Friday, 25 March 2016

Holiday SPaG test rehearsal craziness...over to you.

Hello it's Easter Holidays so it's SPaG and Maths test rehearsal time! Loads and loads of practice papers. Lovely. Who wants to have a holiday for goodness sake?
Anyway, here's your starter:

'Tick the sentence where the highlighted word is used as a subordinating conjunction.
Tick one.
He was at school BEFORE you. 
She did her homework UNTIL dinnertime.
Do not undo your seatbelt, UNTIL the car has stopped.
WHEN the sun is out, we will go outside.'

Let's leave to one side the fact that some grammarians are absolutely certain that there's no difference between subordinating conjunctions and prepositions - in this case. So for some grammarians 'before' here is a preposition and always a preposition and one of them denied there is even a thing called a 'subordinating conjunction'. So there . I posted up an angry post by someone called Geoff Pullum  all about this. (I don't care either way, but I'm just pointing out there is no final judgement on the matter.)
Now, when I was at school, I was told that you had a main clause and you could have a subordinate clause and subordinate clauses began with a conjunction. We named the subordinate clauses e.g. a 'subordinate clause of time'. So, 'when' clauses along with 'since clauses' and 'until clauses' were 'adverbial clauses of time'. That's how we learned it.
So according to that 'grammar' (which in all truth is not better or worse than the present stuff) wouldn't both example 3 and 4 be subordinate clauses of time, both headed by subordinating conjunctions? Presumably not. So which one of them is right???? 
I have no idea. 
More importantly, I can't think of any possible reason why a distinction can or should be made between the usage of 'until' and 'when' according to any system of classification that seems useful. Yes, I can see that talking about how we indicate time in languages is useful and we have many 'time' words that help us do that. Why do we want to indicate time? Because we live in past, present and future in all sorts of interesting ways. We have many options to indicate this...let's explore it...'until' seems to indicate something coming after, 'when' seems to be indicate (here in this example) something that comes before something else....
Anyway, what is the 'right' answer, according to this test?

(but, also - how is any teacher supposed to teach this so it makes sense? how is any child supposed to remember it? how is any parent supposed to know how to help a child to do it? I have studied French, Latin and German, I did a degree in English language and lit., an MA and a Ph.D and this particular distinction between these kinds of sentences and words absolutely escapes me - according to their useless classification system.)
LikeShow more reactions