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Don’t Try to Figure Out What Something Means in English Grammar Terms – It Serves NO Purpose!

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One of the main principles of the English Harmony philosophy is not to fall into the habit of analyzing your speech from the grammar standpoint.

The very same goes with reading.

You may find yourself trying to figure out what this or that particular sentence in a book or newspaper represents in English grammar terms, and the funny thing is that sometimes you just end up confusing yourself instead of gaining something from it!

You’re reading a sentence and the analytical part of your brain automatically starts analyzing the syntax: “Hold on, is it a Passive or Active Voice construct? I’d better Google it up and see if I can figure it out!”

So off you go browsing forums and spending your time just to satisfy your curiosity!

And you’re not alone.

There’s millions of English learners asking questions on forums trying to figure out WHAT ROLE certain words and word groups play in a sentence, what grammar tense is represented by the sentence in question and so on.

Sometimes I come across those forum threads when validating my English collocations (read more about how I do it HERE) and it just doesn’t cease to amaze me that there are folks who are quite literally wasting away their lives asking questions such as:

Is this clause a predicative expression or is it not?

or

What exactly does “would have” mean in the following sentence “I would have thought that the unemployment rate is on the rise, but it’s actually the other way around”? It looks like a conditional sentence, so does it mean that the person who speaks doesn’t actually think that the unemployment is on the rise but would think so if certain conditions are met?

The moment I see those questions, it instantly brings me back to when I used to analyze everything I was reading or hearing, and needless to say, that’s exactly the reason why I couldn’t speak fluently in the first place!

My mind was gone into a permanent analytics mode and I was under the false impression that if I were to become proficient in terms of English grammar, I would also become fluent.

Little did I know at that time that it was completely false logical reasoning.

Just think about it – how being able to DEFINE what a particular group of words represents is going to help you REPRODUCE that phrase or sentence when writing or speaking?

It won’t – that’s the thing! 😉

You see, it’s all because most English learners can’t distinguish (and it’s all because of the traditional way of teaching English at school!) between the following:

  • Theoretical KNOWLEDGE about English grammar and syntax,

and

  • Practical SKILLS and ABILITY to use English when speaking or writing!

Many of us believe that KNOWLEDGE directly translates into ABILITY – but nothing could be further from the truth!

Ability to SPEAK, for example, is all about you being able to REPLICATE correct speech patterns and the best way to go about it is by simply REPEATING and MEMORIZING a specific sentence.

When you speak with real people in real life, does anyone care about the sentence being a conditional or not?

NO!

All that matters is your ability to SAY IT OUT LOUD!

OK Robby, But Why Have You Got So Many Grammar-related Articles On This Blog?!

Why do you have so many grammar articles, Robby?

It’s a very valid question!

Yes, I have plenty of articles and videos where I’m discussing the spoken aspect of English from the grammar perspective, here’s a few of them:

But here’s the thing, my friends – I have very good reasons for doing so.

First and foremost, I was doing it (allow me to point out that I’ve stopped publishing such grammar-related articles and videos for the simple reason that I’ve actually covered the most important aspects) in order to build my blog and YouTube channel following.

I was basically catering for those foreigners who were still stumbling in the dark in vain hope that English grammar knowledge would sort out their fluency issues.

Basically the idea was to get their attention by talking about a specific grammar topic first, and then, when I had their full attention, I would start talking about the fact that grammar knowledge actually doesn’t matter that much – it’s all about your ability to replicate grammatically correct English patterns.

Is that trickery?

Was I misleading my YouTube followers and blog readers by talking about grammar first and then telling them that they actually don’t need the grammar?

NOT AT ALL! 😉

You see – the main purpose of those English grammar related videos and articles is to explain difficult grammar concepts from a purely practical perspective thus making it easier for my fellow English learners to wrap their head around those concepts.

I mean – I could tell them: “Listen guys, this video is about Future in the Past but you know what? You don’t actually need it, so I won’t be even bothered explaining you what it is, we’re just going to move onto sample sentences where Future in the Past is used.”

But you have to agree that most people would leave my video or article at that point because they’re still in the analytical mindset – whether I like it or not. 😉

Their curiosity needs to be satisfied before I can start reasoning with them.

So basically my approach is to draw English learners’ attention by mentioning a specific grammar subject and THEN trying to “turn” them into English Harmony followers by slowly and steadily making them realize that they don’t really need to fully understand this or that particular grammar concept – they merely need to learn it so that they can USE it!

Here’s a Shocker: I’ve Actually Forgotten Most of the Grammar Terms!

I've actually forgotten most of the grammar terms!

The simple truth is that these days I would hardly tell an adjective from an adverb.

Some may think it speaks of a total lack of professionalism, but if you hold to that opinion – you’re completely missing the point!

The point is the following:

Being knowledgeable in grammar terms serves NO PRACTICAL PURPOSE ❗

None whatsoever ❗

Just like I previously mentioned in this article…

…when you write or speak in real life you DON’T APPLY that knowledge of grammar terms!

Yes, you may be going through the process of constructing sentences from scratch – especially if you’re a struggling English speaker – but you still have to agree that knowing the role of a specific word or a word group in a sentence – “predicate”, “adverb” or “relative clause” – is NOT going to HELP YOU to create that sentence.

Yes, you have to know how to USE the relative clause, for example, but basically what I’m trying to say is that you can be JUST AS SUCCESSFUL at using it even without knowing that it is a relative clause in the first place.

Just think about most native speakers, for example.

The average native English speaking Joe doesn’t have a clue about all these grammar terms, yet he speaks fluently! 😉

He can USE English words and sentences without knowing what role they fulfil in a sentence, and that’s exactly why I’ve stopped caring about grammar terms years ago.

And guess what?

It doesn’t prevent me from helping other English learners!

Fluency is all about your ability to speak without much thinking, and all the fluency management methods and confidence building strategies I’m publishing on my blog aren’t less effective due to my lack of grammar-related knowledge.

So, next time you’re catching yourself asking a question such as – “where’s the predicate and where’s the subject in this sentence?…” – think twice.

It serves NO practical purpose!

Robby

Related articles:

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hi Marie,

    Yes, the verb is always is singular following ‘Who’, ‘What’ etc.

    Btw – there’s two types of questions actually – open questions and closed questions. Open questions begin with ‘who’, ‘what’ etc. and closed questions begin with ‘do’ or ‘does’.

    “Who works for the airline company?” – open question.

    “Do John and Victor work for an airline company?” – closed question.

    Regards,

    Robby

  • marie

    Hello Robby,
    I would like to know about making subject questions in Present Simple Tense.Should the verb that follows Who/What/Which take the third person singular form always?

    For eg. If I replace ‘John and Victor’ in the sentence ‘John and Victor work for an airline company’ with ‘who’,will my question be ‘who works for an airline company?’

  • Hi David,

    Actually I’d say that at this stage we agree on pretty much everything. I fully realize that you’re not one of those old-school teachers – matter of fact, I’ve known it for a long time now! 😉

    Speaking of whether there’s point in preaching to those who are in the dark or those who get it – I’m kind of trying to capture both types of audience. Those who get it find my advanced articles of good use, while at the same time my early videos and articles attract those who still try to figure out grammar and once I have their attention, I would like to believe that I manage to “convert” (not talking about selling products here – it’s purely in terms of converting them into my followers!) at least some of them.

    As for the different conditionals – yeap, there was a time when I was learning them and I had them all memorized. But if you ask me now I’d be struggling to name the different types etc. – as you can imagine, it’s totally irrelevant to me at this stage! 😉

    Cheers,

    Robby

  • Exactly Arkadiy – better late than never!

  • Arkadiy

    It depends upon the teacher. Where were you Robby 60 years go when i started learning English language. But better late than never. Thank you for your thought
    .

  • Yep. It’s kinda funny, should we simply write articles for the 5% who totally get it and who are on board with what we’re saying (we have a few differences Robby but agree on a lot more), or should we continue to try to persuade those who are in the dark..? (Or in the dark, in our humble opinion).

    Once I’m in the next city I think I already know which way I’ll go.

    Re: your article, the “conditionals” are a favourite example. Someone once had the great idea to number all the conditionals out there from zero, first, second, third, and mixed, and then everyone was surprised when students got confused! Personally I try to avoid the terminology and simply highlight the structure, like you’ve done.

    Eg “If I’d known, I would’ve/could’ve called you..” is easier to remember than
    “If + PAST PERFECT -> MODAL VERB + Present perfect”..

    Just thinking of saying that gives *me* a headache 🙂

    Again, to highlight some progress in the field of teaching, some coursebooks have come out with a lexical syllabus. I’m not saying that they’ve totally taken off, but at least coursebooks such as the old Innovations series (Thomson Heinle) made a big switch from grammar to teaching lexical units and chunks. The book still looks ‘traditional’ but I used it with an individual student of mine, and she just gobbled up all the phrases and idioms.