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
bridge—common noun, object of the preposition “over.”
Web quizzes may be fun, but they can also be a source of misinformation.