30 January 2006

Sins of the mother

I understand raise versus rise. Set versus sit presents no problems. But trying to choose between lay or lie always throws me for a loop.

When my parents were visiting I happened to mention this. Mom said, "I've always had that same problem. Your Dad knows them, but I don't." She went on to prove her point within about 5 minutes by misusing one of them; Dad corrected her.

Aha. You know, I never had a good grammar teacher. As nearly as I can tell, the schools I went to had decided we would figure out grammar on our own, perhaps absorbing it from the atmosphere.

Most grammar I learned in school was puzzled out in junior high Spanish class. I never would've heard of subjunctive tense had it not been for Spanish. I went home and asked Mom about it, and she expained that yes, English has a subjunctive, that's why Tevye sings "if I were a rich man" rather than "if I was a rich man".

Which shows my other source of grammatical knowledge: my mom. If I have any claim to speaking at all correctly it is due to Mom. I have a clear memory of standing at the board in 10th grade English, writing out a sentence, choosing between pronouns ... should I use a direct object pronoun or a predicate pronoun? I chose correctly. "Now, why did you choose that one, Gail?" queried the teacher. "Because that's how my mom would say it." The class laughed. I should've added something to the effect of "and since you're doing a totally inadequate job of teaching us grammar or much of any thing at all, I am forced to rely on my parents or my own quest for knowledge." She was a horrible teacher, by the way -- a bully who got her jollies humiliating kids in her class. I doubt many kids emerged from that school with a love of grammar.

Anyway, all of that is an explanation of why my own daughter is currently struggling with lay and lie. Those shifty little verbs; I still don't have them nailed down. It doesn't help that lie morphs into lay in past tense, although we mustn't confuse it with the lay that gives us laid and have laid. Aaaaargh!

It's also an explanation of why I don't really embrace the idea of NOT specifically teaching grammar to kids, assuming they'll pick it up via the wonderful literature we're reading or the grammar of a foreign language. I've spent years afraid to use 2 simple words in English because I know that I don't know how to use them correctly. I don't want to pass that legacy to my kids.

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