If you’re like me, you grew up watching cartoons filled with fun colors, wacky characters, and musical numbers that had no business being so good.
One surprisingly musically gifted example is Schoolhouse Rock!. Despite its outdated animation and goofy drawing-style, Schoolhouse Rock! stands up to the test of time. The songs are still catchy, and, if you’re struggling with identifying the function of the different parts of speech, look no further than its second edition, “Grammar Rock,” for an engaging learning tool.
As someone who remembers these songs and feels deep nostalgia when listening to them, I have unnecessarily strong opinions over which songs are the best (both in terms of enjoyableness and usefulness as an education tool). Read on for the 4-1-1 on all 9 “Grammar Rock” songs.
Song 1: “A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing”
“A Noun Is a Person, Place, or Thing” is a bouncy tune that features a little girl encountering various nouns across shifting settings. Whenever the chorus plays, the background switches to a TV background to review all the nouns she’s come across.
My rating:three out of five people, places, or things. Like its subject, this song is fine enough—it gets the job done and concretizes the abstract concept of a noun. The chorus can be a bit repetitive, though, which is why it is one of the forgettable songs of this bunch.
Song 2: “Verb: That’s What’s Happening”
This song features a little kid who goes to the movie theater and encounters “Verb!” the superhero (see the image above). As the concept of verbs suggests, the song is fast-paced and full of action.
My rating:four out of five nouns being “bent.” This song is engaging, beautifully sung, and provides ample examples of verbs in-context (and how to transform nouns into verbs). It ends with a mother-son hug when the boy returns home, and the scene is adorable. However, the lyrics only really explain one type of verb, meaning that there is room for improvement on the usefulness-as-a-tool front.
Song 3: “Conjunction Junction”
If you remember one song from Schoolhouse Rock!, it is likely this song, which depicts a stout railroad conductor using coordinating conjunctions to link railroad cars.
My rating:five out of five trains on a track. This song lives up to the hype. Out of all the “Grammar Rock” songs, “Conjunction Junction” provides the best visual symbolism of the function of its part of speech. Also it’s a certifiable bop.
Song 4: “Interjections!”
“Interjections!” takes its audience through three different storylines, all revolving around a dramatic chorus, and it’s chock full of zany interjections throughout each.
My rating: three out of fiveheys! This song is loud and bold, symbolic of its subject’s energetic nature. It’s also very catchy, but the repetitive chorus can be a bit grating, particularly so because of all the shouting. [Also, the second storyline has the “nice guy” trope who gets the girl (to use an interjection—gross!), but the third storyline has a delightfully nerdy character who shouts “hooray! I’m for the other team” (I’ll let you interpret that for yourself), so the storylines kind of balance each other out.] In terms of the song’s use as a resource, it explains how interjections function in a sentence including what purpose they serve, but, after watching, you might still be a little unsure what an interjection actually is, so this may not be the best study-tool if you find yourself having to define interjections.
Song 5: “Unpack Your Adjectives”
“Unpack Your Adjectives” stars a little girl describing a camping trip to friends. With floaty flute music and a small deep-voiced accompanying her, she uses adjectives to lead her friends through her journey.
My rating:five out of five big ugly bears. Full disclosure: this song is my favorite on this list. It clearly explains the adjectives’ function through a cute story, providing tons of examples of adjectives along the way. The little girl with the giant pack full of adjectives and her turtle friend make me smile. I love Blossom Dearie’s soft, jazzy voice for the little main character. I love the floating flute notes scattered throughout the background music. Although unconventional, I love the break in the song where the character starts to directly explain how to make adjectives out of other parts of speech. (Also the little bit where the girl grows taller and taller until she stops on the small boy is wonderful.) Because it’s about adjectives, the accompanying video is full of fun descriptions and vivid images. I can understand why “Unpack Your Adjectives” is not everyone’s favorite, but it will always hold a special space in my heart.
Song 6: “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here”
In this song, the Lolly family owns a shop that sells adverbs. They run around the shop, explaining the function of adverbs. The accompanying video reads like an advertisement for the “Lolly” shop.
My rating:four out of five ly-innators. This song is delightfully catchy and upbeat, albeit a bit odd at times because the singers are directly addressing the audience. (At one point, the little boy interjects, “Hi! Suppose you’re going nut-gathering” with very little context.) From a learning perspective, the song excels; it clearly explains what adverbs are, their purpose, and what kinds of questions they answer. As adverbs are something students often struggle with, it could serve as a helpful tool.
Song 7: “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla”
The titular character of Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla wanders through the jungle with his sister and various animals as the song’s narrator, Albert Andreas Armadillo, explains how much easier the story can be told through the help of pronouns.
My rating:two out of five aardvarks. To be honest, when I started to review “Grammar Rock” for this blog post, I discovered that had completely forgotten about this song. While the piano melody and the pulsing beat of the song are catchy enough, in demonstrating how time-consuming it is to speak using no pronouns, the song becomes repetitive and a bit irritable. However, from a learning perspective, it would be a useful resource for people who don’t understand what pronouns do. (And I can’t deny that many people who complain about the use of pronouns could probably use a refresher on what they actually are.)
Song 8: “Busy Prepositions”
This song depicts prepositions as construction ants on the march. Through the visuals, the prepositions within the words of the song are highlighted, often through a different color from the rest of the words.
My rating:one out of five busy “p’s.” While certainly not the worst song I’ve heard, it has several flaws. The song is a bit confusing because it uses different musical atmospheres throughout. Additionally, it has no repeated chorus to help the listener follow along or remember the information about prepositions. Even worse, prepositions are a part of speech that often confuse people, and this song could leave some questions on what prepositions are and what their specific purpose is (especially as compared to conjunctions).
Song 9: “The Tale of Mr. Morton”
Arguably, this “Grammar Rock” song is the one that has the clearest storyline. The narrator describes the actions Mr. Morton, the lonely cat-owner, takes in his courting of Pearl. This song’s goal is to teach its listeners about the difference between basic subjects and predicates.
My rating:four out of five kid-chasing-neighbors. This song features fun and catchy repetition and rhyme because the narrator repeats phrases to separate the subject from the predicate, and he uses the same tense of verbs to do so. The characters, including the cat, have a sense of life to them. (You gotta love seeing Pearl breaking gender norms by proposing herself. A true feminist icon.) In regards to its helpfulness for English students, “The Tale of Mr. Morton” provides an explanation of the difference between subjects and predicates, which, while not perfect, could serve as a good basic reminder.
And that’s a wrap on rating the songs of “Grammar Rock.” Hopefully this small reminder of Schoolhouse Rock! will give you a new study tool or two as you prepare for finals. The next time you’re confused about parts of speech, be sure to check out a song or two (especially “Unpack Your Adjectives”). All the Schoolhouse Rock! collection can be found on YouTube for free.
Danielle | 2022
Interrobang: Is it even real ‽
While everyone’s heard of a period, question mark, and interrogation point, a lot fewer people have heard of their newest member: the interrobang. The interrobang is defined as “a punctuation mark designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question” (Merriam-Webster). The interrobang is officially symbolized by ‽. However, since most keyboards do not have this specific key, it is also unofficially represented as ?! Or !?.
The interrobang was invented by Martin K. Speckter, an advertising executive, in 1962. He thought of it as “the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders…when a writer wished to convey incredulity” (qtd in Martin K. Speckter). However, the meaning of this punctuation evolved over time. Rather than just a grimace or shrug, it is now used to show surprise and question. Quite literally, it became a mix of an exclamation point and a question mark. Sentences where an author may write ?! or !? can end with ‽. Some sentence examples are:
You did what ‽
Are you sure ‽
Why did the interrobang fall out of public use?
It is not an officially recognized punctuation mark- so use at your own discretion. A big point to consider is its relationship with modern keyboards and typewriters when thinking about its history. Was it not included because it was not widely used or was it not widely used because it was not included? The world may never know. Given the limited space available, it was more economical to include the exclamation point and question mark due to their prominence and simply use both of them when the situation calls for it instead of including a third key that was not as popular. Thus, the interrobang was lost and largely forgotten by the world.
While you think that you leave metaphors restricted within the four walls of your English classroom, you might be surprised by how often metaphorical language slips into your speech.
This phenomenon happens regularly through what linguists call conceptual metaphors. The Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) claims that metaphorical language is abundant in the everyday speech of native speakers, and said metaphorical language affects our thoughts and behaviors as well as our speech patterns (Rasse et al. 311). Our use of conceptual metaphors is often done unconsciously, and conceptual metaphors are, by nature, indirect. Instead of calling one concept another, in conceptual metaphors, a source domain is mapped onto a target domain. In other words, as language related to one concrete concept (source domain) is applied to the other, more abstract concept (target domain), the two things are indirectly compared.
There are several major conceptual metaphors that manifest in the English language with native speakers:
One example of a conceptual metaphors that we often use is TIME IS MONEY. We often talk about time as if it’s something tangible, something that can be owned or lost. We spend time, we waste time, we invest time (Perdawdy, slide 24). All of these verbs directly relate to money (the source domain), but, in those contexts, they have been applied to the abstract concept of time (the target domain). This conceptual metaphor has many implications for how we view time as a society.
We often equate money and time management through the TIME IS MONEY conceptual metaphor, and this connection has important ramifications for our societal beliefs about time. (Image by tskirde via Pixabay.)
Another common conceptual metaphor is LOVE IS A JOURNEY. We often speak about relationships, particularly romantic relationships, as they will arrive at a destination or as if they are constantly in motion. We say things like, “this relationship has gone off track,” or, “look how far we’ve come,” or, “we’re at a crossroads in our relationship” (Perdawdy, slide 19). In this metaphor, the characteristics of the concrete concept of a journey (source domain) are applied to the more abstract concept of a romantic relationship (target domain).
There are many other examples of common conceptual metaphors: THE MIND IS A MACHINE (“I can see the gears turning in your head”), GOOD IS UP and BAD IS DOWN (feeling “up” and feeling “down”), ARGUMENT IS WAR (“she defended her claim”), IDEAS ARE FOOD (“food for thought,” half-baked idea,” “raw data,” etc.), and more (Peradawdy, slides 28, 31, 18, & 20).
The next time you have a conversation, try to keep track of how often you use metaphorical language. It probably happens more often than you’d think.
Rasse, Carina et al. “Conceptual Metaphors in Poetry Interpretation: A Psycholinguistic Approach.” Language and Cognition, vol. 12, no. 2, Cambridge University Press, 28, Feb. 2020, pp. 310-342. Google Scholar, doi:10.1017/langcog.2019.47.
Danielle | 2022
Commas: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Them (and Some Things You Didn’t)
Commas are probably the second most feared punctuation mark in the English language, right next to the semicolon. There are lots of myths floating around about when you should and should not use commas. We’re here to set the record straight. Whenever you have a question concerning whether or not you should use a comma, just come on back to this blog post. You’re sure to find the answer.
First, let’s talk about the biggest myth in the entirety of comma lore.
Commas do NOT get put where you feel that there should be a pause. No. Wrong. Stop.
Believe me; if a sentence “sounds like” it should have a pause, most fluent speakers/readers will put one there, even without the comma. Commas serve a much more grand purpose.
Commas can be imperative to give the sentence meaning and nuance. Here are ten simple rules to help you master the comma:
Two Independent Clauses With a Coordinating Conjunction
Let’s break that down. An independent clause is essentially a handful of words that could stand alone as a sentence. That means that they have a SUBJECT and a PREDICATE. Here are some examples:
I wrote a blog.
The blog is helpful.
Everyone should read my blog.
Now, you can combine independent clauses (sentences) if they are closely related. We do this all the time, and they are commonly referred to as compound sentences. THAT’S what we’re talking about when we say two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction.
But, what’s a coordinating conjunction?
Answer: FAN BOYS
Explanation: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. FAN BOYS.
Fan boys are those little words that we use ALL THE TIME. They group things together (like clauses). Here are some examples:
I wrote the blog, and it is helpful.
Everyone should read my blog, so I shared it on Facebook.
Everyone read my blog, but now everyone thinks I’m a nerd.
As you can see, whenever we used one of those coordinating conjunctions, we have to have one of those commas there.
One more thing.
Look at a sentence like this:
I wrote the blog, and I shared it, and now everyone hates it, so I tried to delete it, but I caught my computer on fire instead.
This is also a problem. This is a RUN-ON sentence. Even though it has all of the appropriate commas, compound generally only allow for two sentences being combined at a time with commas and conjunctions. Just break it up.
One down! Let’s keep going.
Two Independent Clauses WITHOUT a Coordinating Conjunction
This is actually a time when you do NOT use a comma. We’ve already looked at what independent clauses and conjunctions are, so let’s move right into an example sentence:
I keep running out of example sentences, I should look some up on the Internet.
This looks deceptively correct. However, there is NO conjunction (FANBOY).
This is where the most feared punctuation mark comes in: the SEMICOLON. Whenever you have to independent clauses (complete sentences) stuck together without a conjunction, use a semicolon like so:
I know how to use semicolons now; I fear them no longer.
That was easy. On to rule three!
Introductory Adverbial Phrases (IAPs)
Disclaimer: I don’t know if this is the technical term or not (and I don’t exactly care), but it’s a good term, so I’m going to use it.
Let’s break it down. A phrase is like a clause, but it doesn’t have the SUBJECT and a VERB, it just has one or the other, and it certainly could not stand alone as its own sentence. Here are some examples:
In the morning
Despite being a master in all things grammar
As you can see, IAPs can be as small as a single word or quite wordy.
IAPs occur at the beginning of a sentence. (That’s why they’re called introductory.)
Earlier, we talked about SUBJECT and PREDICATE. Technically, IAPs are part of the PREDICATE (the second half of the sentence). This is because IAPs act as adverbs (hence, adverbial); adverbs describe verbs, which are the fundamental parts of PREDICATES.
Because the IAP is separated from the PREDICATE, you need to have a comma after it. It helps the reader to see that it is not a part of the subject and can avoid troublesome confusion. Here are some examples:
Before writing, I also do fifty pushups.
Unfortunately, I cannot actually do fifty pushups.
Here’s an example of how not having that comma can cause confusion:
After walking the dog sat down.
“Walking the dog” is a common phrase. However, that’s not how those words are being used in this sentence. There wasn’t someone walking the dog; the dog was walking and then sat down. It should look like this:
After walking, the dog sat down.
Any questions? Good. Let’s move on.
We’ve mentioned clauses before. They have SUBJECTS and PREDICATES. They can stand alone as independent clauses.
So what makes a clause dependent?
Dependent clauses are things that could stand alone as complete sentences, but they have a word or two in the beginning that makes them unable to do so. Here are some examples; notice how they could stand alone with the first word(s):
Although I do like writing
Before I finish these examples
Even though this is the last example
Just like IAPs, these dependent clauses act adverbially and are technically part of the PREDICATE. Ergo, they must have a comma before them for the same reason as IAP.
Easy enough, right? Right. Onward.
This is the second rule where you do not need a comma. As we’ve mentioned quite a few times before, sentences have SUBJECTS and PREDICATES. In a circumstance where you have a compound predicate, you have a sentence with one SUBJECT performing two actions (two PREDICATES, if you will). Here are some examples:
I wrote this blog and quit my job.
I realized what a stupid idea that was and begged Josh for my job back.
Josh was wonderful and gave me my job back.
Notice how each sentence could be separated into two sentences, like so:
I wrote this blog. I quit my job.
And so on.
Because there is no new subject for the second action, you don’t put a comma after the coordinating conjunction like you normally would.
But there’s always a catch…
If you restate the subject, then you have to have a comma (even though technically it’s still the same subject). Here’s an example of that:
I wrote this blog, and I quit my job.
Series (The Oxford Comma)
One of the most violently heated debates in English communities (and the eponymous title of a great Vampire Weekend song) is the use of the Oxford Comma.
The Oxford Comma is the last comma in a series of things. For example:
There nice commas, mean commas, and Oxford Commas
I need butter, milk, and eggs.
I need another list that is easy, fast, and uses an Oxford Comma.
Now, the gradual decline of the Oxford Comma is often traced back to publication companies saving a few cents (and page space) for everything they printed (which added up). It was considered “irrelevant”.
They are wrong.
Courtesy of jfkandstalin.wordpress.com
Without the comma, it’s hard to tell whether or not the last two items are independent of them selves (items in the list), or an appositive for the item before the last comma. Here’s an example:
Get it? Without the Oxford Comma, you can’t tell if JFK and Stalin are two more things, or just more information about the first thing (strippers).
Two more. Let’s go. I’m going to lump the last two together because they are so closely related.
Nonrestrictive Modifying Phrases/Appositives
Restrictive Modifying Phrases/Appositives
More random English words. Let’s break it down.
Modifying phrases and appositives are words (or just a single word) that provide additional information about the subject. Modifying phrases are adjectival (describing how it is), and appositives are nominal (describing what it is). Here are some examples with the modifying phrase/appositive bolded:
My mastiff, Percee, weights more than I do. (A)
My mastiff, which weights more than I do, tried to sit on me. (MP)
The book lying on the table is my favorite book. (MP)
Rowling’s book The Sorcerer’s Stoneis the first book in the series. (A)
A keen observer will have noticed that one of the appositives and modifying phrases were highlighted, and one of each was not. Here’s why:
If the appositive or modifying phrase is information that influences your interpretation of the sentence, DO NOT use commas. If the appositive or modifying phrase is extra information, DO use commas. Let’s look at the previous examples.
I only have one mastiff. Therefore, I cannot be referring to any other mastiff other than Percee (who actually does weigh more than I do). Therefore, it’s in commas.
Once again, I only have one mastiff. It needs no more explanation.
“The book” is vague. There is more than one “book” in the universe. I need to restrict my definition of “the book” to mean precisely the book that is on the table.
Again, Rowling has written way more than one book. I want to know specifically which
Basically, if you can take out the appositive/modifying phrase, and the reader would still know EXACTLY what you’re referring to, surround it in commas.
That’s it! You’re free!
See, that wasn’t so bad.
There are a few minor rules that you should know as well, like always putting commas after proper locations or in a “this, not that” style sentence. Also, always use commas when you describe something with more than one adjective (the tall, slender writer). Oh yeah, and if someone is a Jr. or Sr., put a comma after their name and before the Jr./Sr. (John Doe, Jr.). Don’t forget to also put commas at the end of quotes.
Now, you too can be a Comma Master!
–Tyler, peer tutor
5 Songs to Listen to While You Write
I find that listening to music helps me when writing papers, as it gets me energized and activates my brain, forcing me into motion. However, there is a lot of debate among researchers as to the effectiveness of listening to music while working (USA Today online). It is widely accepted by researchers that music without lyrics is more beneficial than music with lyrics, however, I enjoy listening to a balance of both. Hence, I set out to create a playlist of 5 songs that will inspire you while writing that next essay, poem, or term paper.
To prove the effectiveness of each song in fostering the process of writing, I wrote my descriptions and defense of each while listening to the very tune I was describing. I hope you take a listen and enjoy!
Picked as the first song for this beautiful introduction and immediate pick-me-up, this should awaken you from the creative hibernation that has prevented you from writing your next masterpiece. Understand that lyrics can distract from writing, so this instrumental should provide the perfect backdrop for your initial brainstorming and outpour of creativity. Both chill and energetic, Boeboe inspires your fingers to fly on the keypad, crafting eloquent phrases and ideas that will provide a solid foundation for your work. Just like your favorite pair of jeans, you can always build off this classic “Denim.” This song just inspired that intelligent quip, imagine the wonders it will do to get you writing!
Mac wastes no time in getting started, and neither will you when listening to his beautiful croon and classic guitar. The album of the same title as this song also provides a great backdrop for writing. As very easy listening, Mac keeps you in the groove and you start to vibe, both with the music and the writing. Lalalalalalalalalala ooooooo… At this point, words drift out of your consciousness onto the page effortlessly. Now, the music begins to push you to higher spheres of creation…
An old-school hip-hop song like this maintains the easy vibe of Mac Demarco, while pushing you deeper into the writing process. Doctor Beck will “take you higher than a skyscraper,” as you can’t help but produce material with the ease and precision of his flow. The classic beat and Becket’s lyricism are both relaxing and inspiring. Sooner than you know it, you’ve completed much of the writing you set out to do. The Doctor’s words don’t distract you, and his clinical flow is reflected in your work.
Keeping the hip-hop vibes going with some quintessential J Dilla is a must. Widely considered one of the greatest producers of all time, this instrumental probably influenced great works such as the Sistine Chapel and Mona Lisa in another life. It is such a shame that J Dilla passed at the young age of 32, but his music continues to inspire to this day. It isn’t hard to feel the passion and creativity of Dilla through the beat. The instrumental also provides a break from the lyrics of the last two songs, clearing the mind as you begin to refine your writing and hone your creation. Ideas and thoughts are clear in your mind, as you set out to perfect the details of your creation.
Now this whole writing deal is effortless fun. Nick Drake’s voice sounds off in your head, but to be honest, the words you have molded hold more value than what he sings of, and your mind understands this. You start to play with your writing, sprucing it up with fanciful adjectives and stylistic sentence structures. The play of the piano and guitar provide an upbeat backdrop for the finalization of your creation. The pleasure brought by a perfect product is unmatched. You sit back in awe of the incredible capacity for writing that you demonstrated, inspired by the music and voice of such diverse artists.
Castillo Y Tickell, Sofia. “Should You Listen to Music While You Study?” USA Today College. USA Today, 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.
Tips for Non-Native speakers
English is a language of idiosyncrasies, a Germanic language with Latin grammar rules forced upon it (thanks to its French influence in the early Medieval era.) Even native speakers themselves can only master so much of what is considered Standard English and the various contradictory rules with its use.
As a tutor in the Writing Center, I see some common errors with non-native speakers. Here are some tips for the errors I see:
Subject/verb agreement: the subject of a sentence can be singular or plural, and the verb must match accordingly (this is referred to grammatically as “number.”) For instance:
The dog [singular noun] plays [singular verb] in the yard.
The dogs [plural noun] play [plural verb] in the yard.
If your native language also has nouns and verbs reflect number, try connecting English examples to ones in your mother language. For example, Spanish:
La mujer baila. Mujer is singular, as is baila. Las mujeres bailan. Because mujeres is plural, so is the verb, bailan.
The best trick for memorizing this is repetition. Practice makes perfect: it’s a cliché for a reason.
Other verb forms: When the verb of a sentence is more than two words, I often see a lack of necessary inflection (inflection in English is a suffix which indicates various grammatical aspects of a verb, from tense [present, future, etc] to mood [indicative or subjunctive], to the as previously mentioned number [singular or plural.]) When using the passive voice, the verb of the sentence will be the conjugated form of to be + the main verb stem + the inflection of the past participle. For regular verbs, this will end in –ed. For instance:
The ball was kicked by me.
I often find non-native speakers drop the inflection and write “The ball is kick by me.”
Incorrect: The film is see by me.
Correct: The film is seen by me. (The verb ‘see’ does not follow the regular convention of –ed endings.)
Incorrect: The speech will be hear by the McDaniel community.
Correct: The speech will be heard by the McDaniel community.
Incorrect: The food from Glar was eat by unhappy students.
Correct: The food from Glar was eaten by unhappy students.
Spelling errors: Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for English spelling. Even the ubiquitous “I before E except after C, or when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh” has more words that don’t follow the rules than those that do. Weird.
Use a dictionary when writing a word in an essay you are unlikely to use often. With words that you use often, but find yourself consistently tripping up, practice is the key to eventual learning and memorization. Write the word correctly down over and over and over again until it sticks in your head. Say it phonetically in your mind whenever you write it, to help memorize the letters.
Being multilingual is admirable. Languages are so complex and fascinating, I always find myself wanting to learn more. There is no shame in making mistakes in a second or third (or fourth, or fifth, etc.) language – or even a mother tongue. Mistakes happen. Hopefully the Writing Center can help!