Friday, September 26, 2014

I Need a 12-Step Grammar Program

I didn't start it. A woman named Charlene did. 

She asked the question on the San Antonio Homeschoolers Facebook page: "In the sentence: My current favorite book is about baby animals. Is current an adjective or adverb. The book says adjective, but doesn't it modify favorite, an adjective, making it an adverb?"

All these people commented on her page that "current" was an adjective modifying book.  One of them even went into a mini-lecture about how it couldn't be an adverb, because adverbs tell us how, where, or when, which "current" clearly doesn't tell us.

And I couldn't stay silent. Because they were all so WRONG.

The word "current" in that sentence is giving us more information about when that book is her favorite, not about when that book is her book. It is modifying -- giving us more information about -- the word "favorite". And the how/where/when business is accurate when the adverb is modifying a verb; when it is modifying an adjective, it is often telling us "to what extent".

And so, I politely explained all this, with a gentle introduction to myself as an English teacher to try to give my words a little more weight in the conversation. I also softened the blow with a remark that this is an unusual construction and English is a pretty crazy language.

But in this sentence, "current" is most definitely an adverb.

Charlene thanked me. And then four or five more people commented on the thread, insisting that it was an adjective modifying book.

Seriously, people????

One tried to explain: "My current favorite book, remove favorite, the sentence still works ..... My current book, and also you can write the sentence as, 'My favorite current book' and it makes sense......which you couldn't do if it was an adverb."

I started to fume inwardly. (For real -- what's wrong with me?) I asked my daughters which word "current" is modifying in that sentence, and even they got it right. I tried to explain -- again, gently -- that although the phrase makes sense with the words switched, the two phrases do not mean the same thing. "One says, 'Of all of my books that I am reading at the moment, this one is my favorite.' The other says, 'Of all of my books, this one is my favorite at the moment.' The words are interchangeable, but the meaning changes when you change the words. That's because the first word is modifying the second in each case."

After a few more exchanges with Charlene about "light blue" (light is obviously modifying blue, but it can't be an adverb, she said -- YES, IT CAN!!), I decided that I'm a pretty sick person to obsess this much about labeling language. I bid them all good night and tried to get it all out of my head and go to sleep.

But friends, "current" is most definitely an adverb in that sentence. Definitely. Harrumph.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree. In that sentence "current" is an adverb. I believe it's an ungrammatical sentence because the adjective form is used in an adverb position. It would be correct if the sentence was reworded as "Currently, my favorite book is about baby animals." We don't want awkward-worded sentences...oops, I mean awkwardly-worded sentences! The reason the sentence doesn't sound that awkward is because we're used to hearing "favorite" as a noun. For example, "'My current favorite is..."