"O" LEVEL ENGLISH LANGUAGE: PREPARATION OF STUDENTS

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Introduction.

The following notes were provided by Flight Lieutenant A.W. Panton, M.A. Dip. Ed. to students of English at the Education Centre at RAF Lyneham, Chippenham, Wilts between 1971 and 1974. For the circumstances in which this instruction occurred, please see the introduction to the item on this blog entitled "Strategy for Writing "O" Level History Essays", dated 4th February 2013. During this three year period Flight Lieutenant Panton prepared large numbers of RAF personnel to take the "O" Level examination in English Language. The courses were organised on a six monthly basis, with the examinations occurring in January and June each year. Lessons lasting approx, 90 minutes were offered to students on a weekly basis, but each lesson was held twice each week (i.e. on one morning and one evening) to enable airmen on night shift or absent on flying duties to attend one or other of the lessons. Sometimes as many as 50 examination entries were made in each six month cycle. In addition to "O" Level, airmen were prepared to sit the RAF Education Test in order to qualify for promotion (RAFET I for promotion to corporal; RAFET II for promotion to sergeant). English was a central component of these tests at both levels. In all these courses there was a need to provide personnel with some understanding of the building blocks of writing English, i.e. grammar, punctuation, sentence and paragraph construction. Teaching such concepts as these is never straightforward. Teaching grammar within the context of a single language is a particularly difficult and unrewarding task. At school grammar has by tradition been most effectively taught within the context of multiple language acquisition, i.e. English, Latin/Greek and French/German, as comparisons which pupils can readily make between these different languages aid the development of grammatical understanding. In the circumstances of adult education this is unlikely to be possible. At the same time, it is difficult to encourage adult students to make the necessary mental effort to correct any occasional grammatical 'howlers' that they may make, because, when a student's writing is approx. 80-90% correct, the incentive to make the effort to develop the understanding of grammatical concepts, which alone will facilitate a higher level of correctness, is likely to be absent. Nevertheless, Flight Lieutenant Panton strove to assist his students, many of whom were keen and willing to improve, and the notes set out below were offered to them in this context. The challenge was to give sufficient information to allow a student to develop the necessary understanding, without confusing him/her by unnecessary elaboration.

Notes on the following topics are set out below:

Parts of Speech;

Sentence Construction;

Punctuation of Sentences;

Punctuation of Dialogue;

Use of Apostrophes;

Paragraphs; and

"O" Level English Language Comprehension Notes.


A.  PARTS OF SPEECH

1.  Nouns - words used to refer to somebody, something, somewhere. etc. Nouns can be classified as:

a.  Proper nouns (e.g. Jackson, Birmingham, Chelsea Football Club) refer to a particular person, place, thing. Proper nouns always begin with a capital letter.

b.  Common nouns (e.g. table, general, horse) refer to people and objects of which there are many.

c.  Abstract nouns (e.g. beauty, fear, extravagance) refer to things which have no physical being but are qualities which exist in men's minds.

d.  Collective nouns (e.g. committee, herd, squadron) refer to groups of people or things.

2.  Pronouns -  when the identity of a person or thing has been understood, it is oftern inconvenient to repeat the noun. A pronoun can then be used in place of a noun (e.g. I, you, he, she, it, one, we, they, me, him, her, us, them, this, that, and the possessive pronouns: my, your, his, hers, its, one's, our, their).

3.   Verbs - words, used to express 'doing', 'being', 'having'. Verbs have:

a.  Tense  Verbs can refer to pastpresent or future time. (A good test of whether a word is a verb is to see whether it can have tense forms.)

b.  Number  Does it have a singular or plural subject?

c.  Voice  Is the subject of the verb carrying out, or suffering, the action? If the former, it is in the active voice; if the latter, it is in the passive voice.

NB  (1)  A verb can be transitive or intransitive. If it can be followed by an object, it is transitive, e.g. the boy threw the ball. If it cannot take an object, it is intransitive, e.g. the boy shouted. Intransitive verbs (e.g. come, go) cannot have a passive voice.

(2)  Many verbs are compound e.g. am striking, will be going, will have been completed. Compound verbs are made up of more than one word, but grammatically they are a single unit. The additional words are known as verbal auxiliaries.

4.  Adjectives - words used to describe a noun or pronoun, e.g:

a. The man is big.

b.  The big man.

c.  He is big.

5.  Adverbs - words used not only to describe verbs but also adjectives and other adverbs, e.g:

a.  He ran quickly.

b.  He ran in a very relaxed style.

c.  He ran really quickly.

NB.  Most adverbs are formed by adding '-ly' to the end of an adjective.

6.  Conjunctions - words that join together words or clauses.

a.  The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

b.  He ran up the hill, but then sat down.

c.  Because he was tired, he sat down.

d.  I shall go home when I feel tired.

NB  'And', 'but', 'or' and 'nor' are co-ordinating conjunctions that join together clauses intocompound sentences (e.g. example b. above). Other conjunctions are subordinatingconjunctions and introduce subordinate clauses within complex sentences (e.g. examples c. and d. above).

7.  Prepositions - words, usually short, which indicate the relationship of two things: e.g:

a.  The man was on the table.

b.  I have come from London.

NB  Prepositions often introduce short phrases: e.g. In the middle of the night.

8.  Interjections - exclamatory words, e.g. Oh!, Alas!, Hello!. They are always followed by an exclamation mark (!).

NOTE - It is not possible to include in the above categories (a) Verbal Adjectives; (b) Verbal Nouns; (c) Infinitives:

a.  Verbal Adjectives (or Participles) are formed from a verb, have the sense of action, etc, of a verb, but are grammatically adjectives. They are also often used to introduce phrases: e.g:

1.  Singing as he went, the ploughboy walked to market. ('Singing' is a present participle.)

2.  He died unlamented ('Unlamented' is a past participle.)

b.  Verbal Nouns (or Gerunds) are formed from a verb, have the sense of action, etc, of a verb, but are grammatically nouns, eg.

The girl's singing was beautiful.

c.  Infinitives are the root or basic form of a verb, and are another type of verbal noun, eg.

I prefer to walk.

                                                                                                                             

B.  SENTENCE CONSTRUCTION

1.  Definitions

a.  A sentence is a unit of words, containing at least one main clause. It is situated between two full-stops.

b.  A clause is a unit of words containing a finite verb.

(1)  A main clause contains the main verb and may be a sentence by itself. It must make sense as a separate unit of grammar (i.e. have a subject and predicate, or complete naming and telling parts).

(2)  A subordinate clause tells you more about something in the main clause. Anadjectival (subordinate) clause tells you more about a noun or pronoun. Anadverbial (subordinate) clause tells you about the main verb. A subordinate clause can never make grammatical sense by itself, and is always attached to a main clause.

c.  A phrase is a unit of words not containing a verb. It is usually introduced by either apreposition or a participle. Phrases can occur in either main or subordinate clauses, where they do the work of adjectives or adverbs. Like a subordinate clause, a phrase can never make sense on its own.

2.  Types of sentence

a.  Simple sentence - consisting of a main clause only, e.g. I ran down the road.

b.  Compound sentence - consisting of two or more main clauses, e.g. (1) I ran down the road, but then I collapsed. (2) I awoke, rushed out of the house, and then ran down the road. 

c.  Complex sentence - consisting of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses, e.g. When I awoke, I ran down the road, which was a mile long.

d.  Compound-complex sentence - consisting of more than one main clause plus any number of subordinate clauses, e.g. When I awoke, I ran down the road, which was a mile long, but then I collapsed because I had not had eaten breakfast.

NB. (1) One can always use short sentences to good effect, e.g. Then, I collapsed.

(2) Phrases can be inserted  in any of the above sentences, but without changing their type, e.g. a. Singing happily, I ran down the road. b. Without having had breakfast, I ran down the road. 

3.  Summary 

Sentence construction techniques provide the writer with the tools with which to join together his ideas. In an essay situation, the writer has the following options available within each sentence:

a.  Short sentences;

b.  Phrases introduced by prepositions or participles;

c.  Subordinate clauses introduced by subordinating conjunctions; and

d.  Co-ordinating conjunctions that join main clauses together in one sentence. 


4.  Considerations of style         

An attractive style of writing would produce variety by including all of these methods of connecting ideas. However, there are particular reasons for using each of these structural tools. Short sentences are useful to heighten drama or for the purpose of emphasis. Phrases are preferable to subordinate clauses where the latter would sound clumsy due to their length, but a subordinate clause is a more powerful means of expression than a phrase. Co-ordinating conjunctions are appropriate to join things which are not specifically related to each other in any particular way, but, where such a relation is present (e.g. time, cause, result, purpose, condition, concession), it is preferable to employ a subordinate clause.               


                                                                                                                  


C.  PUNCTUATION OF SENTENCES


1.  Full-stops.

Full-stops are used to complete sentences, unless a question or exclamation mark is more appropriate.

2.  Commas.

The main purpose of commas is to analyse sentences into their component parts. The following observations are relevant in this context:

a.  It is not always necessary to insert commas for this purpose in the case of short sentences, e.g. I ran down the road and then stopped. However, commas should always be employed in long sentences, and/or where confusion might otherwise occur, e.g. Once midnight had struck, Sir Toby always maintained that he was up early, not late. 

b.  It is usual to separate a main clause from a subordinate clause with a comma when the subordinate clause comes first, e.g. Because he needed the money, the man slipped the petty cash into his pocket, but it is not necessary to do so when the main clause comes first, e.g. The man slipped the money into his pocket because he needed the money. N.B. The former sentence emphasises the cause more than the latter. 

c.  As commas create a slight pause in a sentence, they provide emphasis, eg. He reached the tape first but, because he was exhausted, he fainted immediately afterwards. N.B. If you have one comma with the 'because' clause, you must have another. The rule is either two commas or none. If the two commas had been omitted there would have been less emphasis on the cause of the fainting.

d.  In the case of adjectival clauses, commas are used when the clause adds information but is not necessary to distinguish the noun it describes, e.g. He ran down the road, which was a mile long. Where the adjectival clause is essential in distinguishing the noun it describes a comma should not be used, e.g. Of the two routes available to him, he ran down the one which was pointing towards Norwich. N.B. If any difficulty is experienced in determining whether the comma is needed or not, it is always possible to exchange the word 'that' for 'which' when the comma is not appropriate, but such an exchange is not possible when the information added by the adjectival clause is incidental and the comma is needed.

3.  Semi-colons.

It is possible to use semi-colons to separate parallel expressions that would normally be separated by commas with a co-ordinating conjunction, e.g. 'In the morning it was too cool for him to sit outside without his coat; in the afternoon it was too hot for him to be able to sit outside at all.' The semi-colon is also commonly used to divide items in a list introduced by a colon (see 4 below). In general, however, the use of semi-colons is an obsolete practice and it is preferable to avoid it.

4.  Colons.

The employment of the colon as a punctuation stop, so common in the King James' Bible, is now completely obsolete and it should not now be used in this way. Its incidence is now largely confined to its use at the beginning of a list of items, e.g. 'The headmaster decided that in future corporal punishment of pupils would be employed only in the following circumstances: insolence, including the use of foul language, directed towards members of staff; serious instances of bullying of other pupils; and bringing the school's name into disrepute by abusive behaviour towards members of the public on the way to and from school, or on school trips.' Notice the use of semi-colons to separate the items in the list of offences. 

5.  Question Marks.


It is important to remember to end a question with a question mark. A question mark is grammatically necessary even when the words used seem more like a request, e.g. 'Will you please stand back?' On the other hand a question mark must not be used when the question is in reported speech, e.g. 'Ask him who said that.'


                                                                                                                                 

D.  PUNCTUATION OF DIALOGUE

Dialogue can be punctuated in four ways:

Type A:  The boy said, "Cricket is my favourite sport".

Type B:  "Cricket is my favourite sport," said the boy.

Type C:  "Cricket is my favourite sport," said the boy, "because it requires so much thought as well as skill".

Type D:  "Cricket is my favourite sport," said the boy. "It is a pity that some people don't enjoy it."

NB.  The actual spoken words (quotation) are always in inverted commas. The rest of the sentence is called the explanation.

Notice the following points:

1.  There is always a comma between the explanation and the quotation, and the quotation, or both parts of the quotation, where the explanation is inserted between them, always begins with a capital letter. 

2.  In Type D, two sentences are required because the actual spoke words would have been spoken in two sentences.

3.  The full-stop at the end of Types A and C falls after the inverted comma, because the sentence which it ends includes the explanation as well as the quotation. The full-stop at the the end of Type D falls before the inverted  comma, because the sentence which it ends is all within the quotation, i.e. the inverted commas.

Question and exclamation marks have the force of commas or full-stops - whichever is appropriate.

Examples:

a.  "I love cricket!" said the boy. (Comma)

b.  "Do you love cricket too?" asked the boy. (Comma)

c.  The boy said, "I love cricket!" (Full-stop)

d.  The boy asked, "Do you love cricket too?" (Full-stop)

If a new paragraph is begun in a piece of dialogue or direct speech, it is customary to renew the inverted commas at the beginning of the new paragraph. Whenever a new speaker speaks, there is always a new paragraph.



                                                                                                                        


E.  USE OF APOSTROPHES

1)  Apostrophes ( ' ) are used to show possession. To indicate possession the name of the possessor is followed by 'apostrophe s'. When the name of the person or thing that is in possession ends in an 's', the 's' after the apostrophe is left out if that word is plural and may be left out if it is singular.

Examples:

a.  The boy's room.  (The room of the boy.)

b.  The boys' room.  (The room of the boys.)

c.  The man's room.  (The room of the man.)

d.  The men's room.  (The room of the men.)

e.  James' room.  (The room of James.)
             or 
f.  James's room.  (The room of James.)

NB.  The apostrophe is never used with the possessive pronouns 'his' or 'its', but is used with the impersonal 'one's'.

2)  Apostrophes are also used to indicate contraction (i.e. letters left out), usually in the punctuation of dialogue. The apostrophe is put in the place where a letter or letters have been omitted.

Examples:

I'll  (I shall not.)
You'll  (You will not.)
He'll  (He will not.)
She's  (She is.)
It's  (It is.)
Isn't.  (Is not.)
Don't.  (Do not.)
Can't.  (Cannot.)
Won't.  (Will not.)
Shouldn't  (Should not.)



                                                                                                                      


F.  PARAGRAPHS IN ESSAY WRITING.


1.  The paragraph is the unit of the essay.

a.  A paragraph consists of a number of sentences arranged in order to form one unit dealing with one topic.

b.  The main thought in a paragraph is expressed in the topic or key sentence. It should be easy to find the main thought in a well-written paragraph, and to express that thought in a title.

c.  The sentences in a paragraph should follow one another in logical order, and should vary in length and structure. The result will be an attractive style.

2.  Paragraphs develop the essay.

a.  When paragraphs are combined to form an essay, the clear, logical development from one paragraph to another is if great importance.

b.  In a narrative essay, the opening paragraph sparks off the action. In a descriptive essay, the opening paragraph draws the outline of the scene. In an explanatory essay, the opening paragraph sets out the first stage in the explanation. The paragraphs that follow must then continue the sequence, each serving as a link between the preceding paragraph and the subsequent one until the final paragraph is reached. The final paragraph brings the essay to a logical or definite conclusion.

c.  The first sentence in a paragraph should make clear to the reader the position of that paragraph in the sequence of the essay as a whole. This sentence will be the topic sentence and will act as a guide-post to the rest of the paragraph.



                                                                                                                           


G.  "O" LEVEL ENGLISH LANGUAGE COMPREHENSION NOTES

A.  Comprehension Technique.

1. Comprehension means understanding of the passage set. Your task is to demonstrate such an understanding, and you should not include anything else.

2.  You must be relevant. Make sure that you answer the question directly.

3.  Be straightforward and concise.

4.  Be grammatical. Write in sentences unless directed otherwise.

5.  Write answers in your own phraseology.

6.  If you quote a word or short phrase from the passage, use quotation marks.


B.  Summary (or Precis) Writing.

1.  Read through the part of the passage in question and jot down very briefly in rough the points relevant to the particular topic. Separate these points by dashes or hyphens.

2.  From your notes and as far as possible without looking at the original write a rough draft of the summary in your own words. This does not mean that you must avoid using words that you would naturally use just because they are in the original, but it does mean that you should not lift 'parrot-fashion' from the passage.

3.  Count the number of lines/ words.

4.  If you have used too many words you may be able to rephrase parts of your summary more economically; but do not try to make do with fewer words than you need to express yourself adequately, for it is much better to omit some less important idea than not to be clear. If you have words to spare, they might be used to link the ideas more clearly or to include some points previously omitted.

NB.

(1)  Direct speech should always be converted to reported speech.

(2)  Writing expressed in the first person should be recast in the third person.

(3)  Decide on a title and then place it at the top.




                                                                                                                                      
                        
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