, where there are lots of recommendations.
Just Google on "homeschooling," or go
(Christian books) or here.
Other particular recommendations...:
"Voyages in English," available here, and multiply
"Primary Language Lessons," by Emma Serl
the Thoughtful Child," by Mary F. Hyde, originally published in 1908,
revised and edited by Cynthia Shearer,
"The Elements of Grammar," by Margaret Shertzer.
"The English Reference Book," published in 1952, by William B.
Ravenel III, former Head of English at Episcopal High School in
"Painless Grammar," by Rebecca Elliot, PhD (Barron's,
1997). Absolutely great for kids, say the several readers who
recommended this one.
"The New England Primer."
"The Shurley Method:
English Made Easy," (Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., Cabot,
Lots of Shurley fans. Here's
(For adults, not kids) "A Comprehensive
Grammar of the English Language'" by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and
Svartvik, Longman Group 1985 London & New York.
(For first and second
grade) "First Language Lessons," by Jessie Wise. This is available in
the homeschooling section of Barnes and Noble. (For upper grades)
"Harvey's Elementary Grammar and Composition,"
"Warriner's English Grammar and Composition."
Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: Interview with the author, Jane Straus,
by Suzi Cottrell and Michael F. Shaughnessy, November 3, 2005. Excerpt:
"English is often not taught by teachers who learned proper grammar themselves.
So they overlook students' mistakes and pass along mistakes of their own to the
next generation. The other hidden problem is that many textbooks -- both English
as well as other subjects -- contain a surprising and disconcerting number of errors in usage.
If our children don't see punctuation and grammar used properly by the supposed experts,
how can they learn it properly?"
'Twere Well Said, Were it Said Grammatically
by Terrence Moore, Ph.D., February 2004.
at the grammar stage of learning, children ought to learn how to speak and write grammatically. Children are much easier to teach when young than when they have already formed bad habits from the vernacular speech they hear every day. They develop bad habits quickly. ...
Teachers and parents should indefatigably try to break older students of bad grammar and to form younger students' speech with good. That means we ourselves must speak not good, but well. ..."
Dr. Moore then quickly highlights five of the most common grammatical errors:
confusion of less and fewer, confusion of pronouns,
use of the subjunctive, swapping of adjectives and adverbs, and lack of agreement in number.
Evolution of a tongue, in the QuickTakes column by Zay N. Smith,
Chicago Sun-Times, March 20, 2002:
Elinor Turbov, an Evanston reader, writes:
"I'm a retired English teacher and born-again swimmer. In the ladies' locker room at Northwestern University, I discovered the newest way to conjugate the present tense of the verb 'to be': I'm like, you're like, he's like (can be used with 'she' or 'it'), we're like, you're like, they're like.
"Similarly, the past tense of the verb 'to say': I go, you go, he goes (can be used with 'she' or 'it'), we go, you go, they go."
Tuition at Northwestern is $25,839, by the way.
The Decline of Good English, January 5, 2004:
"A pride in language is needed to prevent degradation from seeping upward
from the lower classes, and only careful schooling instills the fine
distinctions that make the difference between the literate and those
who recognize words vaguely, like half-forgotten relatives. ...
The unwashed have discovered that it is easier to ignore the language
than to learn it. Given that the unwashed now run the schools, that,
as we say, is that."