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Our Mother Tongue

A Guide to English Grammar

by Nancy Ann Wilson
Publisher: Canon Press
Trade Paperback, 183 pages
List Price: $20.00 Sale Price: $17.60

The study of grammar is the study of the rules that govern a language. Nancy Wilson asserts the best place to start for a thorough understanding of the English language is English grammar, and in Our Mother Tongue: A Guide to English Grammar she articulately outlines and explains those rules. Good communication, she maintains, is the result of familiarity and comfort within the structure of the language. There's nothing flashy here—just straightforward grammar instruction—but the idea is for students to become intimately acquainted with the mechanics and form of our language, not to keep them entertained. Instead, this is a clear introduction to a too often neglected subject.

How Does This Work?

49 lessons divided into 6 units cover everything from nouns to the proper use of modifiers. If you're going to use this for middle schoolers you should plan for teacher/student interaction. Most high schoolers can work through the material on their own, and adults have even found it useful as a refresher course or to fill gaps in their knowledge.

The course is logically organized, beginning with the principle parts of speech (nouns, verbs, etc.) and sentence construction and progressing to special cases and the finer points of language like gerunds and infinitives. Each lesson includes a number of examples and exercises for reinforcement. Again, this is straightforward grammar instruction; if you find the text dry it's only because you find the subject dry. A number of sidebars provide exceptions to rules, emphasis of key points, and historical sketches pertinent to the concept at hand.

Wilson emphasizes the importance of sentence diagramming. This helps students identify the different elements of grammar in their written context as well as helping them become better writers as they understand how a sentence works. This isn't a composition course—this is exclusively a mechanics course. The author asserts in the introduction that writers can't effectively break the rules unless they know what those rules are and she has set out to present them as clearly, accurately and forthrightly as possible.

This is grammar from a distinctly Christian perspective. You won't find politically correct terminology or blowhardy excursis into the realm of evolutionary language development. While some may find this problematic, it certainly makes for a refreshing grammar text in which words and language are allowed to be what they are and not the slavish refuge of those whose feelings are too easily hurt.

The answer key provides the answers to all exercises. There is no supplementary teacher information, but the text is plain enough you shouldn't need it. The answer key is essential if you plan to assign (or complete) the exercises, as a lot of them involve diagramming; while you could work out the answers yourself, the key will greatly reduce your workload and ensure that your student is given a fair grade.

Our Honest Opinion:

This little book provides all the information about English grammar the average person will ever need to know. Its steady pacing and clarity of explanation make it superior to many comparable texts that get bogged down in endless terminology or confusing examples. There is plenty of terminology here, but all of it is defined and none of it is unnecessary. Don't plan on using this with young kids; even older students will greatly benefit from previous formal grammar education. At the same time, a thorough understanding of all the content is probably enough to last most kids through middle school and high school, and if they can retain the information they will be loved by any college professor they encounter.

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