What are we doing when we study language?

My attempts to instil in the Year 12 English Language group a way of looking at language that is appropriate for AS Level study seem to have been, erm, not entirely successful.

If you are still feeling that my explanations were more confusing than what I was trying to explain, have a good read of this guide on the excellent universalteacher.org.uk website.

Click here.

If you want to make any comments or ask any questions then please do. That’s what this is here for.

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7 Responses to What are we doing when we study language?

  1. Elizabeth B says:

    Hello again sir,
    ive just been looking through those sheets u gave us last lesson, but i can’t quite get my head around the ‘finite verb’ and ‘infinite verb’ part of ‘page 3 of 3’. it would be much appreciated if u could leave me a comment with a simpler exlaination than that which is on the sheet,

  2. Mr Heald says:

    Hi Elizabeth (and anyone else who might be reading: hello, helloooo…),

    The distinction is between ‘finite’ and ‘non-finite’ verbs.

    Take a look at this page of the excellent ‘Internet Grammar of English’ and do the exercise on there.


    If you’re still unclear after that, get back to me and I’ll try something else.

  3. Elizabeth B says:

    i tried the excercise…and it explained it well but i just dont seem to be able to see which type some verbs are…..

  4. Mr Heald says:

    Good to see you really thinking about this. Well done!

    Remember what I said about needing to look at what job a word is doing in context, not just looking at the word itself.

    For example, take the verb ‘play’.


    1) He played the piano

    ‘played’ is a finite verb: it carries the tense of the sentence; as the only verb in the sentence it must be finite (note the word finite is from the same root as ‘finished’ – a finite verb makes the sentence finished or complete.

    Now look at

    2) Played by Jools Holland

    This is clearly not a complete sentence, so the verb is non-finite, and we have a non-finite subordinate clause that needs a main clause to complete it. And because the verb is non-finite and does not carry the tense that main clause can be any tense:

    3) Played by Jools Holland, the piano was the star of the show.

    4) Played by Jools Holland, the piano is the star of the show.

    5) Played by Jools Holland, the piano will be the star of the show.

    Look at the following page for more on verbs:


    Well done for putting the effort in and sticking at it. It’s the process of doing that that will help you to become increasingly sensitive to how language works, and even if you can’t always be certain how to ‘label’ a particular feature.

  5. Elizabeth B says:

    thanks sir….i think iv got it….

  6. dominique u says:

    hi sir ive had a look at the comments of other people on weeks set work, and i am finding it hard to comment as i dont understand the language being used as i have been away a while.
    are there any websites or information u could give me as to what lexis, prgmatics, sematics etc are

  7. Mr Heald says:

    Yes, Dominique:

    There are lots of excellent resources out there, many of which are linked from the sidebar on the right of this site.

    But a very good starting point is here:


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