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THE ELEMENTS OF
W. F. WEBSTER
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
CHICAGO: 378-388 WABASH AVENUE
The Riverside Press Cambridge
For some time the study of grammar has been arraigned as unnecessary and unprofitable. Those who have opposed it have been of that number who see but one end in its study, - to give an easy command of correct language. If this were the only purpose of the study of grammar, there would be serious doubt of its utility; for pupils who know little of grammar are frequently correct in their use of language, and it sometimes happens that a person skillful in the analysis of sentences and the parsing of words is a barbarian in his speech. A pure diction is very largely a matter of habit and environment. Still, even this admission does not establish the opponents' contention. Many errors in speech are corrected by the study of grammar; the children of foreign descent and of illiterate parentage are daily being helped toward the use of pure English by the application of rules derived from grammars. Pupils have learned the unseemliness of the unequal yoking together of singular nouns and plural verbs, and other alliances equally disgraceful. It is not claimed that grammar is the most powerful means of forming correct habits of speech, but it is yet an influence that establishes one already refined in the use of language, by showing him the reasons for its correctness; and it puts into the hands of the youth ambitious to be correct in his speech one of the means for accomplishing his purpose.
Moreover, the insight into the structure of sentences obtained while studying grammar is of great value in the study of literature. Not all sentences in literature are
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child's sentences. Great men
Great men often compose involved and intricate sentences; and to read great literature requires the ability to straighten out tangled threads of thought. This power the student is constantly acquiring in the analysis of sentences. And right at the beginning the word should be spoken, that analysis is the important part of grammar. Parsing is of much less value. To give the person, number, and gender of a noun requires but little thought; even case may be correctly guessed half the time. Indeed, parsing seems little more than a knack; while analysis demands thought. And this analytic thought develops intellectual strength and acumen, invaluable in the study of literature.
This brings us to the third and most important consideration in favor of the study of grammar. There is no subject a child in the grades pursues that makes such demands upon his reason. Arithmetic may at times approach it; but spelling, geography, and history are chiefly exercises of the memory. Grammar is par excellence the study for developing the reasoning faculty. From a group of sentences the pupil is set to discover some common characteristic; possibly he is put upon the track of an objective complement. From many examples he finds out that this new element always names an attri. bute of the object complement; and next that this element always names the result of the action asserted by the verb. These are the characteristics of this new element; and the pupil has arrived at them in exactly the same way that a classification is made in botany or chemistry. The process is the inductive method of modern science. After the classification has been made, and the characteristics of the class have been accurately stated in a definition, the pupil fixes his knowledge by the application of his definition to a large number of cases found in
the material for practice. Here he is unconsciously acquiring skill in methods of deductive reasoning. So that it may truly be said that grammar is the elementary school of logic, the first study of the laws of thought.
This text-book has been constructed with these three principles in view. A grammar must give guides for the correction of errors in speech and composition ; it should give to students the ability to unravel the intricate web of thought found in literature; and it fails when it does not yield strong scientific thinking power. The illustrative sentences, the development questions, and the exercises are arranged with this threefold purpose.
There are some questions that are very difficult for pupils in the grammar grades. Indeed, the commonest idioms of every-day speech are the most difficult problems the student has to contend. with. If these idioms were not so common, they might well be omitted from any elementary text-book; but because they are so common, because they form such an important part of our language, they demand classification and explanation. These difficulties are found principally in the chapters upon “Some Common Verbs” and “The Subjunctive Mode.” Authorities do not agree upon all these matters ; but the author of this book has followed those who are acknowledged masters, and who seem to him to have a thorough and intimate understanding of the history and development of our language, and of its present usage. It has not been the intention to find easy solutions that do not solve, or to make statements that are but half-truths. These matters are extremely difficult in themselves; they require of the student the most careful discrimination ; and no method of treatment can make the inherent difficulties easy. Whether a pupil entirely conquers these problems or not, if he learns what they are, and solves some of