Good grammar made easy

Girl chewing pencil thinking
Good grammar isn't just for English lessons – it's a vital skill that will take your child through their educational journey and their life. It's not hard once you know the rules, says Jackie Cosh.

Linguists often bemoan the decline of grammar teaching in British schools, relating stories of children who don’t know what a noun is, and have no idea what to do with an apostrophe.

Every generation tends to think that standards have dropped, while in fact there is little evidence of knowledge of written grammar having changed much. (And, unfortunately, many adults are as confused by apostrophes as children are!) Under the new primary curriculum (revised in 2014), grammar teaching has been awarded much more importance, so your child will become an impressive grammarian as they prepare for the KS2 Spelling, grammar and punctuation test in the Year 6 SATs.

Getting to grips with grammar

Laying the foundations for good grammar is important for your child’s education and life skills. Think of the number of university courses which require essays to be written and the importance of grammar in job applications.

As adults, many of us take correct grammar for granted. So how can you support your child and help them learn to use it as instinctively as you do? Some of the grammar topics your child will cover in primary school are:

Simple tips for apostrophes

The apostrophe must be the most dreaded of punctuation marks, and the one which causes the most confusion. Apostrophes tend to be overused and even adults write CD’s instead of CDs and 1970’s instead of 1970s.

So does the apostrophe go before the ‘s’ or after? Does it even go in at all? And does it matter?

Yes, it most certainly does. Take this example:

Last night I went to my grandfathers.

This implies that the writer has two grandfathers who live together, as without an apostrophe the word becomes a plural. It should be:

Last night I went to my grandfather’s.

The easiest way to help your child understand the rule is to simplify it; encourage them to think ‘possessive not plural’. So you have five carrots, ten books, three cars; but Karen’s carrots, George’s books, Carol’s cars.

Of course this doesn’t take into account the possessive plural, such as teachers’ holidays, and the boys’ bikes, but if children understand the first rule, the second one will become easier to grasp.

An apostrophe is also used where a letter has been omitted, which clears up confusion over it’s and its. Remind your child that it’s is short for it is.

For example, read this sentence:

The tiger looks after it’s young.

Remembering the rule, it is easy to see that 'The tiger looks after it is young' is wrong (it means 'The tiger looks after it is young'). It should be:

The tiger looks after its young.

You'll find details of how apostrophes are taught in primary school in our parents' guide to apostrophes.

Grammar games

Here are a couple of games which you can play to help reinforce what your child is learning at school:

Grammar Spy
This is a grammar version of ‘I Spy’ which can be played anywhere and which younger brothers and sisters can join in with. Instead of saying, "I spy with my little eye something beginning with..." change it to, "I spy with my little eye a noun beginning with..."

Starting with a noun is easiest because it’s so similar to the original game, but you can also try saying, "I am thinking of a verb/adjective/adverb beginning with…".

Apostrophe Action
Make fifty cards with words that don’t have an apostrophe but should have – so dont, Katherines, the dogs bone, lets. Also include some that don’t have apostrophes – so CDs, 1950s etc. Put them in a pile. Say a phrase or sentence with that word, and players have to place the apostrophe. If they get it right they win the card. The winner is the one with the most cards at the end.