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Xword Questions and Answers

Page history last edited by Bonny Hart 1 year, 9 months ago

FrontPage > Q&A

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Q. Help! Analyze this sentence please.--Tamara Kirson

From The Little Prince:

If this bolt still won't turn, I am going to knock it out with the hammer.


A.  From Alice Deakins  Here's the analysis close to what Allen would have done. I think. (Note: I added the blue comments. I hope they're right!!! Bonny)


Adverbial (front shifter):  if this bolt still won't turn    Subject:  I    Predicate:  am going to knock it out with the hammer.


Predicate:  am going to  (<--quasi-modal)  knock (<--Vb)   it   (<--Object (a referent that answers the question "what?"))  out (<--particle of phrasal verb "knock out")   with the hammer (<--predicate adverbial (a prepositional phrase that answers the question "how"))


I haven't dealt with the list (called quasi-modals or semi-modals) that includes  have to, got to  all the going to's, for a long time because my native speakers don't need to work on them because they know them. 


But the rest of the analysis is from Allen.  He did separate out the time signal in the predicate  into   X  (time)  and Y (the rest of the predicate) so technically "knock it out with the hammer"  is in the Y position. 


But the rest of the predicate fits nicely into his basic predicate pattern:  

Verb / shifted Indirect Object / Shifted Particle  / Object   Complement/  Particle / Indirect object /  Predicate adverbial. 


Not all these positions are filled in any one sentence.  But many may be. 


Also Allen talked about three different kinds of advebrials:  sentence adverbials, predicate adverbials, and middle adverbs.  Although there are fuzzy borders everywhere in grammar I have found this a very useful and practical distinction.  


Hope this helps.  As soon as we move away from "classroom sentences" that are created for teaching we find challenges.  And that is what I admire Allen for.  He created a system that allows us to move beyond classroom examples into real language.    --Alice Deakins



Many years ago, Linda Ann Kunz gave me a copy of her Grammar Discovery Tasks, which were 24 self-directed tasks on reproducible cards.  Students did these in small groups to discover basic x-word grammar principles. During a move, I seem to have lost my only copy of these. I've found lots of great materials on this site but not the tasks. Does anybody have a copy they can post?


Linda wrote about these in X-Word Grammar for ESL Teachers



Bob Freud

Bergen Community College

New Jersey


Question: Why is xword grammar supposed to help students learn what a sentence is?

X-Word Grammar, because of its simplicity, has the ability to give students a feeling for "the forest of grammar."   As they analyze ALL sentence patterns, they begin to "read grammar" and start noticing the similarities and differences among the patterns. --Sue Livingston

Question: I've used Azar in my ESL classes for some years. Why should I change to Xword Grammar? Is it hard to learn? Do you still use a grammar book (like Azar)?


I think the biggest reason to switch is that traditional grammar books offer grammar instruction in fragmented and unsystematic ways making grammar infinitely harder for students. --Sue Livingston


The reason I switched is that finally English grammar made sense to ME. My students agree. It's logical and linear. You don't teach one point, totally abandon it, and go to the next point. . Bonny Hart

Q. When you teach using xword grammar, how many verb forms do you use? The Lydon book that I use has 6 forms:
Vbase, VnoS, Vs, Ving, Vp, Vpp. I think Linda Kunz uses 3. Any opinions on which is better for teaching?

-- No, I use the three—the base form,the -ing form and the participle (which Robert Allen called the d-t-n form)—because, as I tell SS, they're like the three primary colors: they have nothing extra: no tense, no person, no number. You have to add an xword to get the other three verb forms: the do-form, the does-form and the did-form. (Those are more like orange, green and purple.)--LAK
-- I use the six forms of the verb because each form has different ties --Richard Abend
-- What are "ties?"--BH
-- A "tie" means that if one part of a sentence changes, then another part may also change. The five ties are: Some X-words tie with subjects, All X-words tie with time, Three verb forms tie with X-words , Three verb forms tie with time, and Two verb forms tie with subjects.--RA
-- This makes sense, but I never thought of it that way. Do you have a chart or anything that summarizes this?--BH
-- I don't know of a chart offhand, but have you ever heard of Controlled Composition? It's an old and very reasonable kind of grammar practice where a student gets a whole passage of decent English with sentences in it like this: "A Capricornian is a person who makes up her mind about who and what she likes very firmly" with an instruction to rewrite the entire passage changing the word Capricornian to Capricornians. All the changes except the ones specified in the instruction derive from ties. Did you see nine in the Capricornian sentence? Controlled Composition is a kind of grammar practice without grammar terminology and fragmented sentences. I learned it in Robert Allen's class and have incorporated it into my xwg textbooks.--LAK
--I found the chart the summarizes the verb ties. It is part of the second lesson from Linguistics 10- Foundations of Language. I pasted it below the first lesson. You'll find it under my (Abend) materials. Let me know what you think.  --Richard
-- I have to think about this. And study it more. At first glance the only thing that wouldn't work with the way I teach is is the tense tie for the present tense. Because I teach the present tense as habits and truths (and jokes if they're more advanced) not as "present time" Hmm. In the Lydon Lesson 3 (and for the rest of the year) we look at xword/verb agreement. --BH 
I show the students the verb forms they will see X-words with in plain sight and those that have one of the members of the do-family hiding . . . 3 and 3 --- SL


Q: How important is it to separate Vb from VnoS? I follow the Lydon lessons, teach low-intermediates in a non-academic (CBO) setting,  and they find it very confusing. I'm inclined to just skip it (I'd have to adjust several lessons & omit lesson 4). Do you think this would backfire/create more confusion later on? --EL


A. That's a really good question.  I think it depends on their native language and how different the two forms are in that language. Would the differentiation between the Vbase and the VnoS be big (Spanish) or non-existent (Chinese).  For beginners and people with limited literacy, I agree that it can be confusing, and perhaps both forms should just be called "Verb", although after all these years, those terms that seem to be the clearest to students are  "Vb"   and "do Verb."  This is one thing that I would love opinions on. I hope to spend some time this summer compiling a glossary that compares everyone's terminology. We MUST standardize if this method is to be widely adapted. --BH

>Q: I've always used the terms "sector analysis" and "x-word grammar" synonymously. Do you have the time to explain the difference in approach between the two? Richard A

-- I  was told (by someone) that the term "x-word grammar" is for applications of sector analysis for teaching. I'm not sure who told me that!! --Bonny Hart


>-- I'd expand that last comment -- my sense is that X-Grammar has been used in the limited context of 1) ESL and 2) an initial grammatical description of the language (teaching grammar per se, generally via workbook exercises) as opposed to a broader view of sector analysis which stresses slot-filler construction, recursiveness, the creative use of sentence positions, etc.I have tried to capture some of the broader points at http://www.criticalreading.com
--Dan Kurland


--Linda Kunz and I are together here looking at these great answers. We'll add just one thing—xword grammar isn't used just for ESL students—and didn't grow only out of ESL teaching. It's been used with native speakers all along. --BH & LAK


--Sector Analysis is Robert Allen's system for analyzing the tagmemics (form-function relationships) of any language. There are many sector analyses of foreign languages (Yoruba, Korean, etc.) on file as doctoral dissertations on the fourth floor of the TCCU library. X-word grammar is the classroom applications of is the sector analysis of English, primarily, though certainly not exclusively, to student writing, both native and ESL—all ages, all levels.--LAK


>Me. I told you xwg is the classroom applications of a sector analysis of English. But maybe others, did, too. That definition has been around since the 70s. This could be the place to raise a question about Sector Analysis. I too easily assume that once people get the idea of the seven basic sentence patterns (which yes, I'm always faithful to; it's only made up examples, my own included, that could be better), they can look at almost any sentence and decide what combination of the basics they're seeing. Not so. And I think the reason is that it's only in Sector Analysis that a learner has as her MAIN assignment the peeling down, layer by layer, of a wide variety of sentences. This is what has a person see a sentence like "I wonder what it was like in the old days when a person who wanted to talk to another person actually had to speak to them face to face" and say, "."Ah! T. Just a trunk." It's all about embedding—which leads me to believe the teaching site I'm working on right now should actually include the original Sector Analysis course.  --LAK


Re: Sentence Patterns

From Linda Kunz & Laurie Gluck's field test book, probably, but modified so as not to totally steal their work:


  • I like rice. (Trunk)
  • I like to cook it at home and order it in restaurants. (Trunk with 2 parts)
  • It's easy to make because you just need rice and water. (Trunk with end shifter)
  • If I don't eat rice for a few days, I feel like I'm missing something. (Front shifter plus trunk)
  • I usually eat brown rice, but I like white rice in sushi restaurants. (Trunk plus trunk)
  • My friend, who grew up with Italian food, doesn't share my enthusiasm. (Trunk with insert)
  • Nevertheless, he'll eat it with me if he's hungry. (Linker and trunk)




I don't know what to do with words like "usually" and "sometimes" (see above Trunk plus Trunk) when I am using slot sheets. These words get between the x-word and the verb. Where should students write them? Or are they not accommodated in slot sheets?



Nicole, I call words like usually, sometimes, really, even, sort of, not, probably, middle words or middle adverbs. They go in the place between the x-word and the verb.  You can squeeze in another column there. Dr. Allen's lists of middle words are here http://xwordgrammar.pbworks.com/f/Allen-modifiers%2Badverbs.pdf  I would add 'totally' and 'like' as in "I can like totally understand what you mean."  Search the workspace  for "slot sheet." slot sheet.doc has a place MW. BH


Every time I look at the seven sentence patterns, my own or others, I'm  more and more discontented with their phoniness. (For example, the TI above would probably be just a trunk since we have many friends: My friend who grew up with  Italian food doesn't share my enthusiasm. How many out there are corpus linguists? Should we incorporate it into xwordgrammar? i.e. use real, high-frequency examples for everything we're making a point about. --LAK


Linda, I take it that you're discontented with the sample sentences, not with the concept of the Seven Sentence Patterns.--Bonny


Is it too much to show these patterns with objects? The original is simpler. -- Cyndi


Students searched Sherman Alexie's novel Flight for examples and identified the sentences below as Trunks with 2 parts. Would someone please comment on their accuracy? It led to thoughtful group work in class!

"I don't understand what has happened."

"I want to tell him the entire story."

"They keep laughing as they drive me to kid jail."

"I look at him, tears rolling down his big cop face."         ---Cyndi 


Trunks with end shifters? We had some confusion about what was the real trunk when shifting is so easy...We are LEARNING, so please be patient with us, Sector Analysis experts!

"How can you be a part of the world if you haven't seen the world?"

"Then I wonder if that's the reason I killed all the people in the bank."


Trunk plus trunk or Trunk plus end shifter?

"I had wanted to kill, but now I just want to stop."

My guess is must be T + T because FANBOYS can connect trunks. How do I address the shifter question?  --Cyndi



  • If you like, you can find the first Xword (did) and form your first yes/no question. 
  • Since the yes/no question ends after kill, that is the end of the first sentence. 
  • Mark the coordinator (but) and see what you have on the right side of "but". It should be the same as what is on the left side of the coordinator, a sentence or trunk. 
  • Look for shifters, mark the "now" as a front shifter and continue. T
  • The first sentence is a trunk and the second sentence is a trunk with a front shifter.     --Richard Abend




Here's an idea of what to have SS do with the sentences you highlighted. 
1. Then I wonder if that's the reason... Make a yes-no question; this will push "Then" out of the way, so it's in the + position. The rest is all T, all yes-question, so the pattern is +T (with a big, fat clause in object position). 
3. I don't understand what has happened
. One yes-no Q. This is just T with another big object.
4. I want to tell him the entire story. Just T.
5. They  keep laughing as they take me to kid jail. Try shifting the last part. Does it sound correct this way, too. Yes, as opposed to trying to shift the end of I left my heart in San Francisco. What? And in Las Vegas you left your liver? Sentence 5 is TE.
6. I look at him, tears running down... One yes-no q, right? Then try to shift the rest to the front. Hmmmm...Doesn't sound so good. And the comma is a giveaway. This is more info about him. It's an insert, not a shifter. Sentence 6 is TI.

SL Agreed, Linda.  Also, I think we need to understand that our students will hopefully be leaning on their knowledge of grammar to revise sentences of their own creation which most likely do not look anything like the long and very elaborated sentences we might ask them to analyze.  Let's give them real examples of what their teachers will be requiring them to write -- models of excellent student writing.   LAK



Hi, Cyndi,
I think I missed the sentece Then I wonder if that's why I killed all the people in the bank. I know it's easy to see an includer like if or when and want to shift. But remember that includers also embed. Look at the difference between these two sentences that end in an if-clause:

                 I wonder if he loves me. (T)
                 He's a jerk if he loves me. (TE)

A shifter really has to shift with no difference in meaning. It's only a difference in emphasis, and it should not sound weird at all. The most you might have to do is switch the subjects to make it sound sensible, like this sentence:
                Alfred bought a '97 Ford when he left home. (TE)
                When Alred left home, he bought a '97 Ford. (FT)


The same clause can be placed in a number of other positions, all of which will have you end up with just trunks. 
                When Alfred left home is a mystery to me. (T)
                I wonder when Alfred left home. (T)
                The  question of when Alfred left home can be solved in a minute. (T)          --LAK


I have adjusted the naming of the sentence patters to:

Fs,t.  (Front shifter, trunk.)
Tes.  (Trunk with an end shifter.)
T,i,t.  (Trunk, middle insert, rest of thr trunk.) 
T,i.    (Trunk, end insert.)
T=.    (Trunk with One subject and two verbs.)
T+t.  ( T;t. OR T, joiner t.)     (Trunk; plus trunk OR Trunk, joiner [or FANBOYS] another trunk.)
T.L,t. OR T;l,t.    (Trunks with linkers)
T,,,and --.  (Trunk with a list.)

I changed this because students should plug in the correct capitalization after commas, semicolons,  and periods.  After all, X-Word grammar does teach correct punctuation and capitalization in order for one to avoid writing sentence fragments and run-on sentences. --Effie


Question: Has anyone tried to explain this type of constructon to your students using xwords? A student asked me about "wear."  Does Xword grammar address have, get, let, make causative type things?

Maria won't let her 11-year-old daughter wear make-up. --BH


Question: This sentence appears in the Lydon book.

"The man whose wife you are flirting with is a football player."

TRUNK: The man is a football player. easy , but the describer clause is confusing.


whose wife you're flirting with, I suppose should be

with whose wife you are flirting    --- but that seems old-fashioned


anyway, whose is the clause word, right? So the subject of the clause is you?

Can the clause word in a describer clause come after a preposition?  I'm confused. Bonny



Answer: Here is the answer to your question.  The underlying clause is  "you are flirting with his wife"  .  The "his" has been pulled into the front position as the adjective subordinator "whose" followed by wife. 

The position of "with" depends on speaking/writing and formal/informal contexts.  It is one of the interesting variables going on now. --Alice Deakins


Question: ESOL teachers, how does X word grammar make Trunk with insert so much easier to understand than typical grammar textbooks. --Cyndi



Question: Just put Linda Kunz's Slot Sheet #5 on the wiki. Could someone please give me feedback on how I filled it out? Thanks! Cyndi


Comments (12)

Cyndi said

at 12:04 pm on May 9, 2014

It's like want to, need to, used to, etc. Have is a verb there, not an x-word. Try making a negative or yes/no question of this:

I have to go now.

Good discovery process to remember hidden xwords!

Elke Lerman said

at 10:29 am on May 9, 2014

Question: The rule is Never use the infinitive after an xword. My student asked me why "have to" doesn't follow the rule. I couldn't explain it, I told her I would ask you guys! This is in a non-academic intermediate level class (SPL 4-6). Thanks, Elke

Bonny Hart said

at 6:11 pm on May 15, 2011

I start on day one with simple drills. We stand in a circle and toss the ball for questions and answers. For d-t-n questions we use accessible things like "How long have you lived in New York" , " How many cups of coffee have you had today?" or "Have you done your homework?" That gives them something to hold on to. There's also a game where you make a list of things for each team to do (turn over a chair, borrow a pencil, write your names on the board, etc.) Give them two minutes. Then they make a list of what they've done and what they haven't done.

Sue Livingston said

at 1:53 pm on May 15, 2011

My pleasure . . .

Sue Livingston said

at 1:52 pm on May 15, 2011

SusanMK said

at 5:00 pm on May 14, 2011

Thanks Sue. That's a great approach!

Sue Livingston said

at 6:57 pm on May 13, 2011

Visually display a short, understandable story that has x words and verbs. Read the story aloud to make sure they understand it. Then, once the context is established, explain the x-v matches in terms of what happened in the story. (Slowly introduce the X-words, their relationships to subjects . . . then their relationship to verbs. Usng stories provides answers to the "whys" because the answers are contextual.)

Richard Abend said

at 9:50 pm on May 12, 2011

I'd suggest a discussion of the English verb system from the point of view of Orientation and Relationship. The Base, ING and DTN verb forms have no time so the Xwords serve the function of providing the orientation and relationship. I think you can begin by asking students why do we say I go to school everyday and I went to school yesterday? I thnk they'll catch on immediately that time needs to be indicated by the verb or Xword used in the sentence. I also think that if they understand the Predicate and Y places, it will be much easier to discuss this with them. Richard

Richard Abend said

at 9:45 pm on May 12, 2011

For a low intermediate level class, I do it in three steps: I first focus on the form: three Xwords that tie with the DTN form: have, has, and had. Next, I focus on what the DTN form represents about the actions it names (finished) and what the time relationships are as different xwords are tied to it. I save discussion of Passive Voice for last: am, are , is, was, were,etc. tied to DTN Forms. It is a very clean way and straight forward way to do it. Are you using Xword in your class now? Richard

SusanMK said

at 9:43 pm on May 12, 2011

Okay, but one of my Chinese students is bound to ask why? How does one explain to a person whose L1 doesn't have tenses.

Sue Livingston said

at 6:18 pm on May 12, 2011

It's part of X-V matching:
do . . . does . . . did and the modals go with BASE form verbs.
is. . . am . . . are . . . was . . . were go with ING form verbs
have. . . has . . . had go with the DTN verbs.

SusanMK said

at 2:37 pm on May 12, 2011

Question: How do you teach d-t-n verbs (a.k.a. participles) with X-word Grammar? Susan

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