I think grammar is fun.
There, I said it.
I know it’s not a popular opinion. I know that most people put grammar in the same category as shuffleboard, strong perfume, and floral pants — it’s something deeply unpleasant and associated primarily with old people.
But I’ll say it proudly: I’m twenty years old, I have a full social life, I listen to the same music that you do, I’m not planning a career as a English teacher or a professional Scrabble player, and I like grammar. What’s more, I think you should like it too.
Did you know that the sentence “Police police police police police” is completely grammatical? “Police” is a noun, as everyone knows. “Police” can also be a verb: “The guards policed the campus carefully to ensure that all the students stayed safe.” So, “Police police police police police” really means “The police police the police, whom other police also police”. It’s like saying “I eat pasta my mom cooks.” Except, well, a little sillier.
This seems like a joke, but learning to parse and understand sentences like this will make it easier to nail the grammar questions on the SAT. To realize that “Police police police police police” is correct, you have to know that the same word can serve multiple roles in a single sentence: noun, verb, adjective. The placement of the word determines the role that it serves.
This is a grammatical sentence too: “Mary gave the child the dog bit a bandaid.” Translated into more normal English, it would read like this: “Mary gave the child that the dog bit a bandaid.” How do we know that it’s grammatical? Well, trying crossing out the entire phrase “the dog bit”. Then we have “Mary gave the child a bandaid”: no problem there. “The dog bit” just describes the child, the way that you could say “the boots my best friend gave me”. So we can put it after “the child” without any problem. Again, the placement of the word determines the role that it serves. Here, the phrase “the dog bit” is acting like an adjective; we could say that it is an “adjectival phrase”. So, when you put it all together, it’s a gramamtical sentence: “Mary gave the child the dog bit a bandaid”.
Can you figure out what the following sentences mean?
- The horse raced past the barn fell.
- That Jill is never here hurts.
- Time flies with a stopwatch.
- The old man the boat.
- The raft floated down the river sank.
Ready? Here are the answers:
- The horse that raced past the barn was the one that fell.
- It hurts me that Jill is never here.
- If you have to time flies for a science experiment, you should use a stopwatch.
- Old people are in charge of sailing the boat.
- The raft that the people floated down the river was the raft that sank.
Note: credit to http://www.fun-with-words.com/ambiguous_garden_path.html for some of their “garden path” sentences!