Grammar in pop songs – Lucy Lucy Lucy

Picture yourself
Somebody calls you
You answer
A girl

Flowers
Look
She’s gone

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Follow her
Everyone smiles

Taxis appear
Climb in
You’re gone

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Picture yourself
Someone is there
The girl

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

In the loved-by-some, loathed-by-others Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr and EB White say ‘Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs’ and ‘Omit needless words’. Very well then …

I have taken that advice to its logical extreme and wielded the delate button on Lucy (in the sky) (with diamonds) by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The result is possibly comprehensible if you already know the song and possibly not if you don’t. To be fair, Strunkandwhite don’t mention the other word classes, especially prepositions, but I’ve erred on the side of comprehensiveness.

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He is walking

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted this video. I decided to use it to start yesterday’s lesson with a review of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. The simplest sentence to describe the video is ‘He is walking’, and one student supplied ‘on a machine’ (none of them knew ‘treadmill’).

From there, some gaits are better described by a verb (He is V-ing), a noun (He is walking like a(n) NP), an adjective (He is walking a(n) adj walk,* He is walking like he is adj, or He is walking like (he is) a(n) adj person), an adverb (He is walking adv-ly) or a prepositional phrase (He is walking in a(n) adj way, or He is walking with NP). There are sometimes too many choices. Some verbs and nouns have the same form, and some can be changed to adjectives or adverbs. The first gait in the video is sneak, so we could say: He is sneaking, He is walking like a sneak, He is walking a sneaky walk,* He is walking like he is sneaky, He is walking like a sneaky person, He is walking sneakily and He is walking in a sneaky way. (Is sneak a verb first, or a noun first, or both at the same time?) Some words are less flexible: ballerina is clearly a noun, so we can only say He is walking like a ballerina, not, for example, *He is ballerina-ing or *He is walking ballerina-ly (though people are very creative about verbing or adverbing nouns).

The performer is Kevin Parry, who has a longer version, without music, on his Youtube channel.

* This construction is possibly the most awkward, but we quite happily say (or sing) things like To dream the impossible dream.

‘ran ____ the road’

The question in the grammar practice was:

The little child ran ____ the road and went into the shop.

The students came up with five possible answers (from memory on, to, near, along and across) and most of them chose on. That wasn’t my choice or the answer in the teacher’s book, but is it ‘wrong’? The more I thought about, the more prepositions seemed to fit there. Searching Google Ngrams for ‘ran * the road’ returned off, across, down, along, up, into, alongside, to, beside and over, and there’s possibly another 10 options besides those. (Technically, any preposition will fit there, but some are precluded because of their meaning, for example, between.) Some of them fit more happily with ‘and went into the shop’ and some less happily, but what’s to say that any one of them is ‘right’ and all the rest are ‘wrong’?

prepositional phrases: order and attachment

Prepositional phrases often provide information about where or when, or about conceptual relationships. Two problems often arise: the order when multiple prepositional phrases are used together, and deciding which other element(s) in the sentence this/these prepositional phrase(s) modify/ies.

Regarding the first, a student wrote:

‘I with my friends went to a steak restaurant at my birthday in [country]’.

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