Grammar is the cabbage of language learning. You know that it’s good for you, but it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about actually consuming it.

I always introduce the G word cautiously in class; I’m all too aware how easy it is for students’ eyes to glaze over in unison as they gamely seek to absorb the endless rules and soul-destroying exceptions.

The choice of material for English language teachers is overwhelming – there are books, podcasts, videos, Cd ROMs, Apps and websites which, when push comes to shove, are all basically explaining the same thing.

If I wrote a book on the topic, I’d be tempted to call it ‘Reinventing the Wheel’ just to have an eye-catching title, although the game would be up as soon as readers began scanning the contents page.

My interest in Practically Painless Grammar (PPG) by Sally Foster Wallace is not down to the fact that I am looking for a ‘fun’ way to present a dry topic. I wanted to read it because she is the mother of David who, as regular readers of the blog will know, I am a massive fan of.

PPG is out of print and copies sell for ridiculous sums. I was delighted, therefore,  to find a downloadable PDF version through Scribd.

The subjects she covers are predictable but they are presented in a lively, jargon-free way that conveys a delight in the possibilities of language.

Without irony she calls one section: ‘Bits of Fascination about Subjects and Predicates’.

Her example sentences are refreshingly off the wall; one example is: “The green giraffe swallowed the cold Pepsi and stumbled crazily into the cage with the furious lion”. Another is  “Snakes give me the howling fantods”, the ‘fantods’  expression was subsequently used memorably by her son in ‘Infinite Jest’

I used an exercise on ‘weird sentence construction’ in my class today and the students responded to the invitation to “be as wild as you like”. Her sample sentences set the standard; one reads: “The very black sky passed them in a narrow truck”.

The message you take from this slim volume is that grammar may dull and predictable but that language most certainly is not .

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