Introducing “Grammar Choices for Graduate and Professional Students” (video)

Grammar Choices (2nd edition coming January '19) | More information
Second Edition

Here’s a short video I made in 2012 at the Symposium of Second Language Writing at Purdue introducing the first edition of  Grammar Choices for Graduate and Professional Writers and explaining how and I why I cross-referenced my  book with the 3rd edition of Academic Writing for Graduate Students, both from the University of Michigan Press. Please note that the second edition is now available (2019).

And yes, the piece of paper on the table was my cheat sheet (I don’t get a teleprompter!). It was actually quite easy to tie my book into AWGS because Swales & Feak’s approach to writing is inextricably linked to language (grammar and vocabulary), and they were already using a somewhat functional approach to grammar. In fact, the third edition has a wonderful expanded discussion of old-new information patterns, which I develop in the last unit of Grammar Choices (my students’ favorite part of the book, usually).

We put a lot of thought into how much new terminology to introduce in Grammar Choices, and on the advice of Chris Feak (as in Swales & Feak) and our mutual editor, Kelly Sippell, I tried to stick to terms (technically, a metalanguage) that would be familiar at least to North American readers and especially to those using AWGS. I also wrote an expanded introduction which explains concepts that are a little less frequently used here, as well as a glossary. I was greatly encouraged at the Genre 2012 conference to hear Jim Martin, no less, of Sydney University endorse teaching materials that simplify systemic functional grammar’s daunting metalanguage into familiar terms, so hopefully my attempt to use functional principles with more “traditional” (structuralist) terminology will help writers benefit from the major insights of functional grammar without me having to explain it or them having to learn it!

I welcome feedback from users or reviewers of Grammar Choices. You can leave a comment below or on the Michigan ELT blog or contact me directly. Exam/review/desk copies are available now from the publisher, and you and your students can buy the book directly from the Press, from, or in class sets from your university bookstore.

Fun facts about modal verbs!

… because there can be nothing more fun than a modal verb, right?

In doing research for my forthcoming grammar textbook for graduate student writers, I came across these interesting nuggets about the frequency of modal verbs, which I thought I’d share:

  • The most common modal verb overall in academic writing is can (I suspect because it has so many meanings!)
  • The most common modal verb for hedging (showing uncertainty or deference) is may
  • Both can and could are frequently used with passive infinitive verbs
  • Fewer than 5% of modal verbs in academic writing are followed by a perfect infinitive (might have done)
  • Just over 0.5% of modal verbs in academic writing are followed by a progressive infinitive (may be growing)
  • Help isn’t technically a modal, but it’s an awfully interesting verb because it can sometimes be followed by a to-infinitive (help to make) and sometimes by a bare infinitive (help make). I suspected that the shorter form (help make) should be more common in academic writing because academic writers tend to reduce the number of function words (little “grammar” words like prepositions) to increase the lexical density (number of content words per sentence). And my data supports that: only 16% of clauses with help are followed by the to-infinitive. Unfortunately, that turns out to be the highest proportion of all the registers in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, so actually academic writing is more likely to use to than spoken or other written registers, but still far more likely not to bother. Oh well, the advice still stands: the shortest form is usually the best. On which note …

Stay tuned for more tips on writing and more information about my new grammar textbook for graduate and research writers.

(All statistics are based on my searches of the Corpus of Contemporary American English.)