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A 19th Century College Entrance Exam in English Grammar

An Emphasis on Theory, Not Practice

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According to Sharon Crowley in Composition in the University (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998), entrance examinations to American colleges before 1870 "seem not to have required knowledge of English literature, English philology, or the more theoretical ranges of rhetoric or linguistics." Expectations changed, however, when attention began to shift from the teaching of classical languages to English in the last part of the 19th century.

In 1870, students who had applied to Illinois Industrial University (now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) were required to take this entrance exam in English.

  1. Name the vowels; the labials; the dentals; the palatals.

  2. Define Etymology; the name and different classes of words.

  3. Give the different modes of expressing Gender in English--illustrate each.

  4. Give the four rules for the formation of the plural of nouns, and an example under each.

  5. Give four rules for the formation of the possessive case of names; and write the possessive plural of lady, man, wife.

  6. Give the distinction between personal and relative pronouns.

  7. What are auxiliary verbs? Name them.

  8. Give the third-person singular of the verb sit in all the tenses of the indicative mood.

  9. He said that that that that that pupil parsed was not that that he should have parsed. Parse the that’s in that sentence.

  10. He that cometh unto me I will in no wise count out. Between you and I there is much mischief in that plan. I intended last year to have visited you. Correct these sentences, and give four reasons for your corrections.
(reprinted by Mary Trachsel in Institutionalizing Literacy: The Historical Role of College Entrance Examinations in English, Southern Illinois University Press, 1992)

As Crowley observes, incoming college students "were expected to have a formal or book-based knowledge of the grammatical rules of English--the same sort of knowledge, in fact, that they were expected to have of Greek and Latin grammars."

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