Today I sat down with my sixth grade son to work on his grammar lesson. He is working on The Mother Tongue: Adapted for Modern Students chapter 15, “Vocative.”
Vocatives are nouns of direct address. We name them vocatives because of the Latin word vocare, which means to call. The vocative can be confusing for students initially, particularly when found in imperative sentences. In a command, the vocative can seem to be the subject of the sentence and students forget to look for the implied subject you.
After reading the lesson, my son and I turned to the workbook exercises. In part one, he was asked to fill in the blanks with vocatives. He looked up at me with a big smile, “I’ll just put ‘John’ in all the blanks!” Hmmm. Maybe in the second edition we need to add to the instructions,
“Note: You cannot use the same vocative for all ten sentences!”
Soon, however, my son realized his idea was impractical. Like all Mother Tongue exercises, the sentences in Chapter 15, Exercise I, press you to think more deeply. What vocative makes sense for each sentence? It just doesn’t work to fill in the blank with “John” when the sentence reads,
“What is your name, _____?”
But my favorite sentence in this exercise comes from a well-known poem.
” ________, spare that tree.”
I soon discovered that this poem wasn’t so well-known to my sixth grader! I challenged him to think about what sort of person one might beg to save a tree. To my delight, he immediately lit up and said, “Woodman!” (He doesn’t remember the poem, but I’m guessing it must be buried deep within him.)
The Mother Tongue Student Workbook 1 Answer Key cites the poem and author, George Pope Morris, which in this case is named for its first line:
Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I’ll protect it now.
‘T was my forefather’s hand
That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not.
You can read the full poem here.
I’ll leave you with my son’s choice of vocative for sentence 6:
Don’t disappoint me, Superman. I trust you absolutely.