Teaching the Grammar Structures

Most people agree with the fact that knowing a language means knowing its grammar. Grammar is sometimes defined as “the way words are put together to make correct sentences.”   In English “I am a student” is grammatical whereas “I a student”, and “I are a student” are not.
An important aspect is the fact that we, as teachers, should teach from the context to the grammar rule rather than from the rule alone.

For example, the teacher has to create a context for the past tense. Tense expresses the way in which verbs are used to indicate time while voice expresses the way in which different emphases can be given to sentences so, tense and voice unveils the choices the writer of a literary text makes to reveal the way he/she views the world.

Grammar can be perceived as “the heart of language and the grammar learning process is situated in the contexts of human meaning and human society. Thus, learners acquire additional grammatical resources and a more elaborated knowledge of grammar as a way to express themselves more precisely as they intend, more deeply and creatively, and in more diverse types of discourse; as a human process, grammatical acquisition is both intellectual and affective in nature.

Sometimes grammar activities take place when students study language of a literary text they have been reading or listening to and they feel that they have to deal with that grammatical problem immediately in order to understand the meanings of the text.The teachers can use a literary text to encourage students to focus on some basic grammatical rules or to revise them. However, teachers must take into account the fact that grammar shouldn’t be taught for its sake because grammar should be seen in relation to the text which is studied.

With grammar, we have three aspects:

  • form: Each tense has a particular structure. (e.g. Mark had eaten before Ann got home.)
  • meaning: Each tense communicates an idea. (Two things happened; Mark ate first, Ann got home second.)
  • use: Each tense has a purpose. (The past perfect clarifies chronological order.)

When dealing with literary texts, we come across a great variety of English verbs consisting of two or sometimes three parts:

a) verb and an adverbial particle, the meaning of the phrase being usually different from the meaning of the verb taken separately; e.g.: break down (collapse), pass away (die), call off (cancel);
b) verb and preposition, which is a construction made up of a verb followed by a preposition, the meaning of the verb usually remaining unchanged  e.g. look into
(investigate), get over (recover from), depend on, succeed in;
c) verb, adverbial particle and preposition e.g. put up with (tolerate)

Very often, many phrasal verbs have more than one meaning e.g. take off  (remove clothing, start flying, become successful, leave suddenly, not go to work) and so on. By far the most common mistakes made by students are semantic mistakes, showing an incomplete understanding of the meaning of phrasal verbs. Students sometimes confuse phrasal verbs and single-word verbs whose meanings are connected. e.g. “I have found out (discover) new means to fight against them.” Or students use the right verb but the wrong particle. E.g. “We filled up (fill in) some forms.”

It is also important to know that a phrasal verb is separable e.g. take off your coat/ take your coat off while prepositional verbs are not e.g. look after the baby/ but not look the baby after. The meanings of phrasal verbs are sometimes difficult to remember, because they have no relation with the words that they consist of (verb and an adverbial particle). As a matter of fact, many phrasal verbs are metaphorical, and if the students understand the metaphors they use, it would be easier to understand and remember their meanings. For example, in the sentence: “Beth nestled up to her and the rest turned toward her with brightening faces.” (Upstream, Upper Intermediate, Xth class) from May Alcott’s Little women, the phrasal verb ‘nestle up to’ is metaphorically used because the author’s intention was that of creating the idea of protection and safety that a mother gives to her children.

It is also obvious the fact that “the interpretation of tense forms is an important key to recognize each of the discourse modes, but often not the only one: their interpretations can be (partly) derived from linguistic elements in the context, or from the semantic content”.

Considering the difficulties that phrasal verbs can cause for students, it is important that these verbs ought to be treated as “chunks” taking into account their contextual and syntactic characteristics rather than in isolation.

1.   Ur, Penny, (2003),  A Course in Language Teaching, Cambridge University Press, p. 75.
2.   Pennington, Martha C, (1995), New Ways in Teaching Grammar, Pantagraph Printing, Bloomington, Illinois USA, p. viii.
3.   Rutger J. Allan, Michel Buijs, (2007), The Language of Literature, Brill NV, Leiden, Hotei Publishing, p. 43.

prof. Andreea Urzică

Liceul Teoretic Spiru Haret, Moinești (Bacău) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/andreea.urzica

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