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American grammar textbooks
October 18, 2010 2:56 AM   Subscribe

Are there grammar textbooks at the middle school and high school (or even elementary school) levels that incorporate any of the developments in understanding of English grammar that have been made in the past several decades?

My kids attend a school that uses Prentice Hall Writing and Grammar: Communication in Action. Flipping through it, I find things like "a pronoun takes the place of a noun". That's ridiculous. If that were true, then you could take a sentence like "a boy ate a fish", replace the nouns with pronouns, and come out with "a he ate a(n) it".

No wonder people hate grammar; the textbooks make no sense!

What are the most modern (and well thought out) grammar textbooks available to schools in America?

I would like to make a recommendation to my kids' school (to change their textbooks), but I don't know how to get a sense of what is available. Please help!
posted by strangeguitars to Education (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
My kids attend a school that uses Prentice Hall Writing and Grammar: Communication in Action. Flipping through it, I find things like "a pronoun takes the place of a noun". That's ridiculous. If that were true, then you could take a sentence like "a boy ate a fish", replace the nouns with pronouns, and come out with "a he ate a(n) it".

What? You can do this. You wouldn't use the indefinite article with a pronoun because you're identifying someone specific, but "he ate it" is a perfectly grammatical sentence. It doesn't convey the same information as the original because when you use a pronoun, you're referring back to information already established.

Also the advances in the understanding of English grammar over the last 50 years have all been theory heavy descriptive linguistics stuff. Children's grammar texts are meant to teach the most common "rules" that are used in practice by native speakers, not to elucidate the formal linguistic structure of language.
posted by atrazine at 3:32 AM on October 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can't look at this textbook, but a more precise definition maybe should have made it clear that a pronoun stands in for a noun phrase (which includes articles, determiners and all). However, since they're only just introducing the concept of pronouns, I imagine the goal is to start kids off with a non-intimidating, easy-to-remember definition.

The goal of these courses is to teach children to understand on a basic level how syntax operates. This will help them to remember the prescribed rules of standard American grammar, which they will need to communicate and write in as adults (in order to prove that they're educated and thoughtful). To your example, pronouns are way more complicated in lots of ways. They can be reflexive (Love yourself!), they can mean absolutely nothing ("It rains a lot here"), they can refer to whole sentences ("It is obvious, that we're tired"), and so on...

In the examples above, the pronouns do take the place of a noun. In the first example yourself cannot be spoken any other way grammatically, so the noun it replaces is sort of an abstract category. In the second example, the pronoun just sits where the subject would sit, because English requires sentences to have a noun phrase and a verb phrase, but it doesn't actually refer to anything. In the third example, it stands in for that we're tired, which forces us to allow phrases of the form that... [sentence] to count as noun phrases.

Basically, defining what counts as a certain part of speech is a very difficult question and is mostly outside of the scope of elementary and middle school textbooks (which only teach them to the extent that they'll help students avoid "wrong" sentences and master "correct" sentences).

If your children are interested in grammar beyond the simplistic rules of thumb ("pronouns stand in for nouns"), I would suggest something like The Oxford English Grammar or a book on Intro Linguistics for older students.
posted by null14 at 4:10 AM on October 18, 2010


Hmm. You know, I'm just starting to learn a new language right now. One day, in the grammar I was to review for the next day, there was a construction I didn't understand. So I sought out more information about it.

Big mistake. The 'big girl' explanation I found was a confusing morass. Apparently this one word could mean a ton of different things and totally change the structure of a sentence in a bunch of different ways. I was more confused than ever.

In class the next day, I told the teacher I didn't understand the construction. She said "Know what? Just do it this one, simple way for now. You'll learn the other parts later." Awesome. Now instead of being really confused, I understand a little. And with time, I'll learn more, and soon I'll have it all down.

So, yeah, basically I guess just don't sweat it?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:39 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The textbook is talking about the function of a pronoun. Pronouns do, in fact, function as the nouns they replace. At that level of description, the textbook is right. As atrazine notes above, the rules for articles--and the "rules" don't cover every situation--depend on what they're modifying. Don't be one of those parents who complains about course material he doesn't actually understand.
posted by smorange at 10:03 AM on October 18, 2010


My question is:

"What are the most modern (and well thought out) grammar textbooks available to schools in America?"

I did not post this to argue about grammar. (And the arguments that have been put forward in that respect are ridiculous. If you're interested in why, please MeMail me.)

It may well be that there are no good grammar textbooks available in America, but this question is about books.

I have looked at the course material very very carefully. I don't think this is an appropriate place to list all of the problems, but rather to just give an example or two (like my pronoun example). The course material, including the workbooks, is filled with errors, inconsistencies, and logical fallacies. It's confusing to a ridiculous level. If a physics or chemistry textbook were written like that it would be immediately rejected. I can't understand why such laziness in textbook preparation is accepted in grammar, but that is not my question! I'm asking about textbooks!
posted by strangeguitars at 4:02 PM on October 18, 2010


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