Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.

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While observing, a student was telling me that the exercise her teacher gave her was too difficult, and she could not make a sentence with the words she had been given. She had three nouns and three verbs given to her on pieces of paper. She made a sentence, in the end, but said to me that it did not make any sense. Of course, she was right, but upon seeing the sentence I noticed that she had made a complete grammatical sentence (with added parts of speech).

This made me think of Noam Chomsky‘s classic sentence ‘colourless green ideas sleep furiously’ in his 1957 book Syntactic Structure. While this sentence as much as the sentence my student made was nonsense, they also show that sentences which could be thought impossible/nonsensical are actually still grammatical.  This being said, there are still sentences that can be easily interpreted but are not adhered to the grammatical code such as ‘the child seems sleeping’. I think recognition of students’ grammatical ability in complete sentences has to be admired.

Overall, I must say the words she had were quite random, but I still felt there was room for inventiveness as a classroom exercise that recognises students’ grammatical ability.

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