Exploring the English language
Exploring the English language

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Exploring the English language

1 Word classes

Activity 1

Look at an extract from An A to Z of English by clicking on the video clip below. In this extract poet Michael Rosen acts out a confusing lesson on grammar. How many of the questions would you have got right? (Just give an answer based upon your immediate impression, it's not a test!)

‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)

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Transcript: ‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)

Teacher
‘A noun is a naming word. What is the naming word in the sentence: “He named the ship Lusitania ”?’ ‘Named’, said George. ‘Wrong. It’s “ship”’. ‘Oh’, said George. The teacher said: ‘A verb is a doing word. What is the doing word in the sentence: “I like doing homework”?’ ‘Doing’, said George. ‘Wrong. It’s “like”.’ ‘Oh’, said George. The teacher said: ‘An adjective is a describing word. What is the describing word in the sentence: “Describing sunsets is boring”?’ ‘Describing’, said George. ‘Wrong. It’s “boring”.’ ‘I know it is’, said George.
End transcript: ‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)
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‘An A to Z of English’ – Michael Rosen extract (50 seconds)
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Discussion

If you had the same problem as George, then the next set of activities on word classes may set you on the right track. If you guessed correctly the identity of the noun, verb, adjective and so on in Rosen's little bit of fun, then the following activities will serve as a useful refresher for you.

As a matter of interest, your ability to do these activities may well rest on your age, the type of English lessons you had in school and where you studied. Rosen's depiction of grammar as boring (and ultimately useless) displays the attitude which swung the UK English curriculum away from the study of formal grammatical analysis during the 1960s and 1970s.

Michael Rosen's poem focused on the functions of different types of word (or ‘word classes’) in a sentence. It is useful to be familiar with the basic word classes in this course, and the following activities will give you practice in identifying them.

Activity 2

In questions 1 and 2 below you'll find a series of formal and reasonably traditional definitions of eight word classes.

1 Read the definitions of the word classes at the top of the table. Then look at the list of word classes, and match the word class to the definition by placing it in the second column.

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2 Now do the same for the word classes below.

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Activity 3

Here are some word class identification exercises for practice. For each sentence below, place each word (or word group) into the table immediately below it according to its word class.

1 Initially, it will only come for a very short distance, but in a few days you will be able to increase the distance.

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2 If you are planning a holiday in Italy this summer, you must visit the ancient city of Rome. Book your accommodation early because it is very hard to find at that time of the year.

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3 We are developing novel classes of drugs to treat epilepsy at its cause, more effectively and more safely. Our gene discoveries are also potentially powerful tools for the accurate diagnosis of epilepsy.

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4 If you are a speaker of English you will be able to estimate the social status of native speakers solely on the basis of the linguistic evidence of their speech.

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5 When the hawk is bound to a creance and perched on a post or an assistant's hand, you hold a piece of meat in your gloved fist so the hawk can see it.

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In the last example of the preceding activity, did you correctly identify creance as a noun? Did you know what a creance was before reading this? If you answered ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively, then you have identified the word class by dint of the way it behaves within the text. You've worked out that any word which occurs within that particular context (a -and…) must be a noun. In other words, you've made the identification on the grounds of the function rather than the form of the word. This is usually the most dependable way of making such an identification, since a single form, such as holiday, can behave as a number of different word classes according to its function within the text:

It was a dreadful holiday (noun).

They have a holiday cottage (adjective).

We holiday there each year (verb).

This means that you do not have to recognise a word in order to allocate it to a word class. You simply have to analyse its behaviour within the sentence.

Activity 4

Now look at the nonsense words and place each word into the correct word class column.

The greeful porgs bleened glidly.

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Activity 5

Now for some more practice in identifying word classes. As in the last activity, place each of the following words into their correct word class column, thinking once again about the behaviour of the words in the sentence.

These cortical striatal fibres may expand their terminal fields and occupy a number of synaptic spaces on caudate neurons vacated by degeneration of their ipsilateral prefrontal input.

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