Back to Basics
Welcome to the real world. Here's a spot check.


All right, boys and girls, it’s been twelve years since that September morning in 1993 when your mom gave you one last hug, brushed away your tears, and told you to listen to your first grade teacher. Well, you’ve made it. You’re graduating high school. In the next couple of months, you’ll be walking down that long aisle, watching your step as you climb to the stage, taking that diploma from your principal’s hand–and then, afterwards, posing for photos with weepy relatives.

You’re ready for college . . .

Not so fast, Poindexter. Here’s a pop quiz (answers below):

1) Define the terms “independent clause” and “dependent clause.”

2) Find the subject in the following sentence: “Many of my friends drive to school.”

3) What are the three principal parts of the verb “to bite”?

4) “Jane has been dating John for two years.” Is that sentence written in a present tense or a past tense?

5) “Jane has been dating John for two years.” Change that sentence to the corresponding past tense.

6) What three parts of speech can an adverb modify?

7) What is the main use of a semi-colon?

8) “Jane invited John and me.” “Jane invited John and I.” Which is correct?

9) “He should of told me that I wasn’t invited.” What’s the error in that sentence?

10) “Every person is entitled to their own opinion.” What’s the error in that sentence?

Okay, pencils down.

Each question is worth ten points. If you scored below 70, you failed. More to the point, your teachers failed. They’ve failed you, miserably, for twelve years. Those hundreds of hours spent in classrooms with posters of William Shakespeare and Alice Walker on the walls, those hundreds of hours spent as your teachers prattled on about the joys of creative writing–those hours are worthless, utterly worthless, and you can’t have them back. Those A’s you received for free-verse poems, those stories you wrote to explore your feelings, those papers returned to you without a single grammatical correction–they’re worthless too. You didn’t learn what you should have learned, what you needed to learn.

See you in remedial English this September.

Answers: 1) A clause is a group of words, acting together, with its own subject and verb. Independent clauses can stand alone; dependent clauses cannot. 2) Many. 3) Bite. Bit. Bitten. 4) Present tense. 5) Jane had been dating John for two years. 6) Verb, adjective, adverb. 7) To separate closely related independent clauses. 8) John and me. 9) “Should have” or “should’ve.” 10) “Person” is singular, so use his own opinion or her own opinion.

Mark Goldblatt teaches remedial English at Institute of Technology, a branch of the State University of New York.