You Wanna Be on Top?

stack of generic booksThere are works of literature that appear, decade after decade, on the reading lists of American high school classrooms.

Today in Advanced Grammar, we’re looking at very short excerpts from three of those literary masterpieces:


The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (grades 9 or 10)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (often grade 11)
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (often grade 12)

Click here for a PDF copy of our class handout!

Because we are studying Chapter 9 of Kolln and Gray’s Rhetorical Grammar, our focus is on choosing adjectivals — or, more specifically, the adjectivals chosen by these three authors.

Students must locate expanded noun phrases with preheadword modifiers (determiners, adjectives, nouns, prenoun participles) and postheadword modifiers (prepositional phrases, participial phrases, and relative clauses). Then, they choose the four most memorable from each excerpt for a total of twelve contenders. Finally, each student narrows down the field to his or her nominee for Top Adjectival.

Here is the complete class list for each passage, with those phrases still in the running to be Advanced Grammar’s Top Adjectival in blue:

The Lord of the Flies

  • Ralph’s scarred nakedness
  • the struggling pig
  • the thing that had happened
  • a long satisfying drink
  • memories of the knowledge that had come to them
  • a living thing
  • their will

The Great Gatsby

  • the colossal vitality of his illusion
  • every bright feather that drifted his way
  • the expression of bewilderment
  • a faint doubt
  • the quality of his present happiness
  • a creative passion


  • muddy death
  • her coronet weeds clambering to hang
  • on the pendant boughs
  • snatches of old tunes
  • in the weeping brook
  • the poor wretch
  • his hoar leaves in the glassy stream
  • our cold maids
  • long purple that liberal shepherds
  • her clothes spread wide
  • an envious sliver
  • her weedy trophies
  • her garments, heavy with their drink

Results of the Final Vote…

  • the colossal vitality of his illusion (5)
  • muddy death (3)
  • hoar leaves (1)
  • a satisfying drink (2)

Congratulations, Fitzgerald and Gatsby! Your determiner-adjective-headword-prepositional phrase has been voted Top Adjectival.


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