Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yet Another Post Where the Pictures Have Nothing To Do with the Words

I got a call at work yesterday from EFU. She called to wish me a happy birthday, and then we got to talking, and all of a sudden, she was telling me that, until this week, she hadn't known what an adverb was.

Fortunately, as I slid off my chair and onto the floor and curled into a fetal position, my cellphone went with me, so as I lay there murmuring, over and over, "An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb," she kept talking.

Before long I had stopped sucking my thumb and was sitting up, quietly singing:
An adverb is a word
(That's all it is! and there's a lot of them)
That modifies a verb,
(Sometimes a verb and sometimes)
It modifies an adjective, or else another adverb
And so you see that it's positively, very, very, necessary.

There's a backstory here, of course. For elementary school, EFU attended the local French immersion program, so her K-5 classes were conducted entirely in French, except for an hour or so a week of English grammar (not, apparently, including all the parts of speech) in grades 4 and 5. When she got to middle and high school, because she was in honors courses, the teachers assumed that she already knew some of the fundamentals of English grammar. And she's always written relatively well, so she obviously knew how to use adverbs, even though she didn't know what they were.

(None of this, of course, stopped me -- after the phone call was over -- from beating myself with a scourge, wailing, "How, how, how could I have let my child go so far away from home without knowing the difference between indirect and direct objects?" and feeling fortunate that the child protective services hadn't found out about the adverbs thing. I suppose that her mother's equally to blame, but her mother has no soul, and you don't expect soulless people to know shit about adverbs. She never asked her mother for help with homework, anyway. She used to call me at the office every day with questions, but they were usually about algebra. Even at the advanced age of 43, I can factor equations like nobody's business.)

Anyway, EFU is enjoying her writing classes, but she feels a little insecure, so she asked me if I could take a look at one of her assignments before she turned it in. Eager to make grammatical reparations, I leapt at the chance. The assignment seemed straightforward enough:
2. Write two simple sentences on the same topic, but with different syntactical subjects. Then link the two sentences into a) a compound sentence, b) a complex sentence. Finally, insert a dependent clause in one of the independent clauses of your compound sentence, making it c) a compound-complex sentence.
3. Write a simple sentence that is fifty words long. Do not make a list of adjectives, nouns, or adverbs; use phrases as modifiers.
4. Write a good simple sentence that is twenty words long.
5. Write a 300-word essay or story all in simple sentences. Try to vary length and structure of your sentences.
6. Write a 10-sentence story in s-v-do sentences, no one of which is more than 4 words long.
7. Write a 10-sentence story. The first sentence must be s-v; the second must be s-v-do; the third, s-v-io-do; the fourth, s-v-do-oc, the fifth, s-v-sc. The next five sentences must continue in the same sequence. Do not use modifiers.

She also sent her answers, which were mostly fine. Here, for example, is her answer to number five:
Once upon a time, there was a vain prince named Fred. Fred always spent the most time on his hair, conditioning it obsessively. Then one day, the evil hairstylists of Doom City stole all his conditioner for themselves and their customers. All of Fred’s money had been spent on his collection of conditioner. Broke and ashamed, Fred refused to come out of his room for months. He simply could not bear to face his subjects with tangled, dry hair. His father, concerned not only about his son but the future of LaLa Land, called for help. For seven long, unconditioned months, no one answered. But then, an extraordinary hippie from the exotic land of Marlboro came to his aid, galloping on her camel, exceeding the LaLa Land speed limit. She stopped the camel outside the prince’s room, throwing her hair up into his window. The prince threw her long, tangled, unwashed hair out of his room with disgust. “You better come down from your room!” called the hippie. “What if I don’t?” retorted the prince angrily. “Then I will have to come up there myself! That means all your things will be ruined by my filthy hair.” The prince could not tolerate this idea. In preparation for the descent, he put a large paper bag over his face. With great speed the hippie threw the prince onto her camel. The two rode to confront the hairstylists of Doom City. Fred was scared. Unfortunately, he had no choice in the matter. After passing through the Town of Nohygiene, Fred took off his paper bag. “Why, your hair is lovely!” the hippie exclaimed. She sharply turned the camel around. “Where are we going now?” inquired the prince. “Why, to Self-Esteem City! Here, you will lose your vanity and all insecurities. This trip has been necessary for quite some time.” And so the witches of self-esteem cured the prince. He returned home level-headed, married to the hippie, and prepared to rule LaLa Land with the hippie and without conditioner.

I made a few suggestions (EFU has an unfortunate habit of overusing the passive voice, for example), but on the whole, I thought it was brilliant.

EFU's own birthday is this Sunday. I sent her a card and some money, with a care package to follow. I instructed her to use the money to take her friends out, but I fear that she'll just save it. She's taking the maximum permitted load this semester, and she told me that she planned to celebrate her birthday by finishing one of her essays. I would worry about her, but she seems happy, and she has plenty of friends at college, and she got good grades last semester. Sometimes I just wish she were a little less dedicated and responsible. She didn't get the dedication and responsibility from me, though, so I don't have to feel too guilty. I'm still smarting over that whole adverb thing, though. The next time YFU's over, I'm going to quiz her on all the parts of speech and other grammatical terms. I can't have her leaving the house not knowing what a dependent clause is. It's like not wearing clean underwear: what if she's in an accident?



Michael said...

My birthday was Wednesday as well. Happy Birthday!

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

Happy Birthday to you, too, michael. Ronald Reagan was also born that day. My parents thought that was a coincidence that I should be happy about. I disagreed.