Grammar Wednesday

Every year, in every class, I do a lesson on the First Amendment. I’m just geeky enough that I can write the thing out by heart on the board.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I am.

Anyway, I want them to really GET what the First does – or, more importantly, what it doesn’t do – and to that end, I have them parse the sentence; I want to get to the VERBS in it to find out what kinds of protections we can reasonably expect.

Nearly all of them find make as the primary verb in the sentence, but only one or two every year understand that the full verb in that main clause is shall make.  Most of the kids come to me not knowing what helping verbs are, and don’t understand that they really do change the meaning of the verbs which they precede.

Here, then, are the 23 helping verbs.  I learned them by rote when I was in high school (or maybe it was middle school?), but I recently discovered a little song – set to the tune of jingle bells – that really helps to cement the list in kids’ heads.  Ready?

“OH, helping verbs, helping verbs, there are twenty-three!

Am, is, are, was and were, being, been, and be-EE!

Have, has, had, do, does, did, may, might, shall and should;

there are five more helping verbs, may, might, must, can and could!”



Filed under Grammar

5 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. I cannot wait until we have spring like weather here. We’ve had rain, rain and more rain. The grass is growing like crazy, even without sun shine.

  2. Warmer days full of sunshine will draw out the neighbors. People taking walks, doing yard work catching up on house related up keep.

  3. Just a question. Shouldn’t it be “nor” instead of “or” because of the negative at the beginning of the First Amendment sentence?

  4. Fermat, let’s be clear that the Constitution is chock FULL of TERRIBLE sentences (go look at the frickin’ Second Amendment for proof. GAH!). It’s really a grammar-phile’s nightmare.

    That being said, I think that this sentence could have been written with either “or” or “nor.”

    If I’m making a list of the things I don’t want someone to do – but I only use one verb for all of those things – I’ll use “or.” For example, “Kids, you will not write sentence fragments or text-speak or purple ink when you write your essays.” If I’m including separate verbs for each item, I’ll use “nor:” “Kids, you will not write sentence fragments, nor employ text-speak, nor print in purple ink when you write your essays.” I have no idea whether there’s a precedent for that sort of thing, though; that would require my doing some research.

  5. eileen

    Weird – I know a totally different song from elementary school. I cannot get my mind’s Secretary to toss it in the trash!

    Be, am, is, are, was, were, been. Shall, will, have, has, had, do, did. May, can, must, might, could, would, should…. All the helping verbs we should know!

    My song misses does and being.

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