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Analyse Language in 'Before You Were Mine'

In this worksheet, students will be able to exercise their analysis of language in 'Before You Were Mine'.

'Analyse Language in 'Before You Were Mine'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

Curriculum topic:  

Curriculum subtopic:  

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Want to practise your language analysis in 'Before You Were Mine'?

 

Thought bubble

 

Good! You've come to the right place. All you need to do is refer to the poem 'Before You Were Mine' in your anthology! 

 

To quickly recap the poem: Carol Anne Duffy is looking at an old picture (or pictures) of her mother and imagining what her mother's past life was like. The poem is full of meaningful language which really showcases the speaker's attitude, and the themes she chooses to focus on.

 

 

Take notes as you do this activity. It'll help you absorb more information if you write down all the new things you learn. Take your time and read the teacher's explanation carefully - it's full of helpful gems!

 

 

 

Looking at the first two sentences of the first stanza, pick out one instance of informal language that you spot.

\"I\'m ten years away from the corner you laugh on with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff.\"

Looking at the same two sentences as the previous question, pick out two reasons why Duffy might begin the poem with the contraction "I'm".

 

The contraction "I'm" immediately suggests that the speaker has a close, informal relationship with her mother

The contraction "I'm" suggests that Duffy is establishing a colloquial, chatty tone

The contraction "I'm" suggests that the speaker doesn't care about her mother

The contraction "I'm" suggests that the speaker wants to emphasise that she isn't posh

The contraction "I'm" suggests that the speaker is "ten years away" from the mother

Looking at the beginning of stanza two:

 

"I'm not here yet..."

 

Which out of the three options below do you think best describes Duffy's tone in this quote? Pick one.

The word "yet" suggests that Duffy will be arriving soon. The tone is neutral

The word "yet" suggests that Duffy will be here soon, giving the poem a dark, ominous tone

The word "yet" suggests that Duffy will be here to join her mother. The tone is happy

Now check out this bit of the second stanza:

 

"The fizzy, movie tomorrows"

 

 

What kind of words are "fizzy" and "movie" here? There is one correct answer.

 

Superlatives

Adjectives

Nouns

Onomatopoeias

Thinking of the same quote as the previous question, check off the word associations that you think each adjective brings to mind. 

 

For each adjective, there are four correct word associations, but be mindful that two of the words match both adjectives!

 FizzyMovie
Sparkling
Cinematic
Dramatic
Exciting
Romantic
Bubbly

What word classification is each of the four words in the title of the poem?

 PrepositionPronounPossessive PronounPast Tense Verb
Before
You
Were
Mine

Pick out one verb from the last stanza which you think really describes how Duffy's mother used to be.

 

Write it down in the text box below. 

 

Remember, a verb is a doing word.

What's significant about the words "ghost" and "clatters" in the third stanza?

 

There is only one right answer from each column.

Pick one word from the whole poem that you think really conveys Duffy's possessiveness?

 

 

Last question!

 

Fill in the blanks where required, showcasing your understanding of Duffy's use of active verbs in the poem.

 

Remember: active verbs are when the person is doing the action.

  • Question 1

Looking at the first two sentences of the first stanza, pick out one instance of informal language that you spot.

CORRECT ANSWER
"I'm ten years away from the corner you laugh on
with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff."
EDDIE SAYS
"Pals" is the correct answer here. The use of the noun "pals" really emphasises the informal tone that Duffy wants to convey. Think about it. Why did Duffy not use the word "friends"? The informal use of language sets the scene for the rest of the poem, where Duffy is attempting to empathise and relate to her mother as the individual she was before Duffy came along.
  • Question 2

Looking at the same two sentences as the previous question, pick out two reasons why Duffy might begin the poem with the contraction "I'm".

 

CORRECT ANSWER
The contraction "I'm" immediately suggests that the speaker has a close, informal relationship with her mother
The contraction "I'm" suggests that Duffy is establishing a colloquial, chatty tone
EDDIE SAYS
Nice job if you chose the first two options! Starting the poem with the contraction "I'm" really sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker, Duffy, seems to be talking directly to her mother and uses the contraction to emphasise their close and personal relationship. Be aware of contractions in poetry. They're a great way of showcasing informality, as contractions are typically a spoken (and informal) feature.
  • Question 3

Looking at the beginning of stanza two:

 

"I'm not here yet..."

 

Which out of the three options below do you think best describes Duffy's tone in this quote? Pick one.

CORRECT ANSWER
The word "yet" suggests that Duffy will be here soon, giving the poem a dark, ominous tone
EDDIE SAYS
The use of the word "yet" serves a purpose, especially with the use of the caesura. It presents Duffy as simultaneously ominous, as if she will be coming to ruin her mother's individuality and independence, while also seeming a little bitter. When we consider this, paired with the sentence "the thought of me doesn't occur" we can detect a bitter tone. It is hard to imagine our parents' lives without us being in it. Duffy seems to struggle with this, too.
  • Question 4

Now check out this bit of the second stanza:

 

"The fizzy, movie tomorrows"

 

 

What kind of words are "fizzy" and "movie" here? There is one correct answer.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Adjectives
EDDIE SAYS
Don't worry if you found that tricky! Both words are adjectives in the context of this quote. They are used to describe the mother's "tomorrows".
  • Question 5

Thinking of the same quote as the previous question, check off the word associations that you think each adjective brings to mind. 

 

For each adjective, there are four correct word associations, but be mindful that two of the words match both adjectives!

CORRECT ANSWER
 FizzyMovie
Sparkling
Cinematic
Dramatic
Exciting
Romantic
Bubbly
EDDIE SAYS
Word association is a fantastic way of really analysing how and why certain language is used. Where "fizzy" suggests zest and flavour (a sensory word), "movie" suggests some kind of plot (in this case, probably a romantic one). It's also a very visual word, which conjures a strong image for the reader.
  • Question 6

What word classification is each of the four words in the title of the poem?

CORRECT ANSWER
 PrepositionPronounPossessive PronounPast Tense Verb
Before
You
Were
Mine
EDDIE SAYS
This is a bit of a tricky question, but a vital one! The title of the poem is important, because it's so interesting to analyse the language Duffy uses in it. Duffy's use of the preposition "before" and the past tense verb "were" situates the poem in the past. The pronoun "you" suggests that the speaker is talking directly to the subject. Indeed, Duffy's conversational tone is directed right at her mother. The possessive pronoun "mine" really emphasises the speaker's possessiveness over her mother. This could just as easily be the title of a love poem.
  • Question 7

Pick out one verb from the last stanza which you think really describes how Duffy's mother used to be.

 

Write it down in the text box below. 

 

Remember, a verb is a doing word.

CORRECT ANSWER
Winking
Sparkle
Waltz
Laugh
EDDIE SAYS
"Winking", "sparkle", "waltz" and "laugh" are the ones we were looking for. All four verbs link the mother's past personality with vivaciousness. If you really want to challenge yourself, have a think about the three verbs listed in the very last sentence, "sparkle and waltz and laugh". Why do you think Duffy clumps these verbs together with the repetition of "and"? What effect does this have on you, as the reader?
  • Question 8

What's significant about the words "ghost" and "clatters" in the third stanza?

 

There is only one right answer from each column.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
How did you get on? The noun "ghost" and verb "clatters" are an interesting combination. A ghost, which we associate with transparency and paleness, is clattering, noisy and "clear as scent" to Duffy. Duffy is suggesting that her mother in the past (whom she has never known) is clearer than her mother now. "Ghost" is an interesting noun to use, because it can be interpreted in many different ways. Duffy could be illustrating the death of her mother - either a physical death or, the death of her individual identity as she enters motherhood. Another interpretation could be that Duffy is being haunted by her mother out of guilt for taking away her individuality and glamour by being born.
  • Question 9

Pick one word from the whole poem that you think really conveys Duffy's possessiveness?

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Mine
Loud
Possessive
EDDIE SAYS
Duffy repeatedly uses language in the poem (and title) which hints at her possessiveness over her mother. This has an interesting effect when we team it up with Duffy's guilty tone. There is the sense that, just as the mother used to be something she isn't now, Duffy is battling with her own past possessiveness over her mother.
  • Question 10

Last question!

 

Fill in the blanks where required, showcasing your understanding of Duffy's use of active verbs in the poem.

 

Remember: active verbs are when the person is doing the action.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
There is a deliberate use of active verbs in the poem. Take note of who is doing the activity and what it implies. The mother engages in a lot of active verbs throughout the poem. This really highlights how Duffy wants to present her mum - as active, outgoing and energetic. Pairing these active verbs with Duffy's somewhat possessive tone, there is a sense of contrast being built between Duffy's possessiveness and her desire to see her mother as an individual. Great focus, that’s another activity completed!
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