Archive for July 24th, 2019

A brief rumination on fronted adverbials

Until quite recently, I did not know what “fronted adverbials” were. But now that I do know, I find myself using them all the time. Indeed, looking back on my older blog posts, I find I had used them even before I knew what they were. And, on reflection, I think I used them correctly.

Not that I care too much, frankly, whether I used them correctly or not: I worry when my writing does not convey what I want it to convey, or when my phrasing is inelegant; whether or not I stick to some set of prescribed rules is not something that bothers me at all. Which is not to say I am indifferent to grammar: far from it. I belong to a generation that was not taught grammar at school (hence my ignorance till quite recently of “fronted adverbials”), and I regret my lack of education in this respect: I regret it not because I think a greater knowledge of grammar would help me write better – I don’t think it would – but simply because language is such a fascinating human construct, I would, I think, have enjoyed and have benefited from being taught something of how it is constructed. Of course, I could, and, indeed, do, try to compensate for my ignorance now in my adult years, but I don’t really see why teaching something so very interesting in schools should be so derided.

And it is derided. The reader will, I hope, excuse me for not overwhelming this brief post with a plethora of links to demonstrate my point, but you don’t really need to look too far to find often impassioned diatribes against the teaching of grammar in schools. (The teaching of “fronted adverbials” is particularly looked down upon.) Teaching grammar in schools, we are told, is “quite unnecessary”, and one can write perfectly well without being taught anything at all about the subject.

Now, I do not dispute either of these points. What I do however dispute, very strongly, is that “should not be taught” follows from being “quite unnecessary”. When I press anyone on this point, I am told that children are being taught these things at far too young an age, that they are made to learn these things merely by Gradgrindian rote learning, and that all this inhibits something called “creativity”. Once again, I don’t know that I would dispute any of these points (although I may gently suggest, perhaps, that an element, at least, of discipline may indeed help rather than hinder “creativity”). But I do not want to get side-tracked into these matters. I have no opinion – no informed opinion, at least – on when grammar is best taught, or how. My grouse remains that “unnecessary” does not, must not, imply “should not be taught”. Much of what makes us civilised beings is “quite unnecessary” – in the sense that, in most cases, it does not serve any utilitarian purpose. But if we were to restrict our education only to that which is necessary, to that which is useful – if we were to reduce education, in other words, to no more than its utilitarian value – then that indeed really would be Gradgrindian.

I could have written the opening paragraph of this post without knowing what “fronted adverbials” are. But, like Monsieur Jourdain, who was delighted to know that he had been speaking prose all his life without knowing it, I too am delighted to know what “fronted adverbials” are.  And I really don’t care that it’s quite unnecessary.