Day 6: A Question of Grammar

The facts

In English Grammar class the next morning, William’s thoughts were interrupted: “What have I just been saying, William?”
William sighed. That was the foolish sort of question that schoolmistresses were always asking. They ought to know themselves what they’d just been saying better than anyone. He never knew. Why were they always asking him?
“What’s a negative, William?”
William sighed. “Somethin’ about photographs?” he said obligingly.
No,” snapped Miss Jones. She found William and the heat (William particularly) rather trying.

  • Number: 1.6
  • Published: 1922 (1921 in magazine form)
  • Book: Just William
  • Synopsis: William’s family leaves him alone for an evening. He decides to host a party.


We’re all familiar with those news stories in which someone’s private party goes viral on Facebook and their house gets trashed by thousands of uninvited revellers.

But who knew that William managed to create comparable chaos even without a social media account?

“I’m goin’ to bed,” William said, “’cause my father don’t understand ’bout English Grammar, that’s why!”

When his teacher introduces to him the concept of double negatives, his mind immediately turns to a conversation he had with his father that morning (“Did you say I could have a party, father?” “No, I did not“).

Having learnt that two negatives make a positive, William goes ahead and organises a riotous party that tramples the garden, breaks windows, leaves muddy footprints on Robert’s bed and actually imprisons long-suffering Cook in the coal-cellar!

One is left wondering whether William honestly believed himself to be in the right on this one. Often he has no doubt genuinely misunderstood an instruction or offhand comment and the consequences that ensued were, therefore, somewhat innocent.

But could he really have believed that his father’s stern instruction was meant to be an expansive permission?

You decide…