The Logical Life

It’s been said the grammatical man leads a logical life. The saying, of course, applies to women and children as well. However, more than logic is imparted by the correct use of words. There’s a self-confidence that can be gained as well. When a person knows he is speaking properly, he doesn’t hesitate to express his thoughts.

The confidence that ideally begins early in a child’s education will sustain her throughout her life. Of all the subjects she studies, only language arts skills will be used every single day as she moves from schooling and ultimately into a job—inside or outside the home. Yes, math and social studies and foreign languages are important, without a doubt. But no other subject is required on a daily, even an hourly, basis for the rest of your child’s life.

Helping children understand grammatical rules and feel comfortable applying them is a serious obligation for the homeschooling parent. Because those rules are finite and basically constant, it’s not a daunting task to memorize them. We’ll look at two grammar rules today. First, we’ll explore the rule, and then we’ll examine it further via an example. Finally, I’ll provide a quiz to test your understanding.

The Law of Proximity

Let’s begin with a little-known law, the Law of Proximity. The rule says that when a pronoun is used, it must refer to the closest already-referenced noun. If the sentence is written so that two nouns might be referenced, then the reader (or listener) will be confused. Look at this sentence: 

Donna called Rosie every day while she was in the hospital.

It could be that Rosie was in the hospital, but the writer of this sentence might have meant that Donna was in the hospital. Here’s a much better construction:

Donna was in the hospital for a week. She called Rosie every single day.

It’s clear now that “she” refers to “Donna,” the obvious antecedent. When the meaning is not clear, that is, when you have a pronoun with two possible earlier references, the problem is called an “indefinite antecedent.” 

Radio announcer Jerry Coleman once made the following statement about baseball legend Dave Winfield: “Winfield goes back to the wall to catch the ball. He hits his head on the wall and it rolls off! It’s rolling all the way back to second base. This is a terrible thing for the Padres.” 

You see the problem right away, don’t you? The problem is the word it. There are three possible noun antecedents: wall, head, and ball. According to the Law of Proximity, the closest noun is wall. And we know the wall was not rolling!

Coleman, of course, meant the ball was rolling. But for a moment, the “terrible rolling thing” does appear to be Winfield’s head!

Practical Application Practice

Using these sample sentences, have your child draw arrows from each underlined word to the two possible antecedents for each underlined word.

1.   After the Senator watched the lion perform, he was fed 25 pounds of raw meat.

2.   Hostility and aggression can be destructive to you and your family members, so you should get rid of them.

3.   You have many skills prized by employers, so be sure to take advantage of them.

4.   Two years ago, a mole grew on my nose, which I then had surgically removed.

5.   A truck ran off the road and struck the telephone pole as it tried to get back on the paved road.

6.   She admired his biceps as they nodded to one another, strangers united by a clear attraction.

7.   From the car of Mrs. Dipner, strangers stole a cell phone, even though her husband was in it.