English Grammar Day 2022

Date: Friday 8 July, 2022

Location: Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, Wilkins Building, UCL Quad, Gower Street. Map Directions

A day of talks and discussion on aspects of English grammar

Are you sat down or sitting down while reading this? Have you got or do you have a preference for one form over the other? English has a number of ways of expressing the same concept, and with approximately 400 million mother-tongue speakers and an estimated 1400 million non-native speakers it has become a diverse, flexible language that continues to adapt, evolve – and provoke strong reactions. You only need to search for #grammar on Twitter to see what we mean!

Recent developments in the National Curriculum for England have placed grammar in schools at centre stage once more, and divided opinion among politicians, teachers, linguists and journalists, as well as the wider public, on how and whether it should be taught. How have teachers implemented changes to their teaching and learning programmes to adapt to the new syllabuses, assessment criteria and tests? What resources are available for students, teachers and the general public to learn more about English grammar, and how reliable are they? What is or should be the role of English grammar teaching in schools today and why is this so controversial? What do teachers, professionals, academics and the general public feel is the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about the language?

Join us at UCL for a day of talks and discussion, and feel free to ask our panel of experts to explore any aspect of English grammar from ain’t to innit.

Presented by University College London, the British Library and the University of Oxford.


09:50-10:00 Welcome & Introduction
10:00-10:30 Tim Clist, Using grammar in textual analysis
10:30-11:00 Shareen Wilkinson, Perspectives on primary grammar
11:00-11:45 Coffee*
11:45-12:15 Steven Dryden, They, Them, We, Us
12:15-12:45 Laura Bailey, Spotting the grammar in the hedgerows
12:45-14:00 Lunch break*
14:00-14:30 Michaela Mahlberg, Charles Dickens and grammar
14:30-15:00 Bas Aarts, Changing English
15:00-15:45 Tea*
15:45-17:00 ‘Any Questions’-style panel discussion, chaired by John Mullan, UCL
17:00 Close

*Coffee/tea is included but lunch is not provided: UCL has numerous food outlets within a short walking distance.

Event details

Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre

University College London
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT

Show Map

For directions see below

When: Friday 8 July 2022, 09:30-17:00

How to find the venue

  • The easiest way to reach the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre is to enter UCL through its main gates on Gower Street. Tube: Euston, Euston Square, Goodge Street.
  • The Wilkins Building will be directly in front of you.
  • Head towards this building and bear right.
  • There will be a doorway leading into the building, ignore this and take the second door which will be in the far right hand corner (there is an access ramp there).
  • Upon entering this door turn right immediately through a second set of doors keeping to the right again. After passing through a third set of doors there will be a staircase directly in front of you with signs leading to the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre.
  • Walk up the stairs (two flights), or take the lift at the bottom of the stairs, and the lecture theatre will be on your right hand side.


Bas Aarts
The English language changes all the time. In my talk I will look at how the grammar of English has changed over the last few decades. I will discuss changes in the use of the modal verbs, and the use of the progressive and perfect constructions in English.

Laura Bailey
One of the best things about learning grammar is that you can suddenly see a hundred interesting things around you. It’s like looking closer at the rock pool or hedgerow and seeing all the tiny little creatures living in it that you hadn’t noticed before. Whether it’s the tour guide who spoke of ‘a very sliver of butter’, the neighbour who said ‘we’ve got to cross road’, or the Simpsons episode when Moe uses ‘trompe l’oeiling’ as a verb, noticing these things around me brightens my day, and it could brighten yours too! We’ll find out what’s going on in these examples and others; why people speak this way; and some do’s and don’ts of what I’ll call ‘observational linguistics’, an activity that absolutely everyone can (and should) do.

Tim Clist
Having learnt grammatical tools, students often find it difficult to apply them usefully to texts, so this talk will use grammar to illuminate texts, both literary and non-fiction. It will discuss features like non-finite verbs in the work of Cormac McCarthy, tense and aspect in social media influencer apologies, how the present progressive reveals teleological assumptions in prescriptivist writing, how subject-verb-object clauses represent causation and how the grammar of Q drops helped fuel a bizarre and widespread conspiracy theory by making readers feel clever.

Steven Dryden
Using case studies from cataloguing and exhibition making with British Library collection, Steven Dryden presents a brief history of pronouns, minorities, the digital and an intersectional future through information science.

Michaela Mahlberg
Charles Dickens was a master of using language to great effect. In this talk, I will look at a number of grammatical devices that Dickens used so skilfully to create his fictional characters. His inventory of characterisation techniques includes the description of habitual behaviour of fictional characters and the portrayal of their body language. For this purpose, reporting clauses are a source of great creativity, and grammatical devices such as non-finite verb forms are used for specific narrative effects. The speech of fictional characters also gives of us plenty of examples. Especially the use of grammatical patterns that are similar to real spoken language deserve attention. Ways of expressing politeness – or impoliteness – play an important role in the linguistic management of interpersonal relationships both in fiction and in the real-world. At the same time, the grammar of politeness shows how language use, and hence social and cultural norms, have changed over time. Overall, Dickens provides us with brilliant, and often entertaining, examples of grammatical constructions. By looking at fiction, we find plenty of textual evidence that is useful for teaching creative writing, too. In this talk, I will also show how the CLiC web app can be used for finding such illustrative examples and quotations from Dickens, as well as from other nineteenth-century fiction.

Shareen Wilkinson
This session will look at the teaching of grammar in primary schools, with a particular focus on fronted adverbials. It will explore what fronted adverbials are, and the perspectives of primary pupils from LEO academy Trust in London.

About the speakers

Bas Aarts is Professor of English Linguistics and Director of the Survey of English Usage at University College London. He has published widely on English grammar and leads the Englicious project ( @EngliciousUCL

Laura Bailey is a Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Kent. She specialises in comparative syntax and is interested in the emerging forms of English that she hears around her and what they can tell us about the underlying structure of language. @linguistlaura

Tim Clist teaches A level English at Peter Symonds College in Winchester.

Steven Dryden is a librarian working in the British Library Sound Archive, with a research interest in the language and cataloguing of minority communities within library, archive and museum catalogues. In 2017 they co-curated Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty at the British Library. In 2018 they led a week of student workshops and public lectures at Harvard University, Boston, USA, for the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality. In 2019, Steven presented the paper TransHistorical: Gender Non-conformity in the Archive at the Archives, Libraries and Museums (ALMS) conference, Queering Memory, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. In 2022 Steven will curate Proud Words, an exhibition exploring LGBTQ+ language, activism and identity building between 1970 and 1990, in the British Library Treasures Gallery.

Michaela Mahlberg is Professor of Corpus Linguistics and Director of the Centre for Corpus Research at the University of Birmingham. She’s been leading the development of the CLiC web application and accompanying materials for the language and literature classroom. @MichaMahlberg

Shareen Wilkinson works as an independent English adviser and Director of Teaching and Learning at LEO Academy Trust. Previously, she was an LA lead primary adviser and a primary school classroom teacher and senior leader. She is also an established educational author, writer and series editor, specialising in English and assessment. @ShareenAdvice

This page last modified 20 September, 2022 by Survey Web Administrator.