If you are a parent of a child in primary school, you will probably be becoming aware of the increased focus on grammar and punctuation contained in the new National Curriculum. Your child’s school may have provided information about the new English grammar, punctuation and spelling tests which Year 2 and Year 6 children will be taking next summer. Depending upon when and where you went to school, you may find the information coming from school (and the terminology being used by your child) challenging.

Whether you are bewildered by the terminology used or just want to know a little more to support your child, I hope you will find this blog useful. You can click on the Parent’s Start Page to link to information about different areas of grammar and punctuation. Alternatively, enter a term in the search bar or click on a word in the cloud of labels. If you have further queries, get in touch and I will try to help where I can. You can also follow me on Twitter @grammarpuss13.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017


Determiners usually start a noun phrase and are words which give us information about whether the noun is specific or general.  For instance, in the sentence 'This cat would be the best for me', the word 'this' indicates we are talking about a specific cat.  'A cat' or 'any cat' would not indicate any specific cat, as 'a' and 'any' are general determiners.

When children start writing, they very often rely on the general determiners 'a' and 'an', or the specific determiner 'the'.  We should encourage children to increase the range of determiners they use so that they can vary their writing and communicate more clearly whether they are talking about something specific or general.

As children are taught to read and write many determiners as part of their phonics teaching in Reception and Year 1 classes, it is an ideal opportunity or them to put these words into practice. However, they do not need to know the term 'determiner' until they are in Year 4.

Here are some determiners you can use with your children to help them improve their use.  Ideas are contained in the link to the activity below:

  • a, an, the  (these are also called 'articles' but this is not a term children are required to learn)
  • this, that, these, those
  • some, any, every, another
  • my, your, his, her, its, our, their
  • several, few, many
  • next, last
  • first, seventh, tenth  (ordinal numbers, which indicate an order)
  • six, twelve  (cardinal numbers, which indicate a quantity)
  • which, whose, what (when these words are used to start questions, e.g. Which book is mine?)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Take Tibbles Out: using subject and object pronouns correctly

The object of this activity is to help children understand when to use the subject pronoun ‘I’ and when to use the object pronoun ‘me’. 

Children will sometimes confuse these pronouns and use them in the wrong positions in sentences.  This usually happens when more than one subject or object fills the subject or object position in a sentence.  For example, children will correctly say:
·        went to the swimming pool.

However, when another subject is included, they often change the subject pronoun to the object pronoun:
·        Me and my family went to the swimming pool. ) Incorrect as object pronoun
·        Me and Suzie went to the swimming pool.       ) ‘me’ used in the subject position.                             

Similarly, the object pronoun is sometimes confused when another object is added.
·        Grandma loves me.  (Correct)
·        Grandma loves Suzie and I.  (Incorrect as subject pronoun ‘I’ used in the object  position.)

This is Tibbles.  The idea is to use the cards to make a sentence and then ‘Take Tibbles out’ of each sentence to check if the sentence sounds right and the correct pronoun has been used.

Children should choose one sentence card and decide which Tibbles card and pronoun card they need to complete the sentence correctly.

When they have made the sentence, ask them to ‘Take Tibbles out’.  Does the sentence still make sense?

‘Tibbles and I’ should be used before the verb (highlighted red) as this is the subject position. Usually the proper noun comes before the subject pronoun ‘I’.  If children have used ‘me’ in this position, talk to them about whether it sounds right to say, for example, ‘Me chased bubbles’.  What would sound better?

If the object position (after the verb) needs completing, children will need to use the ‘me’ pronoun card.  Again, if they select ‘I’, talk about sense and ask how it sounds.
It is also quite useful for children to notice the positional pattern: ‘I’ is used before the verb and ‘me’ is used after. 

Tibbles and
and Tibbles

_____ watched TV.
_____  went for a walk.
 _____ chased bubbles.
_____ played in the garden.
 _____ sat on the sofa.
 _____ fell asleep.
Mum gave some treats to _____ .
The thunder frightened _____ .
My brother drew _____ .
The dog barked at _____ .

Using the template cards, children could make up their own sentences to vary the activity.

Return to pronoun post

Monday, 16 May 2016


A prefix is a small unit of meaning which is added at the beginning of a word to make a new word with a different meaning.  Understanding what the prefix means can often help us work out what the new word means.  For example, the prefix un- has the meaning ‘not’, so we can work out that it will change the meaning of any word to a negative: kind/unkind, happy/unhappy.

Some prefixes have a similar meaning and are used with words spelt in particular ways.  For example the following prefixes also have a meaning of not:
il- used with words beginning with ‘l’ – illegal, illogical,
im- used with words beginning with ‘p’ – impatient, impossible, impractical
ir- used with words beginning with ‘r’ – irretrievable, irrational, irregular
dis- used with a variety of words and is not particularly related to the way the word is spelt – disappoint, discover, distaste

Other common prefixes include:

See how many new words you and your child can make with these prefixes.  Discuss how the meaning of the original word has changed by adding the prefix.  Can you make a rule for what the prefix means and test it by adding it to other words?  Encourage your child to use a dictionary to help unpick the meanings.

For example:

Take the root word ‘press’.  Can you add any of the prefixes?
  • depress
  • repress
  • compress

What do these words mean and how do they differ from the original word ‘press’?

You can extend this activity by seeing if you can add any suffixes to the word as well.  For example, impressed, compressing, suppression.


A suffix is a small unit of meaning which is added at the end of a word to make a new word. 

Adding a suffix can change words in a grammatical way, for example changing the tense of verbs (want – wanted), changing a noun from singular to plural (car – cars, bus – buses) or changing an adjective to a different form (smart – smarter – smartest).

Adding a suffix can change the meaning of the word, e.g. host/hostess, kitchen/kitchenette, duck/duckling.

Adding a suffix can change the word class and alter how a word is used in a sentence.  There are a huge number of suffixes; the list below exemplifies just a few:
-ly can change an adjective into an adverb (brave/bravely, kind/kindly)
-ful can change a noun into an adjective (grace/graceful, beauty/beautiful)
-ness can change an adjective into a noun (sad/sadness)
-er can change a verb into a noun (help/helper, teach/teacher)
-ation can change a verb into a noun (consider/consideration)

The English language is very flexible in permitting these types of constructions, which means we can create new words easily.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Trickier apostrophes

Children will have learnt in Year 2 that 's is added to singular nouns to show possession (the cat's tail).  This is usually the same for a proper noun that already ends in s.  Examples are Charles's car, James's book.  When possession is shown in this way, the additional s is pronounced.  

As with everything in our language, there are exceptions to be found: for example, St. James's Park in London uses the 's, whereas St. James' Park, home of Exeter City FC, just uses the apostrophe on its own.  Very often the exceptions relate to names of places or organisations, so it is a good idea to check the source through an official document or website.

Sometimes names end in s, but to pronounce an additional s would be awkward, e.g. Achilles' heel, not Achilles's heel.  You wouldn't say 'I watched Kevin Bridges's show.' or 'I love Saint Saens's music.' Therefore, in these instances we would just use Kevin Bridges' show and Saint Saens' music.

There is much debate over whether proper nouns ending in a sibilant sound (/s/ or /z/) should take 's or just the apostrophe to indicate possession.  Writers make a choice about which convention they use and children will find exceptions and will delight in pointing these out to their teachers and parents.  I believe, when working with children, best practice would be consistency in adding 's, unless this makes the word awkward to say, or we just wouldn't even consider pronouncing the additional s.

Using apostrophes to show singular possession

In Year 2, children will learn that an apostrophe + s ('s) is added to singular nouns to show possession: 

  • the dog's ball (the ball belongs to the dog)
  • the flower's petals (the petals belong to the flower)
  • the car's wheels (the wheels belong to the car)
You can help your child learn about using apostrophes in this way by using a picture of an animal or a vehicle, where you can name various parts.  First list the parts of the animal or vehicle they can see.

 tail    head    ears    whiskers    eyes    paws    nose

Discuss with your child how you can say that these parts belong to the cat.  Point to different parts and ask them to tell you 'the cat's tail', 'the cat's whiskers', etc.  When they can talk the picture, ask them to write the words.  If they write 'the cats tail', ask how many cats they can see.  How can we make sure the reader knows there is only one cat?  We use an apostrophe before the s.  If you print out the picture, or use one from a magazine, they could label the picture.

The process is usually the same for a proper noun that already ends in s.  Examples are Charles's car, James's book.  When possession is shown in this way, the additional s is pronounced.  For information on trickier apostrophes, click here.

Apostrophes to show where letters are missing (contractions)

In English we can use apostrophes to show where one or more letters have been missed out:  don't (do not), I'm (I am), They're (They are).  These are often referred to as 'contractions' because the words have been made shorter.

We tend to use contractions in speech, because they are quicker to use than saying the two words in full.  This sort of abbreviation is not used in writing where formal, Standard English is required: children will need to learn that they are useful for informal writing, such as speech in stories, plays and forms non-fiction where writing is more conversational, e.g. newspaper quotes, some persuasive writing, etc.

The apostrophe should be used in the position where the letter/s are omitted, e.g. can’t (cannot), it’s (it is), you're (you are), they'll (they will). These apostrophes help the reader distinguish between words which use the same letters: I’ll – ill, he’ll – hell, we’re – were.

The following table lists some of the most common contractions and their full versions.  You can use these in two ways with your children:
  • Show them the contracted version and ask them what it means.  What is it short for?  Discuss what letters are missing.  What is the punctuation mark that replaces the missing letters?
  • Show them the full, two-word version.  How could we make this shorter?  What word do we usually use instead of these two words?  What letters do we miss out?  What punctuation mark do we need to use instead of the letters?  How do we write it? (Make sure they use the apostrophe above the line – not as they would use a comma!)

I am
they are
I will
they will
you are
you will
do not
he is
did not
he will
shall not
she is
will not
she will
must not
it is
has not
it will
have not
we are
had not
we will
are not