Tips for Teaching Grammar

 

Two Methods for Identifying a Sentence's Complete Subject and Predicate

 

            Students can use their intuitive sense of English sentence structure in order to identify quite reliably the two major parts of a sentence. 

 

1. Ask students to substitute a pronoun for the sentence subject.  The pronoun will replace the entire noun phrase that forms the complete subject.  What remains will be the predicate. 

This process helps students see an important feature of pronouns: that they stand in not just for single nouns but for entire noun phrases.  It also provides a simple way to check that the subject and the verb agree with each other in number. 

           

            The red-headed girl with the saxophone was walking home.

            She was walking home.

 

For many children around the world, the foundations that provide emergency

relief and community support have meant the difference between

survival and death.

For many children around the world, they have meant the difference between

survival and death.

 

2.  Another method is to turn a statement into a question that begins with who or what and that asks who or what did something or was something.  The predicate will be those words from the statement that remain in the question.  The subject will be the answer to the question.

 

            All the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

            What fit together?

 

            Every student knows a large part of the grammar of English before entering a

classroom.

            Who knows a large part of the grammar of English before entering a classroom?

 

(This method may not work unless the who or what is asking what the subject is or does.   It is possible to formulate the question, "What is it that every student knows before entering a classroom?" Such phrases as "What is it that" or "Who is it that" replace the object of the verb, not the subject.)

 

 --Brock Haussamen, based on approaches by Martha Kolln (Understanding English Grammar, 6th ed., Longman, 2002) and Robert DeBeaugrande ("Forward to the Basics: Getting Down to Grammar, " College Composition and Communication, Vol. 35, No. 3, October 1984).