Some Thoughts On My Experience Taking Leonard Peikoff’s Grammar Course

I have completed Leonard Peikoff’s Grammar Course. Some thoughts below.

Grammar Improvements & Weaknesses

This first section is about improvements in my grammar ability and a weakness that I realized.

  • I got a more thorough understanding of grammar, including some fine details like when to use the perfect infinitive. I like grammar 🙂
  • I am paying more attention, on an automated basis, to various issues like parallelism, subject-verb agreement, and the use of appropriate clauses/phrases when writing.
  • I’m catching more errors than I used to in my own writing and in other people’s writing.
  • In terms of subject-specific weaknesses, my ability to readily connect the name of a tense and mood to a specific verb form is not good. Not a huge priority for me because I think it’s more of a naming-the-thing issue than an issue of screwing up what verb form to actually use, but it seems worth identifying the issue.

Value of Course for Getting Better at Learning

This section is about the value that I got from the course in terms of my overall learning ability/skill, as well as in terms of my motivation & confidence.

  • I got some practice with the idea of honestly self-evaluating my understanding and my errors, and doing so in public.
  • I improved my ability to take notes. At some point I realized my note-taking skills were below par and that was causing a problem. As a result, I consciously increased the level of detail in my notes, and that helped a bunch.
  • I had the positive experience of coming back to something that I had struggled with previously (the Peikoff course) and managing to succeed
  • I got some experience with moving through a large, complex body of material at a quick pace without getting stuck, which is something I haven’t done much of recently.
  • I wrote more than I’ve written in quite a long time (even though a lot of it was notes, it was still my attempt to organize some information + had my thoughts and comments).

Learning-Related Areas for Further Improvement

This section discusses areas for further improvement regarding future learning efforts.

  • I can still do better in terms of organizing things like notes and answers.
    • One specific thing I noticed is that sometimes I talk about something kind of generally – in a disorganized and wishy-washy way – rather than presenting bulleted points, giving yes/no answers, offering specific edits that I would make, and that sort of thing. This makes my material more difficult for others to read and more difficult for me to evaluate. So working on the skill of thinking about the most sensible way to organize what I’m writing seems important, as does making sure that I offer a clear final evaluation.
      • To that end, spending even a few minutes consciously thinking about the issue of writing organization before I write a bunch of stuff will probably help a lot. I’ve noticed myself having to spend time cleaning up organization issues later, so if I had a policy of thinking consciously about how to organize things at the beginning of writing, rather than just jumping right in, I’d probably save lots of time.
  • I can make better use of existing resources. For example, Anne B went through the course not that long ago, but I only thought to look at what she said and compare her answers to mine pretty late in the course.

Leonard Peikoff Grammar Course Final Examination

My answers to the final examination for Leonard Peikoff’s Grammar Course.

Final Exam Part I

Part I

I spent about two hours on this. Peikoff said you should ideally take an hour but I had things to say for 2 hours, so I didn’t see the point in making myself finish earlier. But I cut it off after 2 hours cuz I wanted it to somewhat capture what I could figure out in a reasonably short amount of time. I also had major computer slowdowns with ulysses that added some number of minutes. I did the exam “open book, open Internet.” I did confirm that one of the answers in Part I was subjunctive form by quickly googling while “taking” the exam, but otherwise focused on my notes and past homework, since I wanted to use the exam to judge what I had learned.

Although students of grammar who are educated usually want not only to study, but also to master their subject, some, suffice it to say, seem incapable of succeeding at this goal. The theory that every man is a natural grammarian—which I had always heard when I was a child—gives me the creeps, for it has been proved to be baseless.

[…]

Using the above paragraph, cite one example of the following. In each case, write only the necessary word(s).

For some I put more words than the instructions dictate cuz I think a few more words made it easier to figure out what I was referring to, since I planned to post this on my blog, but I bolded the critical words and scored according to those.

❌ 1. An infinitive that is the object of a verb in the indicative mood.

  • to be” baseless

Peikoff: “to study” and “to master” are only choices. I struggled on the questions re: identifying tense

✅ 2. A coordinating conjunction. – for it has been proved…
✅ 3. An indirect object. – gives me the creeps
✅ 4. A pair of correlative conjunctions. not only … but also
❌ 5. A verb in the pluperfect tense.  had always heard  (should have just been “had … heard”)

Peikoff: verb is only “had … heard”.

✅ 6. A verb in the passive voice.  has been proved
✅ 7. A verb in the subjunctive mood. suffice it to say (implied “let it suffice”, a wish, subjunctive)
✅ 8. An appositive noun clause.  that every man is a natural grammarian
✅ 9. A subordinating conjunction that introduces an adverbial clause. when I was a child
✅ 10. A main clause. it has been proved to be baseless
✅ 11. A restrictive relative clause.  who are educated
✅ ❌ 12. A non-restrictive relative clause.  which I had always heard when I was a child

Peikoff: including “when I was a child” is overinclusive, should just be “which I had always heard”

✅ 13. An indefinite pronoun.  some
✅ 14. An adjectival prepositional phrase.  of grammar
✅ 15. A personal pronoun that is the subject of a main clause.  it has been proved to be baseless.
✅ 16. A past participle used as an adjective.  educated
✅ 17. A gerund.  succeeding
✅ 18. A slang expression.  gives me the creeps
✅ 19. An inflection that indicates a plural.  students
❌ 20. The total number of clauses in the second sentence is: 8

I misread this without the qualifier “the second sentence”. Whoops.

Points for this section: 32/40.

Final Exam Part II

There are 31 deliberate errors—in grammar, punctuation and diction—in the following. Identify at least twenty of them, and correct each. Only outright errors qualify, not inadequacies or infelicities that are within the range of the optional.

Badly frightened, the bullet missed the manager who fell to his knees an hour earlier but it decimated a customer, Louise, a lady who is very attractive and revered by all. A tragic outcome—tragedy being where a major value is destroyed. The manager was profoundly shocked over the event. He sounded strangely when he spoke, like he had just awakened. “I wanted to have hired guards,” he said, “but it was no dice. New York is both complicated and it costs too much. I could not approve of us spending money on them.” The manager had however once given gifts to his best customers being frantically worried about the new store across the street.

The killer was neither contrite nor did he grieve for my dear friend, Louise. “I have as much right to money as her,” the slob said, “and I will kill whomsoever stands in my path.” If one were to convert him philosophically, perhaps he will repent. I know philosophers swell with indignation when their concept structures are undermined. But such men are dangerous and each of them deserve to be attacked. They merely write words onto paper, thus causing suffering and destruction. This is what can happen in life.

Peikoff says to give yourself a point for grasping an error and two points for writing it correctly until you get 20 correct, and then after that you get bonus points of +1. I think he said you don’t have to rewrite to get the bonus, just identify the issue.
I’m not sure that the scoring system fully makes sense, or perhaps I don’t understand it. One issue is that you can get 2 points partial credit for a problem if you have 19/20 answers fully correct, but then only get 1 point if you hit 20 answers fully correct. Maybe the way to think about it is in multiple passes: you get full credit up until you have 20 answers correct or the point equivalent (so 60 points, including fully correct + partially correct). Then, once you hit that point, you start a separate pass where you count each partial credit answer as only 1 point. Okay I’ll try that.
– If I corrected the error but didn’t have a good/clear explanation as to what the error was, or gave a different error, or my explanation lacked an essential detail, then, following my interpretation of Peikoff, I gave myself only 2 points.
– If I identified an error but didn’t give say how to rewrite it, I gave myself one point. If I described how to write it correctly but didn’t actually write it out in quotes, or if I indicated a rewrite with a ” ->” instead of quotes, I count that as a rewrite. I didn’t rewrite the passage as a whole cuz I didn’t think that was required or necessary.
– Sometimes I made several different points about a section. If I identified an error in one part and corrected it in another, I sometimes marked one ✅ on the identification and 2 ✅ ✅ on the correction.

I put explanations of scoring/stuff that Peikoff said in (parentheses), and kept a running tally in (parentheses) as well. So stuff in (parentheses) is typically from my scoring pass through the exam. I also went back and added some formatting afterwards so it’d appear nicer in my blog – as I did the first pass under (pretty mild) time pressure, it was a bit messy.

If there are no ✅ or ❌ next to a point that means Peikoff didn’t really address it or didn’t see a problem there.

“Badly frightened”

1) ✅ ✅ ✅ This is a dangling participle. A rewrite would be “the bullet missed the badly frightened manager.”
(1 fully correct so far)

“who fell to his knees”

  • 2) ✅ ✅ ✅ comma needed for clarity. Without a comma before “who fell to his knees”, it sounds like the bullet missed the falling-to-his-knees manager as opposed to the other types.
  • 3) ✅ ✅ ✅- presumably it should be “who had fallen to his knees”, since I think the passage is trying to say that the bullet missed the manager on account of him already having been on his knees, and not that the bullet missed the manager and then the manager fell to his knees
  • (3 fully correct so far)

“an hour earlier but it decimated”

(Peikoff meant this as referring to the manager falling to his knees an hour earlier)

  • 4) This super vague, maybe missing something. First of all, “an hour earlier” just seems misplaced. Also, “it” appears to be referring to a bullet but it is unclear to me if it is referring to the same bullet or a different bullet an hour earlier, or even the killer. I think the fix here is for the thought to be completed….
  • 5) ✅ ✅ ✅ “decimated” – wrong word for this context. You decimate an army but not a person. You probably want “killed” or “wounded” or something depending on the facts.
  • (4 fully correct so far)

customer, Louise, a lady”

  • 6) noun pileup I think. See fix below.
  • 7) “a lady who is very attractive” – it’s kind of weird to bring up attractiveness this directly when you’re talking about somebody getting shot.
  • 8) ✅ Is “is” actually correct for “is very attractive”? Is she still alive? Maybe “was”?
  • 9) “and revered by all” – this may be another denotation issue. maybe “loved” or “beloved”, but I doubt she’s revered, and I doubt “all” were involved.
  • ✅ ✅ Rewrite: “a lovely woman by the name of Louise, who was loved by many in the community.”

(5 fully correct so far)

Louise, a lady who is very attractive and revered by all.

10) ❌ ❌ ❌ (missed this issue – this used “is” to both as a linking verb and as an auxiliary for “revered”)

A tragic outcome—tragedy being where a major value is destroyed.”

11) ✅ ✅ ❌ (Didn’t quite fully state the error, but identified it and made an appropriate correction)

I think since “tragedy” is a noun and “being” is the present participle of “to be”, we don’t want a “where” clause but something else e.g. “tragedy being a situation in which a major value is destroyed.”

12) But then there are two bigger issues:
– ✅ “A tragic outcome” is a sentence fragment
– the whole part after the dash is a weirdly long aside trying to define tragedy in this context.
– ✅ ✅ If I even kept this at all I’d say “This was a tragic outcome.”

(6 fully correct + 2 points so far)

13) ❌ ❌ ❌ (missed – “shocked over” should be “shocked by” – idiom issue.)

“profoundly shocked”

14) strike “profoundly”. Trite.

15) ✅ ❌ ❌ (I spotted + fixed issue but didn’t give reasoning. Furthermore, my answer is a bit vague, could be read as saying I should replace the whole thing with strange and not just the adverb) “He sounded strangely” -> strange, we want an adjective here.

(6 fully correct + 3 points so far)

16) ✅ ✅ ✅ “like he had just awakened. ” -> as if he had just awakened, “like” is a preposition and can’t take a whole main clause as an object.

(7 fully correct + 3 points so far)

“I wanted to have hired guards,”

17) ✅ ✅ ✅ – incorrect infinitive tense here, you would only use “to have hired” if the infinitive action came before the main verb, but here “wanted” is already in the past, and he didn’t want to do the hiring before the wanting, so it should be “I wanted to hire guards”.

(8 fully correct + 3 points so far)

“but it was no dice.”

18) ✅ ✅ ✅ slang, instead say “but I could not.”

(9 fully correct + 3 points so far)

“New York is both complicated and it costs too much.”

19) ✅ ✅ ❌ (Did not actually identify error) strike “both” and the second “it” –  “New York is complicated and costs too much.” 

(9 fully correct + 5 points so far)

“I could not approve of us spending money on them.”

20) – this is switching persons in the middle, from I to us. Who is “us”?
21) – ✅ ✅ ❌ (didn’t describe this as a fused participle) b) the “us” is a noun pileup since it’s right next to the “spending” gerund. should be “our”.

❌ ❌ ❌(missed that “them” is vague)

(9 fully correct + 7 points so far)

“The manager had however”

22) ✅ ✅ ✅ this should have commas around the “however”, since this adverbial element is being dropped in the middle of the verb phrase “had given”.

(10 fully correct + 7 points so far)

“being frantically worried”

23) ✅ ✅ ✅ this could arguably be seen as modifying customers and not the manager. So it should be moved to the front:

Being frantically worried about the new store across the street, the manager had, however, once given gifts to his best customers.

(11 fully correct + 7 points so far)

24) Strike “frantically” since I doubt he was frantic about it. Replace with “concerned” or something like that.

Paragraph 2

The killer was neither contrite nor did he grieve for my dear friend, Louise.

25) ✅ ✅ ✅ This is not parallel. A parallel construction would be something like “The killer showed neither grief nor contrition for my dear friend Louise.”
26) ✅ ✅ ✅ The comma should be stricken after “Louise” since the fact that Louise is the friend is essential information.

(13 fully correct + 7 points so far)

“I have as much right to money as her,”

27) ✅ ✅ ❌(I said that the issue was “idiom”, but the issue is that there is an implied subject; my rewrite was correct but my description was iffy)

I think the idiom here would be “as she does”, not “as her”, but I’m not sure why.

(13 fully correct + 9 points)

the slob said,

28) ✅ ✅ ✅ Potential issue with “slob”. Colloquial? Try “man” or “killer”.

(14 fully correct + 9 points)

“and I will kill whomsoever stands in my path.”

29) ✅ ✅ ✅ I think that “whomsoever stands in my path.” is serving as an object, as the X of the “I will kill X” sentence, and “whomsoever” is serving as the subject within the clause “whomsoever stands in my path”, so it should be “whosoever”,
30) and possibly “whoever” since “whosoever” sounds a bit archaic to my ear. (Peikoff agreed but i think this was something he considered an aesthetic point, not an error)

(15 fully correct + 9 points)

If one were to convert him philosophically, perhaps he will repent.

31) ✅ ✅ ✅ Since we are speaking in hypotheticals, we need the subjunctive and thus to say perhaps he WOULD repent.

(16 fully correct + 9 partial points)

I know philosophers swell with indignation when their concept structures are undermined.

32) ✅ ✅ ✅ need a “that” before “philosophers” for this noun object clause.
33) ✅ ✅ ❌ (peikoff thinks it is a half-dead metaphor; I did fix the issue though)
idiom issue here? I think you can swell with pride but not with indignation. Try “philosophers are indignant”
34) ✅ ✅ ❌ (I didn’t say what was wrong – we want to avoid noun pileup) “concept” should be “conceptual”.

(17 fully correct + 13 partial points)

But such men are dangerous and each of them deserve to be attacked.

35) ❌ ❌ ❌ (Peikoff disagrees)
Are “such men” people like the killer or the philosophers? VAGUE REFERENT.
36) (Peikoff is okay with starting a sentence with But).
I forget if Peikoff specifically addressed this, but many grammarians of the old school would take issue with starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. This can be remedied by replacing the “But” with a “Nevertheless”.
37) ✅ (Peikoff thinks not strictly necessary but he’s open to it) A comma is needed before “and”
38) ✅ ✅ ✅ “each” is singular, so “deserve” should be “deserves”.

(18 fully correct + 14 partial points)

They merely write words onto paper, thus causing suffering and destruction.

39) ❌ ❌ ❌ (Peikoff thought the merely should go at the beginning).
I’m confused by “merely”. If your activity is “causing suffering and destruction” then it sounds like a big-deal activity and not a “merely”. Strike “merely”.

(Peikoff notes lots of people didn’t know what this sentence was trying to convey the last time he gave this exam).

40) ✅ ✅ ✅
I think “onto” is the wrong preposition and that we want “on paper”.

41) ❌ ❌ ❌ (Peikoff had in mind reversing subordination)
I’m not sure about “thus” but I don’t have a specific criticism.

This is what can happen in life.

I didn’t have an edit for this.

42) ❌ ❌ ❌(missed: Peikoff had in mind vague referent for this).

(19 fully correct + 14 partial points)

Based on scoring rubric I said earlier, where I downgraded the partial points to 1pt after hitting 60pts total, I think I got 60 + 5 bonus points on Part 2. So I got 97 total, though with the caveat that I took longer than Peikoff suggests and I might not be a very objective grader (though I tried, and I think self-assessment is a good thing to try being objective about).