13/2/05
 
The Printable KISS Workbooks Return to the Background Essays
The 
Delphic 
Sibyl
1508-12
by
Micheangelo
The Differences 
between 
KISS and Traditional Terms
 
     The fundamental difference in the KISS Approach is discussed elsewhere on this site, so the primary purpose of this page is to explain more specific differences at each level of KISS Instruction, including how KISS concepts (and thus terminology) differ from the traditional. It may be helpful, however, to summarize here the guiding principles behind these differences.

1.) Terminology. The research that supposedly shows that teaching grammar is harmful actually shows that most instruction in grammar is so loaded with grammatical terms that it simply overwhelms students. Thus KISS was named with the idea of Keeping It (the terminology) Simple. Surprisingly, this simplified terminology turns out to be much more powerful than traditional grammar when it comes to analyzing and understanding the structure of real sentences. You will be able to judge this for yourself if you spend a little time exploring the analysis keys for various exercises.

2.) Objective. Unlike traditional grammar, which goes on and on with endless definitions,  rules, and exceptions to them KISS has as its objective the enabling of every student to discuss intelligently how any word in any sentence "fits" (and thus works) within the structure of that sentence. Thus KISS gives students a demonstrable goal and enables them to see how quickly they can, in fact, approach it.

3.) Sequence. KISS presents constructions in a specific sequence and then adds constructions to them as part of the students' analytical "toolbox" until the students can reach the objective stated above. As a result, KISS entails automatic, constant "review" of what students have previously studied.

4.) Alternate Explanations. KISS not only allows for, it encourages alternate explanations -- within the framework of KISS terminology.  For example, in "The Ant and the Grasshopper," Aesop writes:

"I am helping to lay up food {for the winter,"}
Some people will see "{for winter}" as an adjective modifying "food"; others will want to consider it as an adverb (of purpose) explaining "lay up." Because both explanations are within the rules of KISS grammar, both should be considered correct. Most instruction in grammar never gets to questions such as this because it is limited to narrow definitions of terms, definitions that are never applied to real texts.

5.) Application. The most important KISS difference is that it enables students to analyze real sentences including any that they read or write. Teachers regularly complain that students do not apply the grammar they have been studying, but the reason for that is that most instruction in grammar is limited to useless definitions and exercises that are composed of overly simplistic sentences. The hundreds of analytical exercises and their analysis keys that are on this site have two primary purposes. First, of course, they are meant to help students (and teachers) understand the basic KISS concepts.
     But nowhere, nowhere in the world, will you find a resource that has as many highly complex passages with every word analyzed, and all within the framework of KISS grammatical concepts. These currently include numerous passages from E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, seven of Shakespeare's sonnets, the opening paragraphs of four of Jane Austen's novels, and a complete set of sixth graders' essays from the Pennsylvania State Standards. (For a complete list of the literature analyzed on this site, see the Anthology.) My objective in including all of these exercises, far more than anyone will need, is to demonstrate the analytical power of KISS Grammar. That power, however, is basically useless unless students also use it to analyze samples of their own writing.



KISS Level One (Prepositional Phrases)

     The major Level One difference is not one of terminology, but rather of sequence of instruction. Most instruction in grammar begins with basic sentence patterns, and members of the KISS List have convinced me that, if instruction begins in primary school, the KISS Approach should do likewise. As members of the list noted, third graders use relatively few prepositional phrases, and it does not make sense to them to discuss the adjectival and adverbial functions of prepositional phrases unless the students have some basic sense of sentence structure. As soon as possible, however, instruction should focus on prepositional phrases. And here the KISS difference is that students should learn how to recognize "all" the prepositional phrases in any text they read or write.
     Most instruction in grammar rarely, if ever, gets to prepositional phrases, and, if it does, students are given a few simplistic examples. After that, prepositional phrases are forgotten. But if students are to learn how to analyze real texts, initial mastery of prepositional phrases is very important. Even in the writing of third and fourth graders, approximately 25% of the words used are in prepositional phrases. Thus, students who can identify them are already 25% of the way toward the goal of being able to explain every word in their own writing. In addition, mastery of prepositional phrases makes it much easier to learn to identify S/V/C patterns. Without it, students will regularly confuse the object of a preposition with the subject of a verb.

Phrasal Verbs

      "Phrasal verbs" is used by some grammarians to discuss words that look like prepositions after some verbs:

"Come on," "Look at," "Look for," "Run up"
As with expletives and objective complements, most lovers of grammar (those who write the textbooks) enjoy themselves in discussions of "phrasal verbs," which other grammarians refer to as verbs + particles. The linguists have still other names for the same phenomenon. That these verbs present no problems to students, and that these terms simply add to the confusion of the average student, does not seem to concern the grammarians or linguists.
      Applying the principles of alternative explanations and of keeping things simple, KISS does not use the terms. Instead, it 1) considers the "preposition" to be part of the verb, or 2) considers it to be an adverb, or 3) considers it to be a preposition. Which of these three options is best can be determined by relying on the meaning of the words being examined. In cases such as "Come on," for example. some students will consider the "on" as part of the verb since "Come on" can be interpreted as meaning "Continue." Other students will prefer to view this "on" as an adverb modifying "Come." Since linguists don't agree, I would accept either interpretation.
     Verbs such as "look at" and "look for" are, again, best analyzed in terms of their meaning. In a case such as "look at the house," I would accept either "look" as the verb and "at the house" as a prepositional phrase, or "look at" as the verb (substitutable by "see" or "note") and "house" as the direct object. The combination "look for" is probably more variable in meaning. In "Look for him" in the sense of "Find him," "for" would best be analyzed as part of the verb. But if it meant "Look for his sake," then "for his sake" would be more meaningfully explained as a prepositional phrase, simply because it functions as an adverb indicating why one should look.
KISS Level Two (S/V/C Patterns)
 

The S/V/C Pattern rather than Subjects and Predicates

     Traditional grammars (and, to my knowledge, most modern linguistic grammars) view the sentence as a subject plus a predicate. There is logic behind this view. Basically a sentence names something (subject) and then says something (predicates) about what was named. If students had to deal only with very simplistic sentences, there would be nothing wrong with this definition, but if students are expected to deal with real texts, this definition presents students with a serious problem.
     Consider, for example, the not very complicated sentence, "They saw the rat that ate the cheese." Conventional grammar would have the students identify the subject ("They") and then the predicate ("saw the rat that ate the cheese"). So far, so good. But in looking for the next subject / verb pattern, students will find the verb "ate." Then, following the rules they have been taught, they will ask "Who or what ate?" and determine that "rat" is the subject of "ate." But that is the wrong answer. And I have yet to find a traditional (or linguistic) grammar that explains to students why it is the wrong answer -- and how to find the right one.
     The explanation, very simply, is that the brain will NEVER process the complement of one finite verb as the subject of another. And, subconsciously, every student knows that. It is, moreover, easily demonstrable to students by using whatever example has come up and deleting the pronoun subject. In this example, the resulting sentence ("They saw the rat ate the cheese.") is an acceptable sentence, but it means something different than the original sentence. Every student will recognize this difference in meaning, and, in my experience, every student who is introduced to the idea accepts the fact that the brain will not process the complement of one finite verb as the subject of another. If we want to enable students to analyze the structure of multi-clause sentences, the S/V/C pattern makes much more sense -- and it makes the process much easier -- for students. 

Finite Verb Phrases

     Because they do not prepare students to analyze texts, most textbooks are very vague when it comes to what does, and what does not, count as part of the finite verb phrase. Indeed, most textbooks do not even use the term "finite verb." In analyzing real sentences, however, you will find that verbs are used in two, and only two ways. First, they are used as the core of clauses -- "She was going to Tivoli." Second, they are used as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, as in "Going to Tivoli was a bad idea." "Her plan to go to Tivoli was simple." "She went to Tivoli to relax." The verbs that form clauses are called "finite"; those that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs are called "verbals." [Verbals are the focus of KISS Level Four.] When teachers tell students to underlined subjects once and verbs twice, they really mean not all verbs, but just the finite verbs. 
     Part of the problem here is that grammarians themselves disagree about the term "finite verb." In Level Two, KISS considers all the words in a finite phrase as parts of the finite verb:

They will be going.
The book was read.
Paul had to leave.
Sheila ought to participate.
In addition, KISS considers "verbs" after words such as "begin," "started," "stopped," "kept," etc. to be part of the finite verb phrase.
Sue began to sing.
Sam began singing.
They kept going.
She was preparing to leave.
Grammarians disagree among themselves as to what should and what should not be included as part of the finite verb. The arguments and terminology in these disagreements only confuse students, and ultimately the arguments are only about the terminology. Thus KISS accepts alternate explanations, and in KISS Level Four (Verbals), students can return to this question and, for example, explain "began to sing" as "began" being the finite verb and "to sing" functioning as an infinitive direct object of "began."

     In analyzing randomly selected texts, you will almost certainly run across sentences that will raise questions, answers to which will be difficult to find in traditional (or other) grammar texts. Consider, for example, the following sentence from "The Twelve Months -- A Slav Legend," by Alexander Chodzko:

"I am come to look for red apples,'' replied Marouckla.
I don't remember ever seeing this form before. You are, of course, welcome to seek explanations of it from other grammars, but I would suggest that you will get a variety of inconsistent, and often complex, answers. On the other hand, you can keep it simple by considering it as an unusual S/V pattern with "am" simply being a variant of "have."
 

Transitive, Intransitive, and Linking Verbs

      Traditional grammars devote a great deal of time and energy to having students learn definitions and lists of "transitive," "intransitive," and "linking" verbs. Transitive verbs have an indirect or direct object: 

Grammar gives students (IO) a headache (DO).
Intransitive verbs do not have a complement: 
He studies every day.
Linking verbs are followed by a predicate noun or predicate adjective. 
Socrates is a man (PN).
All men are mortal (PA).
This traditional focus on transitive, intransitive, and linking derives from the influence of Latin and Greek grammars, which used the individual word, rather than the clause, as the center of attention. 
      The first problem with these categories is that, no matter how they are defined, ultimately, whichever grammar you use, the only way to tell if a verb is transitive, intransitive, or linking is to use the KISS test, i.e., to identify the complement, or absence of one, and then determine the type of the verb by the type of the complement. If the complement is a direct or indirect object, the verb is transitive; if there is no complement, the verb is intransitive; if the complement is a predicate adjective or a predicate noun, the verb is linking. Thus, we must ask, of what use are the categories "transitive," "intransitive," and "linking"?
     To my knowledge, they have little, if any, use. They are, in effect, holdovers from the Latin perspective on grammar. One of the ironies of most instruction in grammar is that the textbooks spend so much time and effort on categories such as these, but they never enable students to identify verbs in the first place. 
     There may be no harm in teaching these categories, if such instruction does not detract from enabling students to recognize subjects, finite verbs, and complements, and if it does not confuse the students. The research that supposedly shows that teaching grammar is harmful actually shows that teaching too much grammatical terminology is harmful. And I will never forget the teacher on NCTE-Talk, who argued for teaching grammar, and specifically for teaching "transient" and "intransient" verbs. Since some teachers who advocate the teaching of grammar are confused by these terms, I myself would hesitate to try to teach them to students.

Expletive "It" and Expletive "There" -- An Optional Concept

     Most traditional grammars include the concepts "Expletive It" and "Expletive There." In Understanding Grammar (p. 252-53), Paul Roberts gives several examples of expletive it, among them:

It is true that we were once good friends.
It was outrageous, the price we had to pay.
It is fun to wash windows.
Originally, these expletives were not included in KISS terminology, and I'm still not sure that they need to be included. Where they appear in analytical exercises, I have included in the analysis keys a link to this section. Teachers and parents will have to decide for themselves whether the concepts help, or whether they confuse their students.
       One problem with "Expletive" is that it does not suggest the structural and meaningful relationship between the "It" and the following subject. In the KISS Approach, therefore, the "It" is simply considered to be the subject and the structural relationship is explained in terms of "Delayed Subjects." The KISS explanation is further justified by the psycholinguistic model of how the brain processes language. The word "expletive" means "filler," and the only reason for that filler being there is to give the reader's (or hearer's) mind a word with which to fill the subject slot in the sentence.
     Many modern linguists would explain Roberts' examples as "cleft sentences." The idea, apparently, is that the subject is cleft, or cracked away from its normal initial position and delayed until later in the sentence. Thus, for example, the infinitive phrase that functions as the subject  in
To wash windows is fun.
is "cleft," replaced by a placebo subject ("It"), and delayed until later in the sentence -- It is fun to wash windows. There is a major problem with "cleft sentence," however, because the cleaving often occurs within a sentence --
Delbert thinks it is fun to wash windows.
Within KISS, this is easily explained as simply a delayed subject within the subordinate clause.
      KISS can treat expletive "there" in the same way that it does "it.". As examples, Roberts (p. 253) gives
There are six tomatoes on the vine.
There is a song in my heart.
In traditional explanations of these sentences, "There" is considered to be an expletive, and "tomatoes" and "song" are the subjects. In the KISS view, "There" can be the subject, and "tomatoes" and "song" can be considered predicate nouns. (I was once asked how KISS then explains subject/verb agreement, but the answer to that is simple. Since predicate nouns are equal to the subjects, if the predicate noun is plural, then the subject is also.) Another way of dealing with expletive "there" without using "expletive" is to consider the "there" to be an adverb -- There in my heart is a song."

     The primary reason for attempting to eliminate the term "expletive" is that it adds another term for students to learn. The research that supposedly shows that teaching grammar is "harmful" actually shows that the harm results from the overly abundant and confusing terminology. I always accept "expletive" as an explanation from students who have learned the term, but I'm still not sure that the concept is helpful. KISS is, of course, designed to provide students with an analytical grammar using the fewest terms possible. Anyone who wants to can add expletives and/or cleft sentences to it. But don't complain if the students become confused. 
     See also "palimpsest pattern."

Objective (& Subjective) Complements

     Two other confusing holdovers from traditional grammar are objective and subjective complements. The confusion here gets so bad that I myself have never clearly understood subjective complements. The concept of "objective complement" is a bit easier, so I will simply deal with it. There are, in the language, a fair number of verbs that, by their meaning, entail the naming or making of one thing as (or into) another thing:

They made Mary president.
My wife called me silly.
Because traditional grammar focussed on classifying every word at the surface level of a sentence, the first complement after such verbs ("Mary," "me") was called a direct object, and the second complement (president," "silly") was, and still is, called an objective (in some grammars, a "subjective") complement. Interestingly, many grammarians trained in modern linguistics insist on keeping these unneeded concepts. [My Dean has suggested that their objective is to keep things complicated so that they can remain the keepers of the grammatical mysteries.]
      How can KISS eliminate these concepts? Transformational grammar is one of the most important modern linguistic grammars. It has convincingly demonstrated that all but the simplest sentences are "generated" from rule-bound combinations of extremely simple sentences. Essentially, these rules involve deletion and embedding. Thus, for example, the sentence "She lives in a white house." is generated from "She lives somewhere." "The 'where' is a house." and "The house is white." If we take this fundamental transformational principle and apply it to the question of objective and subjective complements, we can arrive at an explanation that is much simpler, and much more meaningful for students.
     To begin, we can start with a sentence such as "They wanted her to be their president." Most grammars will explain "her to be their president" as an infinitive phrase that functions as the direct object of "wanted." In that phrase, "her" is the subject, and "president" is the predicate noun of the infinitive "to be." In transformational terms, "She is their president" is transformed and embedded into "They wanted something."  -- They wanted [she is their president]. The transformation involves the changing of a finite verb ('is") into an infinitive form ("to be")  They wanted [her to be their president].
     Infinitive phrases that function as direct objects are very common -- I am unaware of any grammar text that excludes this concept. But since students have to learn this concept, why can they not simply consider sentences such as our first examples in almost the same way by assuming an ellipsed "to be"?
They made [Mary *to be* president].
My wife called [me *to be* silly].
In twenty years of teaching the KISS Approach, my students have never had a problem with this explanation, and we have never met a sentence in which this explanation could not be used to avoid the "objective" and "subjective" complements.
     Many modern linguists, I should note, do note like this explanation because they want to study, categorize, and come up with rules for which verbs require the presence of the infinitive, which do not, and which are optional:
They made her president.
They chose her to be president.
They elected her president. They elected her to be president.
If the linguists want to study this, that is their choice. But in twenty-five years of teaching composition, I have never seen a single student use this construction incorrectly. It seems to me, therefore, not only that "objective" and "subjective" complements are superfluous categories, but also that those professors who are trying to teach this to future teachers are fundamentally unethical unless they have first enabled the future teachers to identify most subjects, finite verbs, and complements in any text. And currently, most teachers cannot do so.
      Since the KISS sequence does not deal with infinitives until Level Four, teachers working with students at Levels Two and Three should simply expect students to make mistakes in analyzing verbs of this type.  When the students get to Level Four, these constructions will fall into place. (See "Jerome Bruner's Concept of the Spiral Curriculum.")

KISS Level Three (Clauses)

      The clause is probably the most important grammatical construction for students to master. An understanding of clauses enables students to understand why fragments, comma-splices, and run-ons are errors. It also enables students to explore -- meaningfully -- numerous questions of style and logic. Unfortunately, "clause" is also defined and/or used in so many ways, many of them internally inconsistent, that, for most students and teachers, the concept becomes incomprehensible.
     Modern linguistics has added to students' (and teachers') problems by extending the application of the term. Thus some linguists use the term "clause" with infinitives and speak of "infinitive clauses." And recently, I have seen the term "clausid" used to refer, apparently, to any phrase based on a verb that is not finite? The question mark at the end of the previous sentence means that I am confused. I can understand why linguists might want to extend the meanings of terms, and/or introduce new terms, but I fail to see any advantage in these particular extensions and additions for students.
     A major part of the problem is, as it is so often, in the terminology. Some textbooks make a distinction between "Main" and "Subordinate" clauses, whereas other texts use the terms "Independent" and "Dependent" to refer to the same distinction. As a result, however, even some teachers think that these terms distinguish four types of clauses. They don't.
     KISS uses the terms "Main" and "Subordinate" for two reasons, the first of which is that "Independent" and "Dependent" are simply stupid in this context. The "independent" / "dependent" terms apparently derive from the silly and confusing idea that "a main clause can stand on its own," or, in other words that it is "independent." That this is one of those definitions that do not define can easily be seen from a simple example:

She said she wanted to play basketball.
If we consider this sentence as composed of two clauses, which it is, then the one that can "stand alone" is "She wanted to play basketball." But every grammarian will agree that it is the subordinate or "dependent" clause. Thus the definition of a main clause as a clause that an "stand alone" actually leads students to the wrong answer. Not only that, but it is the main subject and verb ("She said") that "depends" on the subordinate clause for its completion. Is there any wonder why students (and many teachers) find this confusing?
      As for the main (or independent) clause in our example, here again grammarians and teachers disagree. Some will say that the main clause is "She said," and others will say that the whole sentence is the main clause. This means that one year students may have a teacher who considers just the "She said" to be the main clause, and the next year the students' teacher may be one who considers the entire sentence to be the main clause. Confusion city!

     In contrast, the KISS definition is simple, powerful, and consistent -- "A clause is an S/V/C pattern and all the words that chunk to it." Any slot in the pattern may be compounded. Students who can identify all the subjects, finite verbs, and complements in a text (KISS Level Two) need only a few guidelines to help them untangle the clause structure of any sentence. Similarly, the KISS distinction between main and subordinate clauses is very simple -- subordinate clauses function as nouns, adjectives, adverbs, or (occasionally) as interjections, within another clause. Main clauses have no such function. But, by the very definition of "clause" main clauses include all the subordinate clauses within them since subordinate clauses  function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs within another clause.
     Put differently, subordinate clauses are "sub systems" within the syntactic system of a main clause. And seeing them as such helps student with the stylistic and logical implications of their study of grammar, particularly in explorations of focus and MIMC (main ideas in main clauses). Thus the terms "main" and "subordinate" are meaningful, unlike "independent" and "dependent," which are not only inaccurate, but have no implications beyond their names as categories.

     For more on the problems in traditional textbooks, see "Definitions of 'Clause'." 


KISS Level Four (Verbals)

     As noted in the discussion of Level Two, most grammar texts do not use the term "verbal." The term is very helpful, however, in that it denotes any verb that functions as a noun, adverb, or adjective rather than as the core of a clause. In addition, there are three (and only three) types of verbals -- gerunds, gerundives, and infinitives. Verbals, moreover, share some very important characteristics -- like finite verbs, they have subjects, complements, and are modified by adverbs. Whereas traditional textbooks, if they ever get to it, like to explain this separately for each type of verbal, it makes more sense to explain it once for all three types.
     Among the verbals, the KISS definitions of gerunds and infinitives are the same as you will find in almost all traditional textbooks. Thus the only difference in KISS is that students will explore these constructions in the context of sentences that are much more complex than any you will find in typical textbooks. [See, for example, the analysis key for the exercise on the opening paragraph of "The Declaration of Independence."]
     The real difference between KISS and almost any other grammar is the KISS development of the concept of the gerundive. The term "gerundive" is rarely used in traditional or modern grammars, but the result is that students are confused by the term that is used, "participle." This difference requires some extensive explanation, so if you are interested, you can read about it in "The Difference between Gerundives and Participles." The KISS concept of the gerundive also enables students (and teachers) to explore some structural similarities and developmental/stylistic in "Gerundives, Appositives, and Post-Positioned Adjectives."


KISS Level Five (Additional Constructions)

      The differences in KISS Level Five constructions almost all involve grammatical concepts that most teachers, much  less students, rarely get to. They do not get to them because the grammars that they study do not even attempt to enable them to analyze real sentences. In general, however, the KISS differences here are merely a matter of logical extensions of traditional concepts and the flexibility to be able to see that alternate explanations may also be complementary. Thus, for example, traditional concepts include both nouns used as adverbs and gerunds (verbs that function as nouns). But given the sentence "They went fishing." many grammarians want a separate explanation for "fishing," rather than considering it, as KISS does, a gerund that functions as a noun used as an adverb. In alternative explanations, KISS, expands the traditional concepts of "interjection" "appositive," and "retained complements." These modifications are all the result of analyzing real, and often long and complicated, sentences in real contexts. 
     Because it is aimed at analyzing the meaning of real sentences, KISS includes "Delayed Subjects," a concept that is simply not found in most traditional grammars. Most modern linguists discuss "cleft sentences," which are almost the same as "delayed subjects," but "cleft sentence," as the instructional material suggests, is not an adequate concept for explaining delayed constructions that are embedded within other sentences. After I had already started using the term "delayed subjects," I found that Francis Christensen discusses the same concept, but calls them "postponed subjects."
     The most controversial of the KISS Level Five "modifications" appears to be the inclusion of noun functions of noun absolutes. The controversy here is really the result of the arrogance and ignorance of many professionals in the field of teaching English. See "Notes for Teachers and Parents: Noun Absolutes."



     Throughout this discussion, I have referred to the disagreements among grammarians, disagreements that simply add to the confusion of the general population of students and teachers. If you want to verify some of these disagreements for yourself, look through the archives of the ATEG (Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar) mailing list at http://listserv.muohio.edu/archives/ateg.html.

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