I’m very sorry for the delay in finishing the job on that last blog. My wife and I took a trip to Italy and then some health concerns got in the way.

So now that we know what an adjective clause is, where do we go from here?

By the way, check out your average grammar book and look up Adjective Clause and my guess is that you will see niente as the Italians would put it—a bit fat nothing. And why is that, you may ask? These clauses are called relative clauses in the traditional grammar books. Huh, you say? Why is that? One source that I found said this:

“These pronouns are called relative pronouns because they relate to a noun or a pronoun in the sentence.”


So you think that I was being a little wacky by talking about learning to back the car out of the drive way, by taking hold of the burlibuss and then putting the zimgotty into the warlap and then . . . well you get my point. We could just as easily call the spark wires in a car the “relative wires” because they relate to the spark plugs.

Who can make sense of this?

It all reminds me of an exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Through the Looking Glass. Here’s the passage:

‘There’s glory for you!’

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they’re the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

‘Would you tell me please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’

‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’ (Chapter 6)

* * *

Ha! In other words: that’s enough questions, Alice dearee!

I have a feeling that this is what the grammar classroom sounds like to a lot of students. No wonder a lot of school districts want to just make grammar instruction go away.

This is the kind of thing that makes grammar so hard to learn—and teach—let’s face it: a lot of teachers struggle with this too because they are dependent on the books.

We need to clear away this terminology that doesn’t work. Adjective clauses are clauses (meaning they contain a subject and verb) that have the “Adjective” function. As I put it in Loving Grammar, the adjective clause “piece” does the adjective “move”, just like the different pieces in chess (like the pawn or the Queen or the King) can do the same move—like moving forward on the board. There are 4 basic Moves in Chess (forward, backward, sideways, and diagonal) and there are 4 principle ‘Moves’ in English grammar: noun, verb, adjective, and adverb.

The truth is much clearer and it doesn’t flutter in the wind and waver as does Humpty Dumpty’s theory of language (who, come to think of it, despite his size is up there probably right now, waving in the wind). When you learn what the adjective looks like and what it does in Loving Grammar, then you transfer that same information to the level of clauses and phrases. Adjective clauses do the same things in the sentence that the adjectives do. And adjective phrases (adjective preposition phrases, participial phrases and appositive phrases) do the same also. Let me show how this works from a passage in Loving Grammar:

“Now, watch this—you can do the same thing in grammar. It’s like magic! Here’s an adjective (piece) doing the adjective move.”

     Piece: Adjective

Giovanni is the tall kid

“The adjective move tells which kid. So the function is: adjective move. And the piece is: adjective.

“No-brainer, right, Giovanni?”


“Okay, now—watch this.”

     Piece: Prepositional phrase

Giovanni is the kid with red hair.

“In case you didn’t know, ‘with red hair’ is a prepositional phrase—that’s the name of the piece, but it does the exact same function that the adjective did. What’s that function, Giovanni?”

“It tells which kid.”

“You got it. Way to go, G-man!”

“So here are two different pieces (like the Queen and the Rook) doing the same move. Get it, Felix?”

“Yeah, I think so!”

“Great. Would you like to see one more piece that can do the adjective function? All right, look at this baby!”

Piece: Adjective Clause

Giovanni is the kid who drove me to school.

“Isn’t that cool? Which kid?-the kid ‘who drove me to school.’” So three different grammar pieces can do the same move. Everybody with me? You guys still awake?”

*                                                       *                                                                *

Okay, I know that I didn’t get to the punctuation, as I promised. I’ll do that in the next blog post—Driving Part 3. Sorry! See you soon!

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