Intuitive Grammar


Today we looked at intuitive grammar. We discussed the differences between the following sentences:

When they heard the song everyone started singing. Gives you the impression that as soon as the song started, people started to sing.
When they had heard the song everyone started singing. Gives you the impression that there was a defined sequence.

I never enjoyed travelling alone. You don’t travel alone anymore. It was an action that started in the past, and finished in the past.
I’ve never enjoyed travelling alone. You still travel alone, and still don’t enjoy it.
I had never enjoyed travelling alone. Until?

I’m going to buy a paper. Any paper.
I’m going to buy the paper. A specific one that all speakers know about.
I’m going to buy some paper. Depending on context, it implies that we can take a guess at which paper, and know that it’s plural.
I’m going to buy paper. Gives the impression that there’ll be more than one sheet/only one pack.

They might tell me but… There’s no guarantee they will, a little non-committal/managing expectations or possibility
They may have told me but…I might have forgotten! Using may buffers the excuse!
They might have told me but…Same as above for me, but could also mean that someone might have told you, but then something else happened.
They tell me but… I’m not interested?

When it rains our roof leaks. We have a house now, and the roof leaks every time it rains.
If it rains our roof leaks. Similar to above, but would use less. Expresses conditionality.
When it rained our roof would leak. We no longer have this problem, or property. Narrative past – give the impression that there is more of a story. Gives impression that raining happened regularly.
If it rains our roof will leak. Maybe this hasn’t happened before, but it’s a warning that in the future there is a condition and a result.
If it rained our roof would leak. Similar to ‘when it rained our roof would leak’, showing condition and result but also showing that raining happened less frequently that ‘when it rained…’.

What did you learn? 

I’ve looked at similar activities before for ESOL, however it highlights that a change in tense can not only bring about definitive changes in meaning, but more subtle ones too. It also helps if you know a little about grammar first, but speakers who have little explicit grammatical knowledge intuitively know the difference between the sentences, highlighting that you don’t always need to know about grammar to know grammar.

How will you apply it?

With adult literacy learners in mind, I’m not too sure at the moment. I’ve reviewed ‘tense’ activities already out there, and they seem to be limited to ‘past/present/future’ with no real concrete explanation to the aspects. I suppose a lot of usage with an adult either ‘sounds right’ or doesn’t, so teaching it might defeat the overall aim. I could focus on a particular aspect with learners if they have specific difficulties with forming a particular tense, but I suspect in a more discrete way.

Practical implications? Resources made/changed? For assignment? Meet with? Find out more about? By ___ in my teaching. 

My ESOL brain is difficult to put away when thinking about practical implications for this! Tense form doesn’t surface too regularly with my current learners, so I think I’ll revisit this should that change.

I tried this on:
What went well?
What would I change?
How will I make changes?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s