What happened to parsing? The grammar nazi is a dying breed

Well, what did happen to parsing?

I looked it up in trusty Wikipedia and their expert said this, “Parsing or, more formally, syntactic analysis is the process of analysing a text made of a sequence of tokens (for example, words) to determine its grammatical structure…”.

The expert chappie is spot on there. In fact, I recall Mrs Lloyd saying something similar to my Grade 3 class in 1956. It was, you must understand, a very advanced school and I was way up at the back where the clever kiddies sat. She would bustle in cheerily and say, “Now children, let’s do a bit of syntactic analysis”. We were ecstatic about syntactic analysis.

The kiddies who did it correctly got elephant stamps on their hands and some days I went home looking as if some mad tattooist had gone completely crazy on my tiny person.

Sadly it seems that parsing has been consigned to the waste bin of history and I seriously doubt that anybody under the age of about 45 could parse a sequence of words – Mrs Lloyd called them “sentences” – to save their ignorant lives.

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Indeed, teaching any civilised form of expression which actually acknowledges grammar is now redundant. We who know that there are five cases in English – the Nominative, the Vocative, the Accusative, the Genitive and the Dative – are a dying breed.

I am not some sort of grammar nazi or insufferable snob about this. I’ve never been a snob at all about anything but I do believe that everything has its proper place. I, for example, can listen to the William Tell Overture without once thinking about the Lone Ranger.

Nowadays one only has to be politically correct. Correctness elsewhere means nothing. Proper language used correctly simply has no place in our modern education system. I had the devil’s own job trying to explain to mummy, who had overheard two teenage girls chatting, how a boy could be both hot and cool at the same time.

Huge chunks of the Mother Tongue are now dead because of the relentless politically correct regime. When was the last time you heard “actress” or “murderess” or “poetess”?

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How many know that the only auxiliary verbs are have, be, shall, will, may and do? I do and I know that because none but these are used for helping other verbs to form those tenses which cannot be formed by inflection. Clear about it now?

Even the dreaded double negative has widespread use among the ignorant – the “I’m not gonna give you nothing” sort of rubbish which should provoke a grinding of teeth doesn’t even raise an eyebrow much less an appropriately censorious observation.

Lots and lots of people could not parse a participle to save their wretched lives.

Try this test at your next dinner party and ask who knows that when no noun or pronoun is placed before a participle and used absolutely, the participle is practically a preposition. It should provoke gales of laughter, knowing looks and wry smiles and is perfectly acceptable in mixed company perhaps just before the ladies retire and the chaps pass the port remembering, of course, that the decanter is passed to the left after pouring a glass for your neighbour on your right.

Inform your guests that they must pass this test as well as finishing their vegetables before there is any thought about pudding.

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Another side-splitting game is the parsing of gerunds. Of course if you have got this far you would know that a gerund is a mixture of verb and noun and that to parse it you have to show three different things about it in its verb-character and one thing about it in its noun character.

Little things do count.

That acclaimed intellectual and statesman George W Bush once shrewdly observed, “You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test” so let us make schools the fun educational places they once were. What kiddie would object to doing parsing or even accepting a sharp crack across the knuckles if he or her tried to write with the left hand?


Do you care for grammar? Or do you think it is irrelevant in today’s society? Are you a “grammar nazi”? What common grammatical errors annoy you? Tell us your thoughts below!