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:
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.
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.
"Phrasal verbs" is used by some grammarians to discuss words that look like prepositions after some verbs:
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
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.
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:
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:
All men are mortal (PA).
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.
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 was outrageous, the price we had to pay.
It is fun to wash windows.
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
KISS can treat expletive "there" in the same way that it does "it.". As examples, Roberts (p. 253) gives
There is a song in my heart.
The primary reason for attempting to eliminate
the term "expletive" is that it adds another term for students to learn.
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.
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:
My wife called me silly.
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"?
My wife called [me *to be* silly].
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 chose her to be president.
They elected her president. They elected her to be president.
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.
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.
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
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
and "retained complements." These
modifications are all the result of analyzing real, and often long and
complicated, sentences in real contexts.
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.