I don’t know what a gerund is. And I don’t care.

Luke as punctuationA gerund is a noun made from a verb by adding “-ing”.

Phil: A new test has been introduced this week for children. It examines the more ‘technical’ aspects of English – such as grammar, punctuation and spelling and is assessed via an externally marked test.

According to the Department for Education, the introduction of this new test reflects the Government’s beliefs that children should have mastered these important aspects of English by the time they leave primary school, and that appropriate recognition should be given to good use of English throughout their schooling.

Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove is frothing with excitement at this, but then he believes that Queen Victoria is still on the throne and that geography lessons need to remind everyone that the most countries on the globe should be coloured in pink.

Several arty types like Michael Rosen think he is wrong.

I think I’m inclined to agree with them. Most of my work involves writing, the pinnacle of my education career was an O Level grade B in English and yet I still only managed to score 5/10 in the BBC Grammar Quiz.

Does knowing the full technical aspect of the language make it easier to write clearly? I suspect not. The title of this post involves starting a sentence with a conjunction – a crime that would see my work marked with a big red circle and the words, “See me” appended to the bottom in teachers sternest handwriting.  Did you understand it? Almost certainly.

This isn’t to say that I feel you can completely throw out the rule book. I still get annoyed when sub-editing letters were the writer uses a lower-case “i” when they should use “I” or doesn’t understand that commas and apostrophes are not the same thing. Mostly I’m angry because the writers come from an era when teaching involved the same type of tests that are now being introduced. My suspicion is that they are the same people bashing youngsters for not being able to write.

Language should not get in the way of reading so I’d argue that the subject, or story, is more important than the correct technical English. Let’s encourage children to read widely and fire their creativity thinking. The best-selling authors out there aren’t known for the greatest quality writing but they grab the reader with the story which is a far more impressive skill.

How many people finish a book and say, “Well, the story was dull, the characters one-dimensional but the author really knows how to work a semi-colon.” ?

More to the point, IF we must drill the full set of technical rules into children, please can we lock all the people who claim to care passionately about the subject in a room and only start testing when they have all agreed on all the rules. That should keep them out of our hair for a while!

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4 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

4 responses to “I don’t know what a gerund is. And I don’t care.

  1. Yeah, it’s not about the rules. It’s about getting the flow of the writing and getting a feel for your own voice. Once you develop as a writer though, it can’t hurt to add more complicated structures (though the gerund doesn’t exactly classify as complex). Thanks for sharing this post! I have followed you and hope to read more.

    I have a new writing blog that I created after self-publishing my first novel on Kindle. Please check it out and share your writing experiences with me!
    http://gdalexander.wordpress.com/
    -G.D.

  2. Christian

    This subject really divides people doesn’t it. In terms of a novel, as long as it’s clear what’s going on and who is doing and saying what then it’s all a stylistic choice.

    Having said that, I’ve given up on a Cormac McCarthy book due to the difficult language. I had no idea what the hell was going on half the time.

  3. Gerunds and other grammatical goodies are a bit like the gearbox on my car. I know how to use it but care very little about what goes in inside. It’s not essential to operation of the machinery.

  4. I am appalled at the spelling and use of the English language particularly on Facebook and especially amongst the younger members of the family. I have found it difficult, sometimes, to understand their meaning. I think you need to educate children in the technical aspects of any language otherwise they won’t be able to use it in a meaningful way and be able to express themselves clearly and creatively. Of course, as with maths, you can then forget most of it in everyday use. Language changes down the years but is amazing how much of Shakespeare’s and Chaucer’s English we can understand today.

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