Grammar Lessons for Future Big-Time Writers

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The Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced Thursday. Roy Peter Clark, a writing teacher at the Poynter Institute, offers an essay about how all the big, notable writers in the world once started out small.


This year's Nobel Prize for Literature is going to be announced tomorrow. The annual award goes to masters of the written word. Each of these big writers started as little writers in a classroom maybe, struggling with the fundamentals of grammar. In fact, right now, future English-speaking Nobel Laureates are moving deeper - or is it more deeply - into some of the mysteries of grammar. Writer and teacher Roy Peter Clark would like to clear the way.

Mr. ROY PETER CLARK (Teacher, The Poynter Institute; Author): Good morning, students. Today's lesson is on the parts of speech. Can anyone name them? Wally? No, not the teeth, the tongue and lips. They are body parts that help you speak, but are not the parts of speech.

Hermione? Very good, young lady. Yes, you've got them all. There are eight parts of speech: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and pshaw - my all-time favorite, the interjection. Say that with me class. Yes, with vigor. Interjection. Interjection, brilliant.

Now let me give you an example of each. Let's begin with the adjective. That's a word that changes or, quote-fingers, "modifies a noun." So red is an adjective because it tells us what kind of barn it is. So barn is the noun, and red is the adjective.

Yes, Hermione? You think red is a noun because it's a name of a color? And you think barn could be an adjective, as in barnyard? Hmm, okay. Let's move on to the adverb. This is a word that changes or - class? - modifies a verb. Let me see those quote-fingers. You can always recognize the adverb because it ends with the letter L-Y.

What is it, Hermione? No, you are correct. July is not an adverb. It's a proper noun. No, you're right. Lovely isn't one, either. It's an adjective, as in lovely flowers.

Well, we're almost out of time for this lesson, but I did want to leave you with some of my favorite injections, which is a word that you blurt out to express anger, surprise or perhaps frustration.

Okay, are you ready, class? Here goes: tiddlywinks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLARK: I shouted that once after I hit my thumb with a hammer. What is it now, Hermione? Yes, tiddlywinks is the name of a children's game, which means yes, it's a noun. I suppose you have a better example of an interjection, you insufferable little know-it-all? Yes, that is an interjection, Missy, and for that you can march yourselves right down to the principal's office.

CHADWICK: Roy Peter Clark teaches writing at the Poynter Institute, and he's the author of the new book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.

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