English Grammar in Context

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This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


English Grammar in Context

ENGL E320 English Grammar in Context is a 10-credit, higher level course which is adapted from course E303 of the same name presented by the UK Open University. In the original course, which was equivalent to 20 HKMU credits, there are five books – but for this 10-credit course only the first three books are included. The UKOU code (E303) has been retained in the course books, and the CD-ROMs and related printed material.


Who is the course designed for?

The course is designed for anyone needing an up-to-date framework for describing and analysing the English language as used in the world today. It combines grammatical description – based on a hands-on approach which draws on computer analysis – with demonstrations of how such analytical techniques can be applied to real-world data and problems. Whether English grammar is a topic which fills you with enthusiasm or with apprehension, you should find the course both intellectually stimulating and useful.


How can I prepare for the course?

If you have not previously studied English grammar, we recommend that you buy the workbook which accompanies the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English (the ENGL E320 set book), as this will familiarise you with some of the most basic concepts of grammar which you need to understand in order to study the course. In particular, we suggest that you read Chapters 2–4, and complete the accompanying exercises in the workbook. (For details of both publications, see the later section on 'Course materials'.)

If you are not confident in using CD-ROM software, you may find it best to begin with the Guide to the CD-ROMs. Becoming familiar with the software and CD-ROMs, and working on the Foundation Grammar activities, will take different people different amounts of time. If you are comfortable using computers and are familiar with grammatical terminology, you may find that you need less study time. However, if you need practice with the computer technology and the grammar exercises, there will be quite a lot to learn before embarking on the main course units.


What kind of grammar can I expect to learn from the course?

Because this course is based on an understanding of grammar that has only been possible since the advent of computerised analysis, it is probably unlike any grammar you have studied before. It may therefore be worth explaining very briefly some of the principles that underlie the design of the course.

  1. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, it is based on a description of the way people actually speak and write English today, rather than what anyone might think they ought to do, or may have done in the past. More particularly, it is corpus-based. That is, it is informed by computerised banks of language data or 'corpora', which help to give us concrete evidence of contemporary language practices.
  2. It describes grammar in terms of its function in addition to its form. For example, there are many ways of requesting someone to leave the room, varying from a polite conditional question such as 'Would you mind leaving us alone for a few minutes?' to a direct command – 'Leave the room immediately!' A functional approach to grammar is primarily concerned with what we are trying to do through language, and the linguistic means at our disposal to achieve these goals.
  3. The emphasis throughout the course is on how grammar varies according to context. It moves in broad terms from how speech in general differs from writing in general (Book 1), to contrasting the way grammar works in different contexts such as conversation, academic writing, fiction and news (Books 2 and 3).
  4. Because the course focuses on grammar in context, we are not just concerned with grammar at the level of the individual sentence or phrase, but rather with whole texts (whether spoken or written) – in other words, grammar at the discourse At the same time, there is an increasing awareness amongst linguists of the way in which individual words or 'lexical items' contain their own grammatical possibilities and constraints, i.e. their own lexicogrammar. It is only now, as a by-product of the computerised analysis of language, that grammarians and lexicographers are able to categorise the behaviour of words in a comprehensive and systematic way, and are starting to recognise some of the common patterns of lexicogrammatical behaviour. Their discoveries often confound the expectations even of native speakers of English.

The overall aim is to show how knowledge and understanding of English grammar can be applied in practical and useful ways. In broad terms, the course aims to develop:

  1. An understanding of the major characteristics of English grammar.
  2. Skills in grammatical analysis and interpretation in order to gain an insight into how English 'works' in real-life contexts.
  3. Skills in applying grammatical understanding in order to evaluate and, where appropriate, improve the quality of spoken and written texts.

On completion of this course, you should be able to:

  • Describe and analyse the major grammatical structures in English, using appropriate terminology.
  • Explain how the basic structures of English grammar vary in different contexts.
  • Evaluate the different methods used for collecting and analysing language data.
  • Interpret spoken and written linguistic data, showing an understanding of how grammatical forms relate to meaning.
  • Apply such description, analysis and interpretation to authentic linguistic data.

ENGL E320 is divided into three parts, each organised around a main book with accompanying CD-ROMs and guided readings from the specially compiled course Reader. The course also makes use of a reference grammar book – the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English (see details in the later section on 'Course materials'). You are referred to particular sections of this to read during your study of the course books, but it is always available if you want to read more about any particular grammatical features.

The computer-based elements of the course (the Activities CD-ROM and the Concordancer and Corpus CD-ROM) are generally concentrated towards the end of each study unit, so that you can take your books with you and work on them without having a computer nearby, and then do all the computer-based work together in a block later.

The main content of each of the three parts is described below.


Book 1 Getting started: describing the grammar of speech and writing

Book 1 of the course introduces you to some basic concepts and skills which will be built on in later parts of the course. The main focus is on how spoken and written English differ. You are introduced to some basic grammatical structures such as clauses and phrases, and you compare how they function in speech and writing. You will become familiar with these concepts through a variety of activities, including interactive exercises on the Activities CD-ROM (can be accessed and viewed in the library). The use of audio will enable you to explore how meaning can be realised in sound (for example, through patterns of intonation). You will also be given hands-on practice in learning to explore English grammar via the use of electronic databases, or corpora, using specialised computer software on the Concordancer and Corpus CD-ROM. The Corpus Tasks booklet explains how the Concordancer and Corpus CD- ROM fits into your studies, so it is best to refer to this before you start.

You will be introduced systematically to the concordancer in Unit 2. There are seven units in Book 1, as follows:


Unit 1: Grammar in context
Unit 2: Corpus and grammatical description
Unit 3: The units of grammar: function and form in spoken and written English
Unit 4: The noun phrase
Unit 5: The verb phrase
Unit 6: Understanding complexity in and around clauses
Unit 7: Intonation: turning pandas into killers


Book 2 Getting inside English: interpreting texts

Book 2 of the course continues the exploration of how English grammar varies, focusing in particular on its use in the news media, academic writing and fiction. For example, how are opinions expressed in face-to- face conversation as opposed to, say, newspapers or academic journal articles? Through a mix of readings and hands-on activities, you will investigate a wide range of texts which will provide you with insight into how written English varies according to the purposes of everyday situations. In particular, you learn to interpret systematically the meanings made by texts, by understanding how grammar creates different kinds of social relationships and represents social reality in different ways depending on factors such as who we are communicating with and what our agendas are. You will continue to develop concordancing skills and will compare the results of a mini-corpora with those of the reference grammar.

There are four units in Book 2, as follows:


Unit 8: Ways of speaking: exploring linguistic variability
Unit 9: Packaging and staging information
Unit 10: Positioning and persuading
Unit 11: The angle on the world.


Book 3 Getting practical: evaluating everyday texts

Book 3 continues to explore grammatical variation but focuses increasingly on developing a critical orientation to English use. We take an even closer look at grammatical choices and see that even within particular types of texts, such as novels or newspapers, there is significant grammatical variation which influences how meanings are expressed and, importantly, how they are received. Through learning how these choices operate you may be better able to refine your own writing and recognise how other people are using grammar to evoke particular reactions from you. You will be expected not only to describe, interpret and evaluate texts but also to apply your grammatical knowledge and analytical skills as a means of judging and improving the communicative effectiveness of a range of everyday texts.

There are five units in Book 3, as follows:


Unit 12: Getting interpersonal: the grammar of social roles and relationships
Unit 13: Construing human experience: grammar, representation and point of view
Unit 14: Organising messages
Unit 15: Making a text hang together: the role of lexical cohesion
Unit 16: Making a text hang together: the role of grammatical devices


The table below provides an overview of the units in the course, the amount of time it might take to complete each unit and the timing of the associated assignments.

Please note that it is suggested that you begin the course by working your way through the Foundation Grammar package on the Activities CD- ROM. This is a series of activities which introduces and gives practice in identifying elements of English grammar.


Book 1
UnitsTitleWeeks of workAssignments
 Foundation grammar package2 
1Grammar in context 
2Corpus and grammatical description2 
3The units of grammar: function and form in spoken and written English2 
4The noun phrase2Assignment 1
5The verb phrase2 
6Understanding complexity in and around clauses2 
7Intonation: turning pandas into killers2 
Book 2
8Ways of speaking: exploring linguistic variability2Assignment 2
9Packaging and staging information2 
10Positioning and persuading2 
11The angle on the world2Assignment 3
Book 3
12Getting interpersonal: the grammar of social roles and relationships2 
13Construing human experience: grammar, representation and point of view2Assignment 4
14Organising messages2 
15Making a text hang together: the role of lexical cohesion2 
16Making a text hang together: the role of grammatical devices2Assignment 5
 Total =36 weeks 

The materials for ENGL E320 consist of this Course Guide, study units in three books (referred to as Books 1–3), a course Reader, a Concordancer and Corpus CD-ROM, a Guide to the CD-ROMs, a Corpus Tasks booklet, a Glossary, an Assignment File and a Manual for Face-to- face Sessions. All the above material is provided, but you will expected to purchase the set book (see below). Also, you will need:

  • access to a computer, with a suitable colour monitor, mouse or equivalent, keyboard, printer, sound card, and speakers or headphones.
  • a personal notebook/journal to record notes, definitions, answers to activities, etc.


Course Guide

This Course Guide tells you briefly what the course is about, what it contains, and how you can work your way through it. It also gives you information about tutors and face-to-face sessions, and assessment. Remember to refer to the Course Guide throughout the course to help clarify important points about studying ENGL E320.


Study units/books

As you saw in the previous section, there are 16 study units in Books 1–3 of this course. Each unit consists of two weeks of work and includes a wide range of activities.


Course Reader

Coffin, C., Hewings, A. and O'Halloran, K. (2004) Applying English Grammar: functional and corpus approaches.



The Concordancer and Corpus CD-ROM contains concordancing software and a corpus of texts.


Set book

Biber, D., Conrad, S. and Leech, G. (2002) Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English, London, Pearson Education Limited. This is referred to in the course as the 'reference grammar'.

The associated grammar workbook (optional pre-course reading):

Biber, D., Conrad, S. and Leech, G. (2002) Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English Workbook, London, Pearson Education Limited.


Assignment File

The Assignment File provides an overview of the nature and requirements of the course assignments and guides you through them.

The course supports you through face-to-face tutorials, telephone tutoring, and the Online Learning Environment (OLE).


Face-to-face and telephone tutoring

To supplement your self-study, there are ten two-hour tutorials. In the tutorials, your tutor will answer questions about any problems you have faced during self-study and hold other activities, such as small-group discussions, to enhance your learning.

In addition, at the beginning of the semester, there will be a student orientation for new students.

More details about the face-to-face meetings are provided in the Manual for Face-to-face Sessions provided in this mailing.

When you have any difficulties with your studies, you may also consult your tutor by telephone during the assigned time slots.


Online communication

You will have the opportunity for additional online communication – with your peers, tutors and the Course Coordinator – through the HKMU Online Learning Environment (OLE). The OLE provides interactive tools in the form of a discussion board, as well as hyperlinks to useful websites and other relevant resources.

The following strategies are recommended for working through the course.

  1. Organise a study schedule. Refer to the course overview and to the Study Schedule provided by your Course Coordinator for more details. Note the number of weeks suggested for each unit and how the assignments relate to the units. Once you have decided on your own study schedule, do everything you can to stick to it. The major reason students fail is that they fall behind with their course work. If you get into difficulties with your schedule, please let your tutor know before it is too late to help you.
  2. In working through each unit, you should:
    • Read the Introduction, where you will find a statement of the focus and objectives.
    • Work through the unit, carrying out activities and studying the readings when asked to do so.
    • Review the Introduction again to confirm that you have mastered the focus and achieved the objectives.
  3. After completing the whole course, review the materials and prepare for the examination.

ENGL E320 includes both continuous assessment and an examination. You must pass in both these components to gain a pass on the course.



The course has five equally weighted assignments, of which the best four will be counted, and will account for 50% of the final course grade.



There is a three-hour examination at the end of the course which accounts for 50% of the final course grade.

As with any specialised field of study, grammar has developed its own technical terminology, or 'metalanguage' (a language about language), to allow us to describe and discuss grammatical features in a more precise way. However, because grammar has been studied for many centuries for a range of different purposes, and in relation to different languages, different traditions have been established, all of which use a slightly different terminology or use the same terms in a slightly different sense. Some terms that you may be familiar with from your previous study of grammar may not appear at all in this course.

Each time a new key term is introduced in the course, you will find that it has been put in bold type, as well as being indexed at the end of the book. Occasionally the terms used in the course books do not correspond precisely to the terms used in the reference grammar or in some of the readings – sometimes because a different label has been attached to the same phenomenon, but more often because in different traditions slightly different understandings of terms have emerged. In case you begin to feel overwhelmed by all this complexity, all the key terms that you can expect to encounter in the course books and related material are separately defined in the Glossary along with, where relevant, any equivalent or similar terms from different grammar traditions.

Apart from the use of bold type, Books 1-3 also use the following marginal icons to indicate that you need to work with related materials:

  refers to the Activities CD-ROM
  refers to the Concordancer and Corpus CD-ROM
  refers to a reading from the course Reader
  refers to the set book, your reference grammar.

For further details of each of these components, see the earlier section on 'Course materials'.

We hope that by studying ENGL E320, you will enhance your knowledge of English grammar and recognise how it can be applied in practical and useful ways.

We wish you every success in the course.


UKOU contributors

In addition to the core course team, the following people also contributed to the UKOU course.

Stephen Bradley (media account manager)

Dorothy Calderwood (editor)

Hilary Cooper (indexer) Gerald Copp (editor)

Mick Deal (software quality engineer)

Beccy Dresden (media project manager)

Chris Gravell (coordinating editor, 2002–3)

Jenny Gray (software designer and programmer)

Fiona Harris (editor)

Shereen Karmali (editor)

David King (editor)

Rachel Nalumoso (editor)

Winifred Power (editor)

Val Russell (editor)

Maureen Street (proof-reader)

Jeremy Taylor (software designer and programmer)

Ali Wyllie (media project manager)


Consultant authors

Michael Barlow, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Douglas Biber, University of Northern Arizona, USA

Christopher Candlin, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and The Open University

Susan Conrad, Portland State University, USA

Brian Dare, Lexis Education, South Australia

Gillian Francis, freelance lexicographer, UK

Panayota Georgakopoulou, European Captioning Institute, London, UK

Andrew Goatly, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

Patrick Goldsmith, Oxford University Press, UK

Hilary Hillier, freelance author, UK

Veronika Koller, Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, Austria

Jim Martin, University of Sydney, Australia

Gerlinde Mautner, Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, Austria

Clare Painter, University of New South Wales, Australia

John Polias, Lexis Education, South Australia

Elena Tognini-Bonelli, University of Siena and Tuscan Word Centre, Italy

Peter White, University of Birmingham, UK

Martin Wynne, Oxford Text Archive, UK


External assessors and advisers

Michael Hoey (external course assessor), University of Liverpool, UK

Ron Carter (general course consultant), University of Nottingham, UK

Susan Feez (general course consultant), University of Sydney, Australia

Michael Halliday (general course consultant), University of Sydney, Australia

Susan Hunston (Book 1 adviser), University of Birmingham, UK

Geoffrey Leech (general course consultant), University of Lancaster, UK

Geoff Thompson (Book 3 adviser), University of Liverpool, UK

Elena Tognini-Bonelli (Book 2 adviser), University of Siena and Tuscan Word Centre, Italy


Developmental testers and critical readers

Judy Anderson, UK

Mohammad Awwad, Jordan

Kim Beckley, UK

Susana Cerda, UK/Mexico

Tarek Fakhrel-Deen, Kuwait

Hilary Hillier, UK

Frank Xiao Junhong, China

Catriona McPherson, UK

Elena Manca, Italy

Clara Mancini, UK/Italy

Lewis Mukattash, Jordan

Adam Nightingale, UK

Ahmad Sahlane, Saudi Arabia

Cristina Scarpino, Italy

Safinaz Shariff, USA

Najib al-Shehabi, Syria

Birgit Winkler, UK/Austria

Catherine Xiang, UK/China

Coming soon