I often think of decoding grammar as piecing together a giant word filled jigsaw puzzle. A thousand pieces to put together on a kitchen table is really not so daunting compared to the complex ways English and other languages fit together, moving with our new ideas and needs for communication. The analogy somehow helps me get it together in my mind, especially when the puzzle feels as trying as this guy’s vase.
The other day I was talking to my class about parallel structure, that part of sentences where the pieces need to fit together. In parallel structure, the writer has a series of items that need to match or run parallel to one another. I wrote up a few examples to explain what I mean by this. Examples always work better for me in the puzzle of English than explanations.
With parallel structure in verb forms:
I like knitting, running, and looking at different art forms.
Without parallel structure in verb forms:
I like knitting, to run, and looking at different art forms.
With parallel structure in adverbs:
The great barn owl sat on the post regally, solemnly, and aloofly.
Without parallel structure using adverbs and a prepositional phrase (I think I’ve been guilty of this one):
The great barn owl sat on the post regally, solemnly, and with no interest in his onlookers.
With parallel structure in noun phrases:
The lady sat on a fence thinking about the ways she could get off the fence, the marvelous view she had while staying on the fence, and the horses who might let her stay for a few more minutes without demanding more grass.
Without parallel structure in noun phrases and an infinitive:
The lady sat on a fence thinking about the ways she could get off the fence, the marvelous view she had while staying on the fence, and to wish the horses might let her stay for a few more minutes without demanding more grass.
While I explained this, it occurred to me that another story I had just read by Miki Craighead would be the perfect example to help students understand the way parallel structure fits together. In my textbook there were several examples of patterns to show students to help them find the patterns of structure. The patterns were not very original and did not come with an interesting story. They looked something like this:
a, b, c, ?
10, 20, 30, ?
So I told them the story of Miki’s family bell system with its code for each of the children.
That pattern has a delightful story of children playing and a creative father who designed a sort of Morse code to call his kids in when needed. The pattern looked like this:
____ – , ____ – -, ____ – – -, ____ – – – -, ?
I sensed my students liked the bell system better than the overworked alphabet. And a neurologist I once listened to kept me spellbound for a 3 hour lecture by sprinkling stories into his lecture about Brain Rules. In any case, I am hoping Miki’s story lifted the grammar up a bit out of the drudgery for them.