I’ve been taking an American English Grammar course this semester, and while that has had a tremendous impact on what I learn about the complexities of our language, speech patterns, vocabulary, pronunciation and all that, what really has hit home with me has been conversations with my son, who will turn eight on December 7.  Every day I say something that I either have to translate for him, either for meaning or an explanation of why we say something as opposed to something else.

For example, I had taught him the expression, “It’s raining hard,” in description of how it was raining that day.  On another day, he said, “It’s raining tough outside, mommy.”  I had to explain that wasn’t the right word, but it was difficult to explain to him why.   I was so tempted just to use the ubiquitous parental, “because,” but as a scholar and as a mother who wants her child to learn to love the English language and its complexities as much as she does, I tackled the issue.  I can understand why he came up with tough instead of hard, for those are synonyms (and I was quite proud of him for understanding that much!) but I had to explain that they meant the same thing only in the context of “it was difficult/hard/tough homework” but not it’s raining “hard/heavily;” they were synonyms, but not in all meanings of the words.  How do I explain this to make sense to a young boy?  I think I did manage to put it in terms that he understood, but I’m not sure quite yet.

Another thing I noticed is that even though he is in second grade, I will have to crack open a grammar book to help me explain verb tenses to him.  When he was reading to me on Sunday, he kept stumbling over different verbs, like versions of “say, said, says” etc.  It is hard (as in difficulty, not as in solidity!) for me to explain to him, “Yes, well, it is ‘say’ in this book, but it is the second-person present tense, ‘you say,’ and over here it was third-person past tense, ‘the doctor said, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”‘”  (Did I do that right?  Blast–I would run to a style book and check out how to do quotes within a quote within a quote, but I need a shower before class!)  I do not want to confuse my son, but I want to help him understand why the words look similar but are different, and are used at different times for different purposes.

And, speaking of my shower, maybe that will wake me back up.  I’ve been working intrepidly all day, and normally I try to take a nap to recharge.  I hope I will be okay tonight!