How good is your grammar?

Primary-school pupils in England have been sitting a new grammar, spelling and punctuation test (check out the specimen questions) as part of their final year assessment. Teachers have criticised the test, saying that there are better ways of assessing pupils’ English-language skills:

Grammar is vital but you test someone’s writing skills by examining their writing. Just because you can circle an adverb on a multiple choice test doesn’t mean you can use one properly. This test distracts us from teaching a generation to write clearly and elegantly.” (Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers)

The government position, voiced by Education Minister Elizabeth Truss (no relation to Lynne, it seems) is that many children struggle with the basics of the English language at primary school and never catch up.

That is why employers bemoan the poor literacy of so many school and college leavers. This new test will mean that children are again taught the skills they need to understand our language, and to use it properly, creatively and effectively.”

Test your grammar skills

If you’d like to test your own grammar skills, here’s a quick grammar quiz, courtesy of the BBC. A word of advice: it’s trickier than the new primary-school test, so read the questions carefully (remember your teachers saying that at school?).

Disclosure: I got two questions wrong, giving me a score of 8/10 (which still makes me a “Grammar Guru”. Phew!).

What do you think about grammar: is it important to teach it? And to test it?

More posts about grammar, spelling and punctuation:

When to type an ellipsis

Commas: fascinating facts

Spelling bees in my bonnet

By Marian Dougan 

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

Join the conversation


  1. Hi Marian,

    Nice post!

    Thanks for the link. I got 9/10, which proves that passing grammar tests is certainly not sufficient to use it properly.

    The following quote summarizes what my parents and teachers taught me at school:

    Paideia is “the classical Greek system of education and training,
    which came to include gymnastics, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, music,
    mathematics, geography, natural history, astronomy and the physical
    sciences, history of society and ethics, and philosophy—the complete
    pedagogical course of study necessary to produce a well-rounded,
    fully educated citizen.”

    The quote’s from Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind (pp. 29-30).

    In my opinion, grammar is the nuts and bolts of thinking. It is as important as maths and logic.

    Also, the Greek noun “Paideia” is based on the root “pais” which means “child”. Enough said 😉

    1. Thanks, Pierre, and well done on the test! I agree with you on the importance of grammar as the nuts and bolts of thinking, writing and communication. It’s not fair to except young people to write and communicate well if you don’t give them the building blocks.

  2. Hi Marian,

    I agree with Pierre, grammar is very important. A friend of mine, who is a private English tutor, was telling me about two of his adult students, both native speakers, who struggle with grammar and therefore their writing is appalling. They turned to him because they need to write different types of documents for their jobs and they cannot cope.

    As for the test, I got 9/10. I got the Churchill question wrong and I still don’t understand why, even after reading the explanation. Can anyone help?

    1. Hello Alina,
      Thanks for your comment – I so agree.
      The Churchill question refers to the daft lengths people will go to (to which people will go?) to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. The natural spoken (and indeed written) version would be: “This is the kind of tedious nonsense I will not put up with”; “This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put!” sounds ludicrous. The problem in this case is made worse by the phrasal verb: “to put up with” (tolerate). I hope that clarifies it.

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