Grammar terminology confusion

Why is there sometimes confusion over the terminology that is used to talk about grammar? Hasn’t the grammar of English been fixed by now?

I can think of the following reasons (no doubt there are others):

  • There is no standardised terminology for English grammar. Different writers use different terms to talk about the same thing.
  • Sometimes writers use the same term(s) as other writers, but they mean something different.
  • Some terms ‘linger’: they were appropriate at a time when grammar as a subfield of philology (later: linguistics) hadn’t developed very much. I’m thinking of terms from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Different domains of English studies often use different terminology. For example, teachers working in ELT use different terms from teachers in schools and at universities. The term possessive adjective, described in an earlier posting, is a case in point.
  • There sometimes is a feeling among writers on grammar that no current term will do, and that a new term will need to be introduced. Sometimes this is justified, as in the case of the word class label determiner which is relatively new in grammar studies. In other cases it’s not justified. For example, I recently came across the term connective conjunction. This simply isn’t a helpful label as it joins together two disparate terms, and isn’t part of the National Curriculum.

In some ways all of this is unfortunate, but viewed more positively it shows that the study of grammar is an evolving and exciting field.

However, if you’re a teacher, on most days you won’t have time to ponder over the niceties of grammatical terminology. What you need is a reliable and authoritative source of information on grammar. So where do you turn?

Of course one option is to google terminology, and to be sure, you’ll find many webpages that tell you about grammar. However, they’re not always reliable. (See my blog post Beware of Google: the case of adverb phrases.) The same is true for many other resources that are made available elsewhere. I should stress that most of these resources are well-intentioned, but sometimes the terminology that they use is out-of-date or just plain wrong. So who can you trust?

One answer is Engliciousthe dedicated website for teachers at primary and secondary schools which will help you teach English grammar. It is described in this earlier blog posting.

Why should I trust Englicious?, you may well ask. Isn’t it just another resource among the many that are available online?

No, it isn’t! First of all, all the resources on Englicious are compatible with the National Curriculum. Secondly, the resources have been written by specialists in English grammar based at UCL, often in consultation with colleagues from other universities and with teachers working in schools. You can therefore be sure that the terminology used on the site is applied consistently and correctly.

If you’re after a glossary of terms, apart from the Englicious glossary, there is also an extensive glossary produced by the Linguistics Association of Great Britain. It can be accessed here.

One thought on “Grammar terminology confusion

  1. Pingback: Grammar in schools: some Q&As and a plea | GRAMMARIANISM

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