Vocab for Great Books

The practice exercises found in The Mother Tongue: Adapted for Modern Students are nearly all from works of classic literature or great writers of previous centuries. I love that my kids are learning grammar not with contrived sentences, but with rich language from some of the best English writers.

This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory.

This, for instance, is found in chapter 44 in an exercise on identifying predicate nominatives and direct objects. (In case you were wondering, promontory is the predicate nominative.) The source of the sentence? William Shakespeare. This sentence is taken from a longer line spoken by Hamlet (bold added):

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.


If you look up this passage over at No Fear Shakespeare, they offer their interpretation (bold added):

Recently, though I don’t know why, I’ve lost all sense of fun, stopped exercising—the whole world feels sterile and empty. This beautiful canopy we call the sky—this majestic roof decorated with golden sunlight—why, it’s nothing more to me than disease-filled air.

This makes me chuckle. Reading Shakespeare is no fun at all if you have to reach for the modern English translation.

Sadly, the English most of us use and read in our daily lives (mostly blog posts or articles online, right?) does not tune our ear to the English of the Great Books. We are increasingly cut off from our rich heritage because we lack the vocabulary and ear for the old-style use of clauses and phrases. Studying grammar with the language of great writers as practice will help correct this problem and prepare kids to read and enjoy Great Books.

The practice sentences in Mother Tongue will stretch one’s vocabulary. Not to say that all the practice sentences are out of reach. Consider this sentence, from chapter 30, “Analysis: Phrases as Modifiers”:

Our coach rattled out of the city.

This easy sentence was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his short story “David Swan.” Most students won’t have trouble identifying the prepositional phrase as adverbial by the time they get to chapter 30.

If you’d like to see more practice exercise sentences, be sure to click on the sample page and download a PDF sample. The answer key (on which we are working furiously to finish and release) will cite as many of the sentences as possible. Kittredge and Arnold’s original book does not give the source of the sentences, but we’ve tracked most of them down.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s