Beware Web Quizzes

By Maeve Maddox

Most of us have probably been sucked in by one of the thousands of quizzes that proliferate on the Web as a form of entertainment. My weakness is anything language-related. One that lured me recently has the title “Can You Pass an 8th Grade Test from 1912?”

I should have been suspicious as soon as I saw that the quiz is multiple-choice. In 1912, the multiple-choice test had not yet begun its insidious invasion of the American classroom.

Nevertheless, I took the quiz and was brought up short by Question 14:

In the sentence ‘John ran over the bridge,’ parse the word ‘bridge.’

Here are the answer options:

a) Singular noun, subject of sentence
b) Regular verb, active voice, present tense
c) Singular noun, object of sentence
d) A structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water

What, I wondered, is one supposed to do when none of the answers is correct?

What do American school children do when presented with a multiple-choice question? Guess, of course.

I knew that John is the subject and that ran is the verb. I knew that the fourth choice has nothing to do with parsing, so I clicked on the third choice and was told that I was CORRECT!

Here’s the “explanation” of my “correct” answer:

It is “Singular noun, object of sentence.” “Parsing” used to be a common term in schools. In this case, “bridge” is an [sic] noun, and it is the object on which the action occurs.

I tracked down the unaltered 1912 test. This is the source of the “John ran over the bridge” question:

Parse all the words in the following sentence: John ran over the bridge.

Not a great many years ago, certainly since 1912, parsing was a common term in my own classroom. I learned the value of teaching grammar via parsing when I taught in a private school in London.

Students parse a sentence by identifying each word in it according to its part of speech. Younger children simply name the part of speech. Older children state such things as function, gender, case, etc. For example:

John—proper noun, subject of “ran”
ran—verb, third person singular, intransitive
the—definite article
bridge—common noun, object of the preposition “over.”

Web quizzes may be fun, but they can also be a source of misinformation.

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3 Responses to “Beware Web Quizzes”

  • Agua Caliente

    I’ve parsed a lot of data and have also used that word to mean “deconstruct and comprehend” as relates to code. And I am old enough—why mince words or oaths?—to recall learning how to parse and diagram sentences, although I doubt I’d do well at it now. David, cacao isn’t sweet, as you note. It’s the principle of the intentional (?) mismatch I don’t like, even if cacao is their main export.

  • David Knuttunen

    It is true. I sometimes enjoy these quizzes, even if they are just clickbait. But many of them are not worth the pixels they’re printed with.

    Another pet peeve is Jeopardy clues that are written by people who clearly don’t know the subject at hand very well, so there is a subtle – or not-so-subtle – mismatch between the “answer” and the question they are looking for. In a particularly egregious recent example, the clue referred to a country’s principle export as “this sweet stuff” and the question was supposed to be “What is cacao?” Cacao? Sweet? Really?

  • thebluebird11

    AHA! This is what I’m always talking about when I say I never learned to parse a sentence. Of course we were taught, unfortunately too briefly, to parse sentences, but obviously I never got the hang of it. I could not even have parsed that simple sentence above except at the most rudimentary level. I would have been able to name nouns, verbs and prepositions (maybe) but that’s it. At this point in my life I don’t have time to study this kind of thing, since it plays no crucial part in my daily life. Still, I doubt I could even get it into my head at my age, even if I found somewhere to study it. I vaguely remember parsing diagrams…I mourn the loss LOL

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