The Play Grammar

frontispiece‘The Play Grammar, Or, The Elements of Grammar Explained in Easy Games’ by Julia Corner was published in about 1855, and was popular in mid-Victorian England, running to over twenty editions. The Preface explains the approach:

A knowledge of the first principles of Grammar may be communicated to children at a very early age, if pains be taken to render the subject amusing and agreeable to them. The same lesson may be repeated a dozen times, by rote, without much benefit; but only create an interest in the subject, and a motive for desiring to understand it, and the object will speedily be gained.

Sentiments with which most of us would agree, but how does the material stand up in practice. The book is organised into ten days, and consists mostly of dialogue between ‘Mamma’, ‘little Fanny’ and ‘Herbert’. To modern eyes, the games – puzzles, riddles and forfeits -are only very vaguely game-like, but Herbert declares at the start that it will be ‘capital, because we shall learn, and be amused too.’  Here is an extract from the first day.

Mamma:      Now then, Herbert. Do you know how many parts of speech there are?

Fanny:          Are the parts of speech not very difficult to learn?

Mamma:      Not at all. Every word you make use of is a part of speech.

Fanny:          Is it, indeed! I thought parts of speech were all very hard words.

Mamma:      What is speech, Fanny?

Fanny:          Speech, mamma? Why, speech is talking.

Mamma:      Very well; and talking is saying a great many words, is it not?

Fanny:          Yes, mamma.

Mamma:      And one word is a part of this talking; therefore, one word must be a part of speech.

Herbert:       But can we tell how many there are? We cannot even count all the words we say.

Mamma:      True, Herbert; but, although every word we say is a part of speech, there are only nine parts of speech, after all.

herbert, fanny and mammaFanny and Herbert (together):   Oh! Mamma, you must be jesting.

Mamma:      No, I do not jest, I assure you; we indeed say a great many more words than could be counted, still those words are but of nine kinds, and each kind has a name which, in grammar, is called a part of speech. For instance, the names of things that we can see, are called nouns; and the names of all the things that we can do, are called verbs.

Fanny:          Oh, that is easily understood. All the things we can see, are nouns. Then, a ‘chair’ is a noun, and the ‘carpet’ is a noun, and this ‘book’ is a noun, and all the things in this room are nouns; but my doll is not a noun, I suppose.

Mamma:      Why not, my dear?

Fanny:          Because I cannot see her, mamma; she is up stairs.


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