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Weekly occurences of strange grammar questions

How Do We Break Down English Grammar?

	“The list divides all animals into 14 categories:
	Those that belong to the emperor  
	Embalmed ones  
	Those that are trained  
	Suckling pigs  
	Mermaids (or Sirens)  
	Fabulous ones  
	Stray dogs  
	Those that are included in this classification  
	Those that tremble as if they were mad  
	Innumerable ones  
	Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush  
	Et cetera  
	Those that have just broken the flower vase  
	Those that, at a distance, resemble flies”  
				- Jorge Luis Borges  
When you are trying to categorize something, sometimes you don't know what you'll end up with.
OK, we have tests for users to take, but how do the users figure out what test to take? Oh, we have tags for this. I produced them quite a long time ago so that we could build UI around them. But do our tags actually help the end users? Do they really do the job?
I was thinking like this when it became clear that they likely don't. Were never designed to. What the tags hierarchy looked like? Well, I believe, I'll do the reader a favor by not presenting it here at all.
It all started with the strange idea that it is possible to somehow use EAQUALS descriptors to index tests.

EAQUALS Descriptors

Initially, I was intending to base our taxonomy on CEFR levels. This is the road that led me to EAQUALS descriptors. A terrific idea? Rather terrible, as I soon understood.
The problem is that the descriptors were never intended to serve as an index for anything. Their purpose is to help with figuring out levels of language mastery instead. This is why their goal is not to describe grammar as a whole, and they may contain duplicates at different CEFR levels, and so on. Anyway here are they, as they are outlined here. Use the mind map to see for yourself. You can pan, zoom in and out the map and collapse and expand the nodes.

See as list...


  • C2/Proficiency
  • C1/Advanced
    • Inversion with negative adverbials
    • Mixed conditionals in past, present and future
    • Modals in the past
    • Narrative tenses for experience, incl. passive
    • Passive forms, all
    • Phrasal verbs, especially splitting
    • Wish/if only regrets
    • Futures (revision)
    • Mixed conditionals
    • All passives
    • Reported Speech and Modal Verbs
    • Reported Speech and Conditional Sentences
    • Participle vs Gerund
    • Conditional Subjunctive
    • Conditional Type 2 Subjunctive
    • Conditional Type 1 Subjunctive
    • Conditional Type 3 Subjunctive
    • Intensifiers
    • Comparatives
    • Superlatives
    • Disyllabic Adjectives
    • Modifiers
    • Irregular Adjectives
    • Monosyllabic Adjectives
    • Participle Adjectives
    • Inversion with Time Adverbials
    • Inversion in Conditionals
    • Inversion with the subject complement
    • Inversion with Negative Adverbial Phrases
    • Inversion with Place Adverbials
  • B2/Upper Intermediate
    • Complex Sentence
    • Adjectives with Infinitive and Gerund
    • Adjectives with Infinitive and Gerund
    • Infinitive with passive voice
    • Sensing Verbs and Infinitive
    • Verbs Followed by Infinitive or Gerund with a Difference in Meaning
    • Verbs Followed by Infinitive or Gerund
    • Adverb Degrees
    • Three Syllable Adjectives
    • Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
    • Adjectives and adverbs
    • Future perfect
    • Future perfect continuous
    • Modals - can't have, needn't have
    • Modals of deduction and speculation
    • Narrative tenses
    • Passives
    • Past perfect continuous
    • Relative clauses
    • Wish
    • Would expressing habits, in the past
    • Phonological
    • Passive forms
    • Conditional forms
    • Complex noun phrases
    • Collocation of intensifiers
    • Adjectives with Three or More Syllables
  • B1/Intermediate
    • 1st and 2nd Modals
    • Modals
    • Range of verb forms (past, present and future)
    • Conditionals
    • Comparatives and superlatives
    • Will and going to, for prediction
    • Modals: must/have to
    • Simple passive
    • Wh- questions in the past
    • as too, enough
    • Complex question tags
    • Conditionals, 2nd and 3rd
    • Connecting words expressing
    • cause and effect, contrast etc.
    • Future continuous
    • Modals - must/can't deduction
    • Broader range of intensifiers such
    • Modals - might, may, will, probably
    • Past perfect
    • Past tense responses
    • Phrasal verbs, extended
    • Present perfect continuous
    • Present perfect/past simple
    • Reported speech (range of tenses)
    • Modals - should have/might have/etc
    • Adverbs
    • Special Constructions
    • Sequence of Tenses in Indirect Speech
    • Reported speech
  • A2/Elementary/Pre-intermediate
    • Countables and Uncountables: much/many
    • Future Time (will and going to)
    • Articles - with countable and uncountable nouns
    • Gerunds
    • Going to
    • Imperatives
    • Modals - can/could
    • Modals - have to
    • Numeral Comparisons
    • Articles and other determiners
    • Modals - should
    • Adverbs of frequency
    • Adverbial phrases of time, place and frequency - including word order
    • Adjectives - superlative - use of definite article
    • Adjectives - comparative, - use of than and definite article
    • Participle
    • Gerund
    • Past continuous
    • Prepositions of time (at/on/in)
    • Possessives - use of 's, s'
    • Prepositional phrases (place, time and movement)
    • Prepositions of time: on/in/at
    • Present continuous for future
    • Present perfect
    • Verb + ing/infinitive: like/want-would like
    • Wh-questions in past
    • Zero and 1st conditional
    • Phrasal verbs - common
    • Prepositional phrases (time, place and movement)
    • Questions Zero and 1st conditionals
    • Could (possibility)
    • Modals: should Past simple
    • Articles - specific member
  • A1/Elementary/Beginners
    • Past simple of "to be"
    • Past Simple
    • Possessive adjectives
    • Possessive s
    • Prepositions, common
    • Prepositions of place
    • Prepositions of time, including in/on/at
    • Present continuous
    • Present simple
    • Pronouns: simple, personal
    • Questions
    • There is/are
    • To be, including question+negatives
    • Verb + ing: like/hate/love
    • Simple verb forms
    • Modals: can/can't/could/couldn't
    • Intensifiers - very basic
    • Imperatives (+/-)
    • I'd like
    • Inversion
    • Adjectives: common and demonstrative
    • How much/how many and very
    • common uncountable nouns
    • Prepositions and prepositional phrases
    • Tenses
Even though I abandoned the idea of using EAQUALS descriptors as tags, we still decided to keep CEFR levels as an independent tags hierarchy.
So, we still need a taxonomy. Where do I begin? That's easy! I'll adopt a sound contemporary grammar. Cambridge Grammar of English Language is a great candidate, isn't it?

Cambridge Grammar of English Language, The

I start reading and soon begin to appreciate how straight the book describes English syntax. The grammar does not prescribes how one should use English but describes how English is used. Sentences are viewed as built from constituents. Clauses are built up from phrases; phrases are comprised of their respective heads and dependents. Different constituents might bear certain grammatical functions under defined circumstances. Places where phrases may occur in sentences depend on the types of their heads.
You can't encounter an 'exception from a grammar rule' there, and there is no Future Perfect Continuous. What you can find are remarks like “we depart from the tradition of English grammar at many points, sometimes quite sharply. For example, in this book the reader will find nothing of 'noun clauses', 'adjective clauses', or 'adverb clauses' because that traditional distinction in subordinate clause classification does not divide things satisfactorily and we have abandoned it.” More examples? Determinatives aren't adjectives, pronouns are nouns, nouns in prepositional phrases are complements to prepositions and 'will' is a modal like 'can'.
You can refer to the mind map to get the idea. Please note, that I'm neither a linguist nor have really rigorously checked the map. It also has some categories more expanded than others to make a point, e.g. 'verb phrase' node. Nethertheless, if you see that I got something wrong, please, do give me a tip in comment.

See as list...


  • Syntax
    • Sentence
      • constituents
    • Syntactic categories
      • Lexical categories
        • Noun
          • Case
            • Genitive
            • Plain
          • Number
            • Count
            • Non-count
        • Pronoun
          • Case
            • Nominative
            • Accusative
            • Dependent genitive
            • Independent genitive
        • Verb
          • Lexical
          • Primary forms
            • Preterite
            • 3rd singular present tense
            • Plain present tense
          • Secondary forms
            • Plain form
            • Gerund-participle
            • Past participle
          • Auxiliary
            • Negative form
            • Be
              - Am
              - Is
              - Are
              - Ascriptive use
              - Specifying use
          • Aspect
          • Mood & modality
            • Deontic
            • Epistemic
            • Dynamic
        • Adjective
        • Adverb
        • Preposition
          • Stranding
        • Determinative
        • Subordinator
        • Coordinator
        • Interjection
      • Phrasal categories
        • Clause
          • Canonical / Non-canonical
            • Counterpart
          • Type and illocutionary force
            • Declarative
            • Closed interrogative
            • Open interrogative
            • Exclamative
            • Imperative
          • Syntactic processes
          • Negation
            • Causal / Non-causal
            • Clausal / subclausal
            • Non-affirmative
          • Position
            • Nucleus
            • Prenucleus
            • Gap
            • Co-indexed element
          • Complement
            • Subject
            • Object
            • Predicative
            • Prepositional phrase
          • Adjunct
          • Subordinate
            • Relative
            • Comparative
            • Content
              - Declarative
              - Closed interrogative
              - Open interrogative
              - Exclamative
              - Reported speech
          • Relative
          • Comparative
          • Non-finite
            • To-infinitival
            • Bare-infinitival
            • Gerund-participal
            • Past-participal
            • Verbless
          • Information packaging
            • Preposing
            • Postposing
            • Inversion
            • Existential
            • Extraposition
            • Cleft
            • Passive
        • Verb phrase
          • Complement
            • External
              • Subject
            • Internal
              • Object
            • Predicative
          • Modifier
        • Noun phrase
          • Determiners
          • Number
        • Nominal
        • Adjective phrase
        • Adverb phrase
        • Preposition phrase
        • Determinative phrase
    • Deixis
    • Anaphora
  • Grammatical functions
    • Subject
    • Head
      • Predicate
        • Predicator
      • Fused
    • Dependent
      • Internal/external
      • Complement
      • Modifier
      • Determiner
    • Non-head constructions
      • Coordination
      • Supplementation
  • Morphology
    • Lexical word formation
      • Word
        • Compounding
        • Derivation
        • Conversion
    • Inflectional morphology
      • Lexeme
        • Lexical base
        • Inflection
  • Punctuation
A great grammar, isn't it? Should we base our taxonomy on it? Well, I have a crouching suspicion that it might not be easy to perceive or comprehend. Sure, it is possibly is the number one choice for an individual of highly intelligent alien species, but it still might be a little bit too much for even an advanced English learner. There are also other grammars, good and comprehensive.
Gosh, this is depressing! On the other hand, being a non-native speaker, I supposedly have the advantage of being able to say what is not easy to understand. The challenge is thus to obtain a compelling taxonomy. Having one, I will know tha