How can you learn to be good at underlining or jotting down Useful Language? Many roads lead to Rome.
Here I’ll give you some examples of what to select if we wish to improve in our use of specific grammar items.
Improving our use of Noun Phrases (NPs)
A phrase is a sintagma, words we group together in a box or see as a box when we try to create boxes to identify the elements in a sentence.
I love language learning: three boxes: I (NP consisting of a noun, somebody), love (VP consisting of a verb, indicating the subject is doing/being/feeling something), language learning (NP, replaceable with “it/this/that”, I love it/this/that!).
A NP can consist of a single word, a pronoun or a noun; or several words, organized around the HEAD, the heart of the NP. The noun (the head) can be premodified and postmodified. Before the head we typically have nouns and adjectives, with or without determiners for the noun (a, the, this, those). After the head we typically have prepositional phrases and relative clauses. But we can have more language items, yes! Let’s just start with these more typical ones.
In our previous example, “language learning”, the head is “learning”.
NPs in academic writing (and also in headlines but for reasons of economy) pack a lot of information, and they’re very useful in descriptions (help you visualize what is described) and explanations (they help you follow the process for their accuracy), both literary and scientific.
NPs point to a skilled command in the use of the foreign language, so it’s interesting to learn to identify them and underline them when we read, so we can jot them down in our list of Useful Language, for future uses in writing and speaking assignments.
Building a NP
A chocolate cake (h: cake, premodified by a noun operating like an adjective: chocolate; and a determiner, “A” + something).
A delicious two-layered chocolate cake!
Here the “a” + something (head) is more complex: we have “chocolate” as the closest to the cake’s heart word! preceded by another modifier, in this case a compoud adjective, two-layered, which is descriptive of something objective, and finally accompanied by another adjective, “delicious”, which is a subjective assessment of the cake. As you can see the structure in this NP is not a list of items we just add randomly, it’s organized hierarchically. We cannot say A chocolate cake delicious two-layered. We can say A chocolate cake with two layers which is delicious! Is this an NP too? What’s the difference?
Start trying to group things in boxes and let’s discuss it later.
The delicious two-layered chocolate cake we had yesterday for dessert in mum’s garden under the apple tree!
The delicious two-layered chocolate cake we had yesterday for dessert in mum’s garden under the apple tree was made by my old nanny.
The piece of chocolate cake sitting at the back of the blue kitchen cupboard has disappeared! (S + V: Something happened)
We found a white sandy beach on the east side of the hut where she lives.
See my notes on UL from Reading, for instance, from The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington.
Reviewing: noun phrases, order of adjectives as modifiers, determiners, possessive ‘s, prepositional phrases, relative clauses; syntax (boxes)
Useful Language! As you read, start a list of UL that helps you make your language range richer when it comes to using NPs!