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News & views

Grammar call fluffed

[3 Sept 2014] A subsidiary of that old problem Muphry’s Law – which holds that any piece of writing about proofreading errors will itself be riddled with proofreading errors – seems to have afflicted the latest person to complain that today’s teachers know so little about grammar that they can’t teach it to the children in their care.

The Daily Mail reports: ‘A generation of teachers will struggle to introduce a tough new school curriculum because of their own poor grasp of the three Rs.... Many bright teachers are “completely at sea” with proper English grammar and have little knowledge of the literary canon because their own education lacked rigour, according to Alice Phillips’. Mrs Phillips is president of the Girls’ School Association and head of St Catherine’s School, Bramley, near Guildford.

But the Mail quotes Mrs Phillips’ blog for the Times Educational Supplement as saying: ‘In the process of introducing the course [on English grammar, for 11-year-olds] we quickly established that some of our younger teachers have not been taught English grammar in the 90s and 00s when they were at school themselves and, consequently, they feel less confident as they teach as relatively new learners themselves.’

As any fule no, ‘have not been taught’ is the wrong tense. It should be the pluperfect, ie ‘had not been taught’.

For clarity and simplicity, it would then have been better for Mrs Phillips to split her long sentence and restart it after ‘themselves’ with:

‘So they feel less confident because they teach as ...’.

Plain-language editors will also shudder that Mrs Phillips began her statement with that standby of bureaucratic windbaggery,  ‘In the process of’, when plain old ‘When’ would do.


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