MC studies more grammar (Peikoff course)

Project Summary:
Study the grammar course by Leonard Peikoff.
The course is on Youtube here:

Complete the Peikoff grammar course and complete all of the exercises with confidence.

Success criteria (& optional failure criteria):
I want to set higher standards for myself so I want to complete the course with a high confidence in all my answers. I will fail if I start getting lazy and making careless guesses. If I find myself getting unsure or confused, I should do whatever tangential investigation is needed to get clarification before posting my answers.

Big picture goal, why you want to do this, or CF relevance:
I’m not currently highly confident of my grammar skills. It often takes conscious effort for me to understand grammar. I want to be consistently good at grammar so I can understand articles better and write better myself.

I plan to work on this for at least an hour a day. This will typically be a combination of watching course videos, writing notes, and writing my exercise answers.

I’ve previous studied Elliot’s grammar article. Elliot pointed out that I still make some grammar mistakes.

Notes on the first video in the course “Basic Grammatical Concepts”.

8:40 Inflection in grammar: A modification to a word e.g. plural or tense.
9:50 “I” and “me” are the same word in grammar, with a different inflection (subject or object form).
10:55 Syntax is the branch of grammar about the order of words.
13:10 A mistaken idea of grammar is that it is an absolute defined set of rules that will never change. It is an authoritarian idea and retains rules that are no longer relevant or suitable. One example is that ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong.
15:50 Another mistaken idea of grammar is subjectivism: that there are no principles of grammar.
20:00 English is a distributive language with a relatively low amount of inflection used, compared to an inflective language e.g. Latin which uses a lot of inflection. English grammar primarily uses syntax rather than inflection.
25:15 The central concept of grammar: the sentence. A group of words expressing a complete thought.
26:30 Types of sentence: Declarative (stating a fact), interrogative (asking a question), imperative (giving an instruction) and exclamatory (expressing an emotion). The course (or this part of it) is focused on declarative.
27:10 A complete thought (a sentence) is a self-intelligible unit of thought.
35:30 My thoughts: I don’t think I understand punctuation so well. I might seem to know it (probably not to a skilled reader) but I don’t know the thinking behind it. I may need to substantially relearn it. I think I’ve learned use of punctuation (periods, commas, semicolons, colons) by some vague arbitrary rules. Punctuation is there to clearly express thoughts and communicate which thoughts are connected. Now I understand better that ignoring punctuation (e.g. taking a few words out of a sentence to criticise) is a form of dropping context and ignoring the explicit intent of a writer. Punctuation is part of communicating how thoughts relate to other thoughts.
36:40 Two elements are required for a complete thought: a subject (a thing) and predicate (a statement about the thing).
39:00 The video starts talking about the course material here. I didn’t feel confident looking at the course material so I kept watching.
41:00 Expletive: like there or it (or many others) can be used to add emphasis but are not part of the meaning of the sentence

Breaking for now at 42:50 in the video.

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Continuing the first video:

42:50 Two other types of word groups distinct from a sentence: clause and phrase.
43:15 Phrase: A group of 2+ related words which do not have a subject or predicate. There are lots of types of phrase: prepositional phrases, noun phrases, participle phrases, and more. (I skipped noting the rest of this section as it’s done in a very brief way which I think will be expanded later, plus it’s all stuff I’m familiar with from Elliot’s grammar article. Note: Elliot says a phrase does not need multiple words, he disagrees with Peikoff here.)
49:15 Clause: A group of words that does have a subject and predicate. This is “much closer to” a sentence. It is not a complete thought and does not stand by itself. A group of words that is a sentence (complete thought) could become a clause (incomplete thought) with a preposition or conjunction (e.g. “I stood up.” is a sentence while “after I stood up” is a clause).
54:25 Phrases & clauses are parts of sentences, they are not complete thoughts. (Avoiding notes about discussing the homework here, I’ll address the homework later once I’ve finished the lecture.)

Taking a break at 59.42. I ended up spending a lot of time refreshing my memory and rewatching bits. I found this part hard work to get through.

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I made a mistake here. Clauses don’t get preceded by prepositions, only by conjunctions. I think I’ve made this mistake before. Prepositions can precede noun phrases but not clauses; they govern the noun phrase.

(Also a note following my previous notes at 49:15: In Elliot’s article it says that a clause is a complete thought, while Peikoff’s lecture say a clause is not a complete thought.)

Continuing the first video:

1:00:00 The essence of a subject-predicate structure: subject is a noun, predicate is a verb.
1:01:00 Noun: Designates a thing or quality.
1:03:20 Nouns may be substituted with a pronoun. There can be noun phrases.
1:04:22 There are also word combinations that function as nouns. E.g. in “to err is human, to forgive divine” the words “to err” operate as the subject noun and are called an infinitive.
1:05:48 “what he said upset me” has the subject “what he said” which is a clause operating as a noun
1:06:52 Verb: An action or state of being of the subject. (Note: in Elliot’s article they’re called action or linking verbs.) There can be verb phrases.
1:09:40 The distinction between verbs and verbals is crucial. There are three kinds of verbals: gerund, participle and infinitive. These are formed from verbs. A verb used as a noun e.g. “flying is hard” has a gerund. A verb used as an adjective is a participle, e.g. “falling, he felt growing regret” has two participles. A verb used as a noun is an infinitive and usually is “to” followed by the verb, such as “to fly is a lofty aspiration”.
1:16:40 “simple subject”: just the subject noun and “simple predicate”: just the predicate verb.
1:19:40 Modifiers: A word (or phrase) which describes, limits or qualifies another verb. Adjectives (modifying nouns or pronouns) and adverbs (modifying anything else: verbs, adjectives, adverbs, clauses/sentences). Many adverbs end with “ly”. Some adverbs are able to modify entire clauses, so they can work as conjunctions too.

Stopping at 1:28:30 for now.

Continuing the first video:

1:28:50 You need context around a word to understand what part of speech the word is.
1:30:15 An example here that I couldn’t understand at first: “I went home for dinner”. “home” is described as an adverb here, but my intuition is that it’s an object noun (and I have another intuition that this is a mistake I’ve made before). “home” can be a noun. I think the crucial distinction is that going home is not doing something to home and it’s not specifying a home and is more like the concept of home and you need to assume stuff to understand it as anything specific. The home is not being explicitly affected, it’s just being used as a directional indicator like “going north” or “running away” or “flying sunward”. (Note: A listener in the video questions this at 1:32:20, “I went to my home” is an example of “home” being a noun.)
1:35:00 “Many men are too studious.” is a form I don’t think I’ve looked at much before. The video describes “studious” as an adjective that modifies “men” rather than a noun. I checked Elliot’s grammar article and found an explanation that I’m happy with where he explains complements - adjectives that are used like the object of a sentence with linking verbs.
1:36:50 Complements also explained here, as the words to finish a thought after a verb. Peikoff describes objects as a subtype of complement.

Stopping at 1:42:50 for now. I got very into another project today.

1:43:10 Both phrases and clauses function as units (parts of speech). A phrase or clause can be used as an adjective, an adverb or a noun.

(There follows a long part going through some example exercises.)

1:57:00 In describing the example “I need a hat that is light but warm.” the word “that” is described as a relative pronoun as it relates “is light but warm” to the subject “hat”. I’m not familiar with this concept. The video states it will be explained “next week.” (I’m don’t know how many videos later in the series this means.)
2:01:00 Looking ahead at the homework. The exercises are interesting; they include long complex examples and examples with errors to identify. (Additional thoughts: I plan to use techniques described in Elliot’s grammar article for the homework such as identifying simple sentence, identifying each part (verbs, nouns, adjectives, phrases, clauses, conjunctions, prepositions, verbals and so on), outlining and question-based analysis.)
2:03:40 “Part of speech” means the functional part, a verbal is not part of speech it is just a description of the form of a word. Verbals can be used as part of speech such as a noun or adjective.

That’s the end of the first video. In my following posts I will attempt the homework exercises.

I took a break from this as a result of burnout (from another project) and then because I made a misquote mistake that I needed to think seriously about.

The full PDF of exercises can be downloaded from this page:

Quotes in this post are lines from the PDF.

Doing the homework for part 1:
The first exercises are to parse the sentences.

  1. When Jack came into the room, he began to remove his coat. A wise move.

First sentence: When Jack came into the room, he began to remove his coat.

  • When - subordinating conjunction
  • Jack came into the room - subordinate clause
    • Jack - subject noun
    • came - action verb past tense inflection
    • into the room - prepositional phrase
      • into - preposition
      • the - determiner adjective specifying which room
      • room - object noun
  • he began to remove his coat - main clause
    • he - subject pronoun referring to “Jack”
    • began - action verb past tense inflection
    • to remove his coat - object noun phrase
      • to remove - infinitive verbal acting as an adjective
      • his - determiner adjective specifying which coat
      • coat - subject noun

Second sentence: “A wise move.”
A sentence fragment as it lacks a subject.

I think the words “It was” are implied at the start of the sentence.

So breaking down the modified sentence: [It was] a wise move.

  • It - subject pronoun referring to the previous sentence
  • was - linking verb
  • a wise move - complement
    • a - determiner adjective (I think this is an adjective modifying “move” rather than an adverb modifying “wise” as the complement would still make sense if “wise” were removed.)
    • wise - adjective
    • move - subject noun
  1. Coming into the room, Jack began to remove his coat.
  • Coming into the room, Jack - subject phrase
    • Coming into the room - adjective phrase
      • Coming - participle adjective affecting “Jack”
      • into - prepositional adverb modifying “coming” and governing “room”
      • the - determiner adjective specifying which room
      • room - prepositional object noun
    • Jack - subject
  • began - action verb
  • to remove his coat - object noun phrase (copied from previous exercise)
    • to remove - infinitive verbal acting as an adjective
    • his - determiner adjective specifying which coat
    • coat - subject noun
  1. Italy owes a historic debt to her great sculptors. A debt she can never repay.

First sentence: “Italy owes a historic debt to her great sculptors.”

  • Italy - subject noun
  • owes - linking verb
  • a historic debt to her great sculptors - object noun phrase
    • a - determiner adjective affecting “debt”
    • historic - determiner adjective affecting “debt”
    • debt - object noun
    • to her great sculptors - prepositional adverb modifying “owes”
      • to - preposition which governs “sculptors”
      • her - adjective modifying “sculptors”
      • great - adjective modifying “sculptors”
      • sculptors - prepositional object noun

Second sentence: “A debt she can never repay.”
I don’t know how to parse this. I think I understand it fine.

Rewriting it in the way I understand it: It is a debt that she can never repay.

I think that is the right answer - there are implied words “It is” and “that”. I think I can parse the sentence now.

Parsing the sentence with implied words: [It is] a debt [that] she can never repay.

  • it is a debt - main clause
    • It - object pronoun referring to the debt in the previous sentence
    • is - linking verb
    • a debt - subject noun phrase
      • a - determiner adjective affecting “debt”
      • debt - subject noun
  • that - subordinating conjunction OR relative pronoun
  • she can never repay - subordinate clause OR relative clause
    • she - subject noun
    • can never - verb phrase
      • can - verb
      • never - adverb
    • repay - object noun

Note: This is not a final answer and I included “OR” to indicate the answers I’m not sure about. I came across relative pronouns and relative clauses while trying to parse this and I am not sure I understand them correctly. These are incomplete notes until I better understand the distinction between subordinate clauses and relative clauses (which may come up in the Peikoff course.)

There are four more exercises (which add appositives) in this homework. I will continue in my next post another day.

Concluding thoughts:
I struggled with all this and got confused quite often which I had to process before writing an answer as per the project conditions. One thing I did when confused was ask myself systematically: Is it a noun? Is it a verb? Is it an adjective? Is it an adverb? Is it a preposition? Is it a conjunction? If I only have one positive answer, then it is the right one (at least to the best of my knowledge.) If I have multiple positive answers, then I work out how to arbitrate between them. (I might also ask suitable follow-up sub-questions like: Is it a pronoun? Is it a gerund? Etc.)

It’s been a few weeks since I did the exercises in Elliot’s grammar article and I don’t think I have properly automatised very much yet. I have a lot of work still to do practising my grammar. I’m going to make an effort to avoid taking a big break from studying grammar again as I think I may have lost progress.

(There’s a “Post can’t be empty” error message when I try to post only quotes, so I added this sentence.)

I think you’re implying that I’ve failed my project goal with examples that you think I got wrong.

Making mistakes is not the same as making careless guesses. They are not the same kind of error.

They next exercises introduce appositives. I haven’t come across appositives before so I’m making some notes about them first.

  • An appositive is a word or phrase parallel to another word or phrase that has the same referent and gives more information about the referent.
  • An appositive is considered restrictive or nonrestrictive. It is restrictive if it is vital to the meaning of the sentence and would change the meaning if it wasn’t present because of the parallel words or phrases one is specific and the other is general. It is nonrestrictive if it doesn’t add vital meaning and instead specifies the same referent in a different way.
  • If an appositive is nonrestrictive then it should be contained by commas (or sometimes parentheses or dashes.)
  • If an appositive is restrictive then it only needs to be contained (by commas or otherwise) if the appositive term is the general term.
  • When an appositive is at the end of a sentence it can be introduced with a colon.

An example restrictive appositive (specific-general): The city of Berlin, a large city, has a lot of German occupants.
An example restrictive appositive (general-specific): The man Bob stepped through the doorway.
An example nonrestrictive appositive: My mug, the mug I’m holding, contains decaf coffee.

My notes are based on these sources:

It’s discouraging to try to engage with you. You’ve shown no interest in engaging with what I said. You didn’t talk about which errors you think exist in those quotes on review, nor post mortem how they happened to find out if they were careless. You didn’t share your current opinions of any of the examples I chose. I do think you failed at your project, but it seems like you don’t have any reasonable paths forward and don’t want to hear it.

You ought to thank me for pointing out errors, even if they were the wrong kind, which you just assumed/stated without any analysis or argument. But instead of thankful, you seem hostile. I wanted to say something because I don’t know if you’re aware when you’re perceived by others as rude, unfriendly, uninterested in criticism, etc. It looks pretty intentional but maybe it’s not.

I guess you felt criticized, got defensive, and went into a mode of fighting off the attacks instead of doing objective, rational analysis. It’s interesting that that can happen when I omitted all commentary.

Did you try considering that my responses to you might be because your posts weren’t very helpful?

You said nothing. I had to guess at what you were implying.

You seem entitled. I don’t know anything about you or how good your grammar knowledge is. Because you chose not to explain anything, for all I knew I would be chasing red herrings trying to find out what you thought was wrong.

I suspect you’re cargo culting Elliot. If he wrote a post like yours I’d put effort into analysing it because he has a ton of context behind his posts. I’d have extremely high confidence that he’s right because I think he understands grammar very well. You don’t have anything of the sort. For all I know you’re worse at grammar than I am.

This is arrogant and entitled.

Project notes

My enthusiasm for studying grammar is less than I thought.

My project plan to study one hour a day is not something I’m interested in sustaining.

I’d like to finish the homework for the first video so I’m going to keep going on that as my interest allows. Afterwards I’ll re-assess and may look for grammar studies that I find more interesting.

Continuing the discussion from MC studies more grammar (Peikoff course):

I think that is extremely hostile and uncalled for. It seems to violate the rules on agreeability and civility FAQ - Critical Falliblism

You didn’t even try to engage with the examples anonymous raised, so I don’t think you can reasonably say “for all I knew I would be chasing red herrings trying to find out what you thought was wrong.” You didn’t make any reasonable effort to try to know what the issues were. You could have tried examining one example, and discussing whether there was an issue there to a conclusion, and then proceeded from there. But you were apparently disinterested in such a discussion.

Okay. I don’t think it was. But I may be wrong. So I’m going to write out my thoughts behind it in more detail.

My interpretation was that anon86 was telling me that I should have replied to everything they wrote at once and that I should have spent a lot of time trying to work out everything they said in one reply. But my lack of reply to other things was not a guarantee that I wouldn’t reply to them at a later time if anon86 had shown some sort of interest in conversation or if those points had caught my interest at a later time. I at first only replied to the claim that I had failed my project goal because that was the only thing that (owing to a lack of any other comment) seemed to be the only thing they were interested in.

Instead of a more reasonable and gradual approach, anon86 immediately went into a lengthy criticism on a lot of things I had made no comment about. My interpretation was that anon86 made some very unfair and unreasonable assumptions and seemed surprised that I hadn’t replied to everything they said all at once as if in some way I should have done that (which is why I concluded that they seem entitled, I don’t know why they would expect me to to reply to everything all at once otherwise.) I think it is a hostile and manipulative act to frame a discussion that way. I don’t know why they didn’t just ask why I didn’t respond to the rest of their post if they were so interested.

I was not convinced that it was the best use of my time at that point. There are many many exercises I can do to practise grammar and at the time I wasn’t convinced those samples were a priority because I had no information to judge how reliable they might be so it was a figurative roll of the dice. I may have gone through them at another time (such as after discussing whether they would count as project failures if I agreed that they were wrong.)

Yes, at the time I wasn’t. Do you think it’s reasonable to expect me to reply to everything someone says all at once? I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect any response in typical cases let alone a response to everything; I generally don’t put expectations on people I don’t know in online discussion.

Am I wrong in my interpretation that anon86 put such expectations upon me with the way they chose to frame the discussion, or that it is unreasonable and manipulative to do so?

Or, supposing you do agree with my interpretation, is my response unreasonable even in those circumstances?