English Grammar Boot Camp

Course No. 2222
Professor Anne Curzan, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
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Course No. 2222
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What Will You Learn?

  • Trace the history of specific grammatical rules and of academic usage guides.
  • Delve into irregular plurals in English, observing the variety of ways they are formed.
  • Explore how verbs work with or without objects and learn about complex transitive verbs.
  • Examine how we use apostrophes with contractions and possessives, noting the problems involved with nouns ending in s"."

Course Overview

Attention: There are no less than five intentional grammatical “errors“ in this course description. If you can’t identify at least five, we recommend that you get this course!

Grammar! For many of us, the word triggers memories of finger-wagging schoolteachers, and of wrestling with the ambiguous and complicated rules of using formal language. But what is grammar, really? In fact, it’s the integral basis of how we speak and write.

As such, a refined awareness of grammar opens a world of possibilities for both your pleasure in the English language and your skill in using it, in both speech and the written word. As a foundation for writing, a detailed grounding in grammar and usage will hugely expand your resources for meaningful verbal expression, for navigating the subtleties of the language, and for achieving clarity of communication and stylistic power.

In English Grammar Boot Camp, linguist and popular Great Courses professor Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan takes you on an enjoyable exploration of the essential aspects of English grammar. These 24 spirited and accessible lectures offer you a comprehensive core training—a linguistic “boot camp,” by which we mean a thorough immersion in all of the key elements of English grammar and usage, in their most immediate, practical application.

Speaking with incisive insight, a Socratic teaching style, and refreshing humor, Professor Curzan leads you sequentially through the workings of the many parts of speech, from nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs to the fine points of determiners, intensifiers, prepositions, coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs, dangling modifiers, and more. In the final part of the course, you’ll combine all of these elements to take a penetrating look at matters of style and clarity, in settings ranging from daily speech to formal, academic, and scientific writing.

Delve Deeply into the Inner Workings of English

Regarding grammar and style, anyone can read a usage guide. But English Grammar Boot Camp provides something significantly more: a breadth of perspective and context you won’t find elsewhere, leaving you with a more choices and rich verbal resources for your own use of the language.

In discussing the different parts of speech, Professor Curzan directs your attention to how the element at hand evolved, often going as far back as the Renaissance or Old English. Highlighting reflections from 18th- and 19th-century usage guides as well as from multiple modern commentators, she guides you in examining real-world language use in a variety of contexts, helping you develop a sophisticated frame of reference and a deep awareness of the idiosyncrasies of English.

As an emblematic aspect of the course, Professor Curzan repeatedly demonstrates the value of being open-minded about the strong points and weaknesses of grammatical rules. She shows convincingly that we benefit greatly when we learn the history of prescriptive rules and compare the rules to the way speakers and writers use the language. This allows us to make informed decisions about when we want to adhere to the theoretically or formally “correct” and when we don’t. In this arena, you’ll uncover examples of “questionable” usage for rhetorical purposes by a range of brilliant writers, discovering that history’s grammatical scofflaws include the likes of William Shakespeare, whom used many double comparisons, and the framers of the U.S. Constitution, who spoke of a “more perfect” Union.

You’ll also take account of the tendency of the English-speaking populace to regularize the language over time, replacing a wonderful past participle such as “mown” with “mowed” and opting for plural “emojis” rather than “emoji.” Throughout the course. You’ll devote attention to the significant differences between spoken and written English.

The lectures of English Grammar Boot Camp serve up a banquet of grammatical insights, all of which will richly inform and deepen your skill with the language.

Study the Fine Points of Grammatical Usage

In the course of the lectures, you’ll investigate the building blocks of English grammar in detail, shedding light on numerous practical matters of usage, such as:

  • Common conundrums of grammar: Refine your understanding of numerous confusing issues of grammar, such as when to use “who”vs.”whom” or “that”vs.”which”;the question of subject-verb agreement (“A jury of my peers is/are…”); the challenges of conjoined pronoun constructions (“My sister and I/me…”); and whether it’s acceptable to begin sentences with conjunctions or end them with prepositions.
  • The anatomy of verbs: In mastering verb usage, gain clarity on verb tense (present, past, future) and aspect (progressive, present perfect, past perfect); how verbs function intransitively (“I read every day”) and transitively (“I read the newspaper”), and the functions of primary auxiliaryverbs(be/have/do) and modal auxiliary verbs(might/could/should).
  • The uses of the passive voice: Discover how the passive voice(as in, “Mistakes were made”), which we’re often counseled to avoid, has remarkable benefits in formal writing, such as for maintaining narrative continuity, for promoting a sense of objectivity in scientific writing, and for handling situations where the responsibility for an action is unclear.
  • Principles of punctuation: Clarify the meaning and usage of each of the punctuation marks and see how they organize information and shape meaning. In particular, investigate the punctuation marks that people are most confused about, such as the comma, semicolon, and dash, and the particular complexities of the apostrophe.
  • The grammar of conversation: In studying the important differences between spoken and written English, take account of grammatical practices that are acceptable in speech but less so in writing, such as dangling modifiers, the use of discourse markers (such as “so,” “well,” and “oh”), and stranded prepositions.
  • Grammar’s larger context: Look closely at how to present information with fluency and style in your writing, and grasp principles of clarity in scientific writing. Experiment with the known-new contract, a principle that helps readers follow your ideas by presenting known information before new information, within sentences and sequentially.

A Glorious Panorama of the English Language

Finally, Professor Curzans’ contagious passion for the subject matter and encyclopedic knowledge of the language make English Grammar Boot Camp an especially enthralling and enjoyable exploration. Throughout, Professor Curzan frames the course’s inquiry into grammar as a thoroughly remarkable tour of the language, offering countless illuminating observations on how English grammar and usage developed, and on the matter of how writers and grammarians down through the centuries have viewed the language and its communicative resources.

Ranging widely across the historical spectrum, Professor Curzan treats you to fascinating reflections on the history of grammatical practice (the verb “to go” has a mystifyingly irregular past tense, “went,” which was lifted from the verb “to wend”) and to a keen view of how the language changes over time, including in our own fast-moving era. For example, the modal verbs “must” and “shall” are now in serious decline, and we often “verb” nouns (“to google”) and “noun” verbs (“a hire”). To give perspective on conscious grammatical choice, she cites memorable examples of inadvertently amusing English usage (“Property owners and occupants of dwellings suffering damage from squirrel, raccoon, red fox and coyote, or their agents designated in writing…”).

The delightful and superbly insightful lectures of English Grammar Boot Camp offer you a unique opportunity to explore the linguistic riches of the English language, and to significantly deepen your mastery of grammar, usage, and style. This mastery will enable you to use English more competently and confidently in every context.

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24 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Do We Care about Grammar?
    First, examine how we judge what is acceptable or unacceptable in English, and how we distinguish acceptable" from "stylistically preferable." Consider how grammar often takes on larger meanings related to education and culture. Grasp how understanding the differences and diversity within our language allows us to become more nuanced speakers and writers." x
  • 2
    Prescriptivism: Grammar Shoulds and Shouldn'ts
    Here, investigate prescriptive grammar: the set of rules that tell us what we should and shouldn't do in formal English. Trace the history of specific grammatical rules and of academic usage guides, and note how such guides justify right" vs. "wrong." Learn about historically famous grammarians, whose opinions about usage still influence us today." x
  • 3
    Descriptivism: How Grammar Really Works
    Now dive into descriptive grammar: the rules that describe actual usage. In examples ranging from contractions to word order and negation, observe the wealth of grammatical knowledge that you know intuitively. Consider how comparing the descriptive with the prescriptive can help you make more informed choices about usage. x
  • 4
    Re Phrasing
    This lecture looks at how we define and categorize words into parts of speech, and considers the fascinating ways in which words expand or move into new categories. Study how we characterize nouns, verbs, adverbs, and their syntax, and delineate the difference between a phrase, a clause, and a sentence. x
  • 5
    Fewer Octopuses or Less Octopi?
    Investigate countable and uncountable nouns, and learn the details of how we use them with modifiers such as fewer" and "less." Then delve into irregular plurals in English, observing the variety of ways they are formed. Finally, learn about collective nouns and the question of subject-verb agreement, as in, "there's/there are a few reasons."" x
  • 6
    Between You and Your Pronouns
    Enter the world of pronouns, beginning with personal pronouns and the complications that arise around conjoined constructions (e.g., you and me"). Then take on interrogative pronouns-including when to use "who" vs. "whom"-and indefinite pronouns (such as "none"), asking questions such as whether "none" can be both singular and plural." x
  • 7
    Which Hunting
    Confront the often-confusing question of when to use that" as opposed to "which." Study the most commonly applied rules governing these relative pronouns, and hear opinions on the subject from notable grammarians. Also learn about clauses in which relative pronouns disappear, and consider the use of relative pronouns with animate beings vs. inanimate objects." x
  • 8
    A(n) Historical Issue
    Determiners are small words (such as an," "this," "each," or "many") that introduce nouns and create noun phrases. Learn their key functions in English, and see how determiners are different from adjectives and pronouns. Then investigate the history of capitalization in English, current capitalization practice, and the curious history of the capitalized pronoun "I."" x
  • 9
    Funnest Lecture Ever
    Adjectives, in multiple incarnations, form the focus of this lecture. Study the ways we turn adjectives into comparatives and superlatives, and review the much-criticized issue of double comparatives. Look also at adjectives that change meanings depending on where they appear in a sentence, as well as noun phrases in which the adjective, uncharacteristically, appears after the noun. x
  • 10
    Going, Going, Went
    In the realm of verbs, begin by clarifying past tense vs. past participle, and note how new irregularities creep into the verb spectrum. Explore one of the most eternal of usage errors: that of lie" vs. "lay." Study verb tenses and aspects (progressive or perfect), and investigate irregular past participles." x
  • 11
    Object Lessons
    Examine how we categorize verbs based on how they function within the sentence. Along the way, grapple with thorny usage issues, such as whether you feel bad" or "badly," and the "it is me/I" conundrum. Explore how verbs work with or without objects (the transitive/intransitive distinction), and learn about complex transitive verbs." x
  • 12
    Shall We?
    Continue with the category of auxiliary (helping) verbs, beginning with the familiar usage issue of can" vs. "may." Then study the workings of modal auxiliary verbs (such as "might," "must," and "shall"), the primary helping verbs of "be," "have," and "do," and the ongoing controversy over the most notorious of auxiliary verbs: "ain't."" x
  • 13
    Passive Voice Was Corrected
    Explore the use of the often-criticized passive voice, beginning with a clear definition of what distinguishes the passive voice from the active. Consider the benefits of the passive voice for situations in which responsibility for an action is unclear, for maintaining continuity in writing, and for scientific writing in which the narrative requires objectivity. x
  • 14
    Only Adverbs
    Discover the rich world of adverbs, as they modify not only verbs, but also adjectives, other adverbs, clauses, and sentences. Investigate intensifiers (such as very," "surely," and "possibly"), which can either strengthen or hedge statements, and study the subtleties of "flat" adverbs-adverbs that have the same form as their adjective counterparts." x
  • 15
    No Ifs, Ands, or Buts
    Begin this immersion in conjunctions with the controversy surrounding sentences that begin with conjunctions (such as And furthermore..."). Review the functions of coordinating conjunctions ("and," "but," "yet"), subordinating conjunctions ("if," "because," "unless"), and contested uses of the conjunction "plus." Chart the rise of an unusual new coordinator in colloquial use: the word "slash."" x
  • 16
    However to Use However
    Conjunctive adverbs (such as thus," "consequently," or "moreover") conjoin two clauses. Identify the range of conjunctive adverbs and their significant benefits in formal writing. Then explore notable usage issues such as those concerning "however," "more important" vs. "more importantly," and forms such as "firstly" and "thusly," which reflect changes in language style and taste." x
  • 17
    Squirrels and Prepositions
    Among the fine points of prepositions, unpack the issue of different from" vs. "different than." Grasp how prepositions show relationships between words, often giving information about time or location. With this understanding, grapple with controversies such as "between" vs. "among" and "toward" vs. "towards," and investigate a startling contemporary change with the word "because."" x
  • 18
    Stranded Prepositions
    Is it incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition? Trace the origins of this idea, and see how the practice came to be viewed as bad" usage. Consider the views of 20th-century commentators, and note specific cases where "stranding" the preposition can add elegance and stylistic punch to writing." x
  • 19
    The Dangers of Danglers
    Look closely at dangling modifiers, which are words or phrases that appear to modify something other than what was intended (e.g., Glancing through the document, the typos jumped off the page."). Investigate a variety of danglers, including some that have become accepted in formal writing, and consider their implications for both spoken and written expression." x
  • 20
    Navigating the Choppy Paragraph
    Learn how to make your prose writing flow and avoid choppiness through key syntactic choices. Study the known-new contract, a principle for presenting information by placing known information before new information, sentence to sentence. Examine three different ways to use this principle, and look at how to present information clearly in scientific writing. x
  • 21
    What Part of Speech is Um?
    Within the grammar of conversation, study the distinction between involved discourse, which relates to negotiating relationships, and informational discourse, which involves delivering information. Then grasp the important roles of discourse markers, small words such as so," "well," and "oh," that help organize discourse and manage our expectations in conversation." x
  • 22
    Duck, Duck, Comma, and Duck
    Punctuation acts as a fundamental component of written usage. It shapes and clarifies meaning, and it organizes language on the page. Review the modern rules regarding the punctuation marks that structure sentences: commas, semicolons, colons, and dashes. Highlight core uses of commas, and consider how punctuation follows different rules in texting. x
  • 23
    Its/It's Confusing
    Apostrophes present multiple usage issues. Examine how we use them with contractions and possessives, noting the problems involved with nouns ending in s". Explore how apostrophe usage can create and alleviate ambiguity. Consider exceptions to "standard" use of the apostrophe, and think about what the future of the apostrophe may be." x
  • 24
    Trending Language
    Examine some new grammatical expressions that are on the rise, and explore the controversy they ignite within the linguistic community. Remember that English usage is a living process, and language must respond to its audience and context, adapting as necessary to fit new conditions. Conclude by considering changes to watch for in our language. x

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  • 192-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Anne Curzan

About Your Professor

Anne Curzan, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Dr. Anne Curzan is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan. She earned a B.A. in Linguistics from Yale University and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Professor Curzan has won several awards for teaching, including the University of Michigan's Henry Russel Award, the Faculty Recognition Award, and the John Dewey Award. Her research interests...
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Reviews

English Grammar Boot Camp is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 101.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from English is weird I thoroughly enjoyed this course. When I was at school they had changed the curriculum so that we weren’t explicitly taught any grammar. We studied stories, poems & plays (they did teach us not to use the oxford comma) but not the terminology. In one way it worked – most of the rules covered did fit with what I had internalised during class. The trouble was that I couldn’t talk about any of it or apply it to other languages. All the grammar I knew (even what nouns, adjectives and verbs were) I learnt in French class. Our teacher would give us a rule & then have to explain to all of us what the terms meant. Russian is giving me no end of trouble with cases. The lecturer explains everything clearly without being condescending for people who haven’t learned these concepts before. Of course, now I am reflecting on what I have written & stressing about the grammar, given the subject of the lectures. Maybe I should re-watch so I can double check everything? If I have messed up it will not be a good recommendation. No, I will just blame my deficient primary school education. Many thanks to the lecturer for a clear & helpful course. All mistakes are my own. :)
Date published: 2018-07-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Misnomer This is a highly informative course suitable for dedicated grammarians interested in all aspects of grammatical use and development. From the title I expected a hard core, practical exposition of proper grammar. That's it. That's all I wanted. There was far too much extraneous material. The course lectures should have been cut in half, in my opinion..
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I wish that I had this years ago. This was or is what I've needed. It handle many of the situations I've run into without knowing how to handle. I will repeat.
Date published: 2018-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presenter This course is very interesting and has a lot of good information for one who is good in English grammar but has some inadequacies in using the language and writing English papers. The only problem I had with the course was the instructor is so good at her presentation it often caused me to nod off a few times. Her voice flows like a moderately flowing mountain stream. She has no distracting errors in her speech like "er's" or "but's" or "and so's" to irritate a student or listener. She is a great presenter and teacher. I recommend this to others.
Date published: 2018-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not really "Boot Camp" I've enjoyed a previous course with Professor Curzan, so I knew she is a distinguished linguist. She generally avoids the prescriptive approach, opting instead for explaining how the language is used in real life. That's fine, and I'm enjoying the course, but my only complaint is about the course title. The only other "boot camp" I've attended (U.S. Navy) wasn't descriptive. It was extremely prescriptive, insisting on things being done in the "right" way. So this course wasn't quite what I expected, based on the title. Still a good experience, though.
Date published: 2018-05-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from not as advertised I bought this series to review grammar as it has been 45 years since English 1 and 2 for me. Instead The series only brushes on grammar and spends an inordinate amount of time excusing or obfuscating improper grammar. This may be of interest to grammarians who like top debate and analyze controversies but was of almost no use for those who want to review the basics of grammar and improve our writing.
Date published: 2018-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's strange, but it was... fun! I thought it would be a good idea to review English grammar since I am now the editor of a weekly newsletter. This seemed like the perfect course to take, but I was worried it would be a dull adventure. On the contrary! I found myself looking forward to each lecture and could not believe that grammar (and its history) could be so interesting. One of the important ideas that Prof. Curzan gets across is that grammar changes over time, but it is important to have standards. What is also interesting is that there are many grammar topics where there is disagreement among style manuals and even current writers (the Oxford comma!). There is also a logic or grammar to varieties of English that seem to be "poor" English, like texting and Afro-American English. And, of course, there are big differences between spoken and written English. If you are looking for a good grammar course that is rich with insight, history, and emerging or current trends (that is, it's more than a grammar course), and if you find language interesting, you will enjoy this series of lectures as I did
Date published: 2018-04-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Grammar for the SJW Generation She spends the entire course: 1) introducing rules of standard English grammar, and then 2) engaging in various mental gymnastics to explain why they aren't valid, while 3) singing the praises of ebonics and transgender pronouns Sound familiar?
Date published: 2018-03-21
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