The Sunday News
GRAMMAR is one of the most important language frameworks — it covers everything from bits of words to entire sentences. Grammar controls how language is constructed. We are moving from composition writing to focus on grammar as learners cannot write compositions with flair if they cannot use language properly.
Experts tell us that grammar is the set of structural rules that controls the way language works. There are three aspects of grammar that you need to focus on — word classes, syntax and morphology. Understanding of these terms should not remain on definitions only but should go on to functional approaches. It is not enough to define the terms and claim to understand grammar. Total understanding can only be clear when learners write grammatically correct sentences by applying the given rules.
Word classes define the roles that each word can play in a sentence. For starters let us define these terms: Syntax is the set of rules that control where each word class can appear in a sentence. Morphology describes the construction of individual words. There are eight main word classes — also known as parts of speech. Here is what is more relevant to us as learners — words are categorised by the function they have in a sentence.
Definitions on their own are meaningless unless we know how to use the different parts of speech correctly in sentence construction. I will list the word classes here again for the benefit of those disadvantaged learners who do not have adequate resources out there. In the usually order we have nouns in the first class and these are the naming words. Note that nouns can be segmented into smaller parts like common nouns, proper nouns, collective nouns, concrete and abstract nouns. Their function is to name things. Examples, Bulawayo, school, desk, beauty and goat. After nouns we explain adjectives.
What is the function of adjectives? Adjectives describe nouns (and sometimes pronouns). Then we have verbs which are simply defined as doing or action words. Examples are: write, jump, sing, break and take. Next in line we have adverbs whose function is to describe verbs (and sometimes adjectives and other adverbs too). Examples are happily, steadily, wisely, triumphantly and yesterday.
Pronouns take the place of nouns in sentences. Examples we think of are: you, they, me, and it. We also have conjunctions whose function is to connect words. Examples: and, or, but, because. Prepositions come into play as well and their role is they define relationships between words in terms of time, space and direction. Examples: before, underneath, through, towards, to and into. Lastly, we have a class of determiners whose function is to give specific kinds of information about a noun, for example quantity or possession. For example: a, the, two, his, few, those.
Learners should know that word classes are controlled by rules. Word classes can take different positions in a sentence, but there grammatical rules about how they work with each other. In the following given example you can see all the word classes working together: She saw the new manager and his assistant at the store yesterday. In this sentence, she is the pronoun, saw — verb, the — determiner, new — adjective, manager — noun, and — conjunction, his — determiner, assistant —noun, at — preposition, the — determiner, store — noun and yesterday — adverb.
An interesting observation by experts is that people instinctively know the rules for connecting words together. For example, you know that words in this order — the doctor she the yesterday saw — are wrong, and you can rearrange them into something that makes sense — She saw the doctor yesterday. You also intuitively know less obvious rules about word order — you’d always say the big brown dog rather than the brown big dog, because you know that adjectives of size come before those of colour. Sometimes the meaning of a sentence changes depending on the position of a word. He quickly told me to leave (he said it fast) or He told me to leave quickly (he wanted me to leave fast).
Learners face challenges on the use of an, a, and the. An is used in speech writing before a word beginning with a vowel sound. Such words generally begin with a vowel letter: a e i o u. Examples: an angle, an egg, an insect, an orange, an umbrella. An can also be used before a word beginning with a silent “h”. Examples: an hour, an honour, an heir, an honest response, an honourable gesture. An can be used for the eight consonant letters of the alphabet whose names begin with a vowel sound: f, h, l, m; n, r, s, r. Example: The word six begins with an “s” and ends with an “x”.
Article a is used before a word beginning with a consonant sound. All the letters of the alphabet that are not vowels are the consonants. For example, we say — a book, a dam, a zebra, a white car, a pen, Use a before a word beginning with the vowels; “u” or “e” that have the consonant sound “y”. Examples: a unit, a uniform, a union, a ewe, a European man, a United States dollar, a university a stamp. Cramming these rules and words will come to nought unless a functional approach is used.
Learners should be seen to be using these articles correctly in their sentence structures both in grammar and composition work. Learners can take this as homework and find more examples where and when these articles are used before we come back to show more.
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