The KISS Approach to Grammar in the Curriculum

10th Grade -- Add Verbals
[Gerunds, Gerundives, & Infinitives]


      In addition to everything that they have been doing before, by the end of tenth grade every student is expected to be able to identify EVERY verbal in four or five selected sentences and be able to explain the how each verbal connects to the main sentence pattern.


     By the time they reach tenth grade, students who have been using the KISS curriculum will find that they can explain, on average, how 95% of the words in any English sentence connect to the main subject/verb pattern. To master that final 5%, verbals are the next logical step. Note that the objective (above) differs from earlier objectives in that the assessment will depend on four or five "selected" sentences. The reason for this is that randomly selected passages might not have any gerunds or gerundives in them.


     The KISS approach works on (and could be made an introduction to) a type of Boolean binary logic (on/off; yes/no; either/or). Students will have been using this logic ever since fourth grade. In determining the types of complements, they followed a sequence of "Yes/No" questions: Is the complement an adjective? "Yes" -> STOP ; "No" -> next question. And they were also using it with verbs. Is the verb finite? "Yes" -> underline it twice ; "No" -> ignore it. In tenth grade, students are ready to return to those verbs that they have been ignoring, all of which can be designated by the term "verbals." And students can use another set of questions and binary logic to distinguish the three types of verbals (gerunds, gerundives, and infinitives).
     In learning to identify verbals, students should continue to analyze sentences from passages, just as they have been since third grade. [Teachers, however, should probably scan passages before using them to assure that they contain a fair number of verbals.] Having bracketed the subordinate clauses in a sentence, students should next look for any verbs that they have not underlined twice. These have to be verbals.

       Distinguishing the three types of verbals takes a little practice, but is not very difficult if the following sequence of questions is used -- Look for gerunds first, then gerundives; if the verbal is not a gerund or gerundive, it has to be an infinitive. Gerunds and gerundives are recognizable by their participial form (usually ending in "-ed" or "-ing").If the participle functions as a noun, it is a gerund. In most cases students will already have explained the gerunds, having marked them as subjects, direct objects, or objects of a preposition: If the participle does not function as a noun, it has to be a gerundive. This means that the verb connects as an adjective to another word in the sentence. To find that word, students should ask a question with "Who is" or "What is." Who or what is skiing? According to this sentence, "he" is, so "skiing" modifies "he."

     If the verbal is not a gerund or gerundive, it has to be an infinitive.Students will already recognize a lot of infinitives as those pesky things that begin with "to" but are not prepositional phrases. [I guarantee that somewhere between third and tenth grades students will want to know what they are. (When students ask, teachers should respond with "That's an infinitive. You'll study those later.)] Infinitives can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, and, as usual, the function is determined by finding the word that the infinitive chunks to.
     An infinitive can exist not only without the "to," but even without "appearing" at all. Consider the sentence:

They made Paul president.

Because KISS grammar focuses on meaning, it seems silly to say that "Paul" is the direct object of "made." The sentence does not mean that they made Paul. (God and Paul's parents made Paul.) And obviously the sentence does not mean that they made president. Rather, the sentence means that they made Paul *to be* president. Native speakers of English would never put the "to be" in this sentence, but its existence below the surface is suggested by other, similar cases:

They chose Paul to be president.
They wanted Paul to be president.
They elected Paul to be president.

In the last example, we have the option of including or excluding the "to be." [This ellipsed infinitive enables KISS grammar to avoid the entire mess of objective and subjective complements in traditional grammar.]

     Students should continue to analyze passages, doing, on average, one sentence a day. The passages, however, need to be screened to be sure that they contain a number of verbals. Because the sentences in a text vary in complexity, the teacher (or the class) may decide to skip some sentences because they are too simple. My students like to put a box around gerunds and label it with the function (DO, OP, etc.), to put box around gerundives and draw an arrow from the box to the word modified, and to put ovals around infinitives.
     I still believe that analysis exercises are the most important. Reviewing the students' analysis can again be made more enjoyable by playing the KISS grammar game -- now to the level of verbals. Another approach would be to have students work in groups, with each group analyzing passages from different sources -- one group could select passages from Time; another group, from Seventeen; another group, from Motor Trend, etc. Each student in the group would select a different passage, which would be analyzed as homework. In class, the groups could check their work, and then do a statistical analysis of, for example, gerundives per main clause. In a later class, each group could report its findings, and, after the last report, the class could discuss any differences found. Near the end of the year, students should analyze a passage or two of their own writing, in this case, to study their use of verbals. There are, however, other types of exercises:

Have students revise sentences so that a subordinate clause becomes a gerundive, or a gerundive becomes a subordinate clause:

Have students write five or ten sentences, each of which includes a verbal. Another version of this would be to require students to use and label, for example, two gerunds in a paper they are writing.

Time Required

     Students who have been using the KISS approach for several years are not going to need a lot of time to master verbals. One class period every two weeks (10% of class time) should be more than enough. In doing analysis exercises, of course, students will be doing everything that they have done before (parentheses around prep phrases, underlining S/V, clauses, etc.) And, because they are analyzing complete passages, they will run across sentences with interesting clause structure but no verbals. Whether or not time is spent on such sentences is the teacher's choice.
     Perhaps the best way to allocate the time spent on grammar would be to devote an entire class, near the beginning of the year, to introducing the instructional material (above), and to illustrate it with selected sentences on an overhead. The students could then be given another passage to be analyzed as homework. This homework could be reviewed, one sentence per day, at the beginning of class, with new assignments being handed out as the class nears the end of the passage. After a couple of weeks, the homework could be reviewed by devoting an entire period to the KISS grammar game. The students' play will give the teacher a sense of how well the students have mastered the verbals. If the students are doing well, the teacher could give a sample assessment test.
     Once most of the class can pass a sample assessment test, time spent on the KISS approach can be reduced, but the students should still analyze and discuss at least one sentence every two weeks. By this point, students will understand that what they are studying directly relates to what they read and write, and they will understand that they could be analyzing entire passages, but that they are analyzing selected sentences to save time. Although the options are endless, one way to get sentences for this later analysis is to have the students write them. (See above.)


     Give students six sentences, two of which include gerunds; two, gerundives; and two, infinitives. Have the students analyze them.

     Give the students two sentences with subordinate clauses and instruct the students to revise the sentences by making the subordinate clauses gerundives.

     Have students write sentences with specified constructions, i.e., "Write a sentence with an infinitive used as a subject."

Q & A

     [You are invited to send questions about this document to Dr. Vavra. Your questions may result in revisions of the text, or they may be answered separately here.]