Tag Archives: ToB

Introducing ToB script

Bear with me: until I can convert ToB into a computer program with a nice graphical interface, the bubbly representation is too time consuming… especially if you typically use a keyboard.

Lost? refresh your memory or catch-up by reading the highlights of the most abstract football match ever.

Also, to write a computer program, it is useful to define a scripting language: this will allow us to easily convert typed symbols into whatever graphical representation we like. 

So, here is ToB script explained.  You will see that, consistent with the pentagrammatic representation, it borrows elements from musical notation (A, B, C, D… the letters corresponding to the musical notes that match the bubble position). 

Confused? Let’s look at a simple subject-verb-object structure, as in the clause “Pelé dribbles defenders”.

Here is standard ToB:   s_SVO

In ToB script, the above is, quite beautifully: A B C

As always, it is best to see these things in action, so here is an example of Shakespeare’s sonnet 1…Enjoy!



Football language: match highlights

Grammar is as easy as football, and this match report proves it.  
Read this to get a different perspective on grammar and master the fundamentals of ToB, a simple notation system that, borrowing from music, offers a spatial representation of language rules. 


  • 1st half: verbs, nouns, pronouns, prepositions/adjectives/articles, adverbs, conjunctions.  It’s the same as: balls, players, subs, kit, match restarts.
  • 2nd half:  positioning of nouns in a sentence matters in the same way as positioning of players on the pitch.   The four primary complements, i.e.: subject, object, indirect object and agent, can be compared to star players: captain, striker, right-winger and bicycle kicker!
  • Extra time (1):  complements of origin, state, destination, transition. Or is it right-back, mid-fielder, forward and left-wing? Football and language are both firmly rooted in space-time.
  • Extra time (2): on strange things. Existentialism in predicate and copula; the vocative of direct speech.
  • Penalties: the goalkeeper vs the genitive case.  Obsession with possession.

Of course, there is much more to football as there is with grammar and no system is perfect.

But this will get you playing and enjoying yourself, the prerequisites for any journey of discovery.

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Football language – penalties

[Full match highlights]

It’s not over yet: after an exciting, a glorious 2nd half, an energetic start to extra time (1) and strange things happening in extra time (2)  we have now come to the epilogue of a memorable match: penalties.


Penalties is when one player shines above all…

The goalkeeper

1. The keeper is unique among players in that he is allowed to touch the ball with his hands to prevent the other team from scoring.

2. To avoid confusion, he wears a differently coloured kit.

3. A saved ball is a goalie‘s most prized possession.


In ToB, the keeper’s position is taken by the genitive case at the very bottom of the pentagram.


In the English language, the tell-tale sign of the genitive is almost always one of two tiny words associated with the noun:  of  or  ‘s.

The genitive case

In a way similar to the goalkeeper, the genitive has features that make it unique:

1. Nouns that fall within the genitive case are unique because they participate in the action always in relation to other nouns or adjectives (rather than to the verb).  

2. To make this relationship clear, a dotted line is used to connect the related words (see examples in the picture above).   

3. The genitive is primarily used to indicate “possession”, as in the examples above (which is why you find it deep in the domain of origin).  However, it may be also used to indicate “partition”, as in “the last of the players”.

And this is it: grammar and ToB in a football match.

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Football language – extra time (2)

[Full match highlights]

Almost there… The match so far:  1st half  |  2nd half | extra time (1)

At the end of an exhausting football match strange things happen.

This post is about strange balls, strange players, strange kit.
It may be useful to revisit their grammatical equivalents: verbs, nouns/pronouns, adjectives.

strange ball

To be or not to be, this is the question.

We said that verbs  represent action.   Sometimes, however, they represent existence or a state of mind (“to be”, “to become”,  “feel”, “seem”, “get”).  This is when “strange subjects” may suddenly appear.

Predicate and Copula


Look at the first sentence: you could swap the noun “captain” with the noun “Ronaldo” and the meaning would be essentially the same.

You can’t say that “captain” is the object of the action; instead, we call “captain” the predicate.  In ToB, the linked predicate is made clear by the  smubble to the left of the ebble (with a little space to distinguish it from a preposition)… And it is no coincidence that it is positioned within the same space as the subject.

The verb “to be” (is), in this case, is used to link the subject with its predicate.   In English Grammar, verbs that perform this function are also called “copula” or “copulative”: this is because in Latin the noun  copula means “link”, “tie” (think of “couple”).

The second sentence  is very similar to the first: the only material difference is that the predicate, in this case, is an adjective.  This is why, in ToB, The predicate adjective “exceptional” has a smubble attached to a smebble rather than an ebble.

Predicates are therefore “strange subjects”, in the sense that they complement or amplify the characteristics of the subject of the sentence, often aided by “strange, copulative” verbs – of which “to be” is by far the most commonly used.

Here are more examples to think about:
– The goallie becomes aware
– Messi feels great
– Maldini seems upset
The referee gets angry

Note: the verb “to be”, or “to become” are always copulae.  This not always the case for other “copulative” verbs.  For example, in the sentence “the referee gets the red card”, you should see that “the red card” is the object of the “getting” action, not a predicate of the subject.  In this case (and many others), therefore, “to get” is not used as a copula.


There is another example of “strange subject” that is worth mentioning before we see the final result of this exciting football match: the vocative.


When we address others in direct speech, we often call their name before asking for (or ordering) something.

In the example above, “Ronaldo” is the vocative.  In ToB, The vocative is represented by a smubble attached to the right of the ebble representing the noun. Again, this is positioned in the same space of the subject.

It is also worth pointing out how “don’t” is represented as a smuggle (secondary verb) followed by another smubble (adverb, positioned in the “state” domain).. this is simply because it is the combination of two separate words: “do” (verb that goes with “miss”) and “not” (adverb).

The end?

In this thrilling match we have been entertained by most of the players carrying out all sorts of actions, normal and strange.

There is only one left to cover, a player so special as to wear colours that stand out from all the others: the goallie…And when is the goalie’s moment of glory?  Penalties!!!

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Football language – extra time (1)

[Full match highlights]

Welcome back again!  (Need to catch-up?  1st half  |  2nd half)

Sentences describe actions that occur in space-time.  You can think of the ToB pentagram as a simple representation of space-time.

ToB is divided into the four space-time boundaries of ORIGIN (1st line from bottom), STATE (2nd line from bottom), DESTINATION (2nd line from top) and TRANSITION (top line).


In our football pitch image, look for the orange ebbles that go diagonally from bottom right to top left, those sitting on space-time boundary lines.  They will be main focus of this first half of extra time (before you read on: it is useful for the contents of the  2nd half of the game, which deals with “star players”, are fresh in your mind).

Here’s an example of each:

  • ORIGIN: the players come back from the changing rooms;
  • STATE: they take up position on the pitch;
  • DESTINATION: they drive forwards towards goal;
  • TRANSITION: to win this they must get through staunch defenders.

Secondary Complements

The items underlined are called complements.  They add detail, colour and depth to the sentence.  We have already come across primary complements in the 2nd half (the star players), so we’ll call these secondary complements.  

More technically, you can think of a complement as a noun or pronoun (i.e.: “pitch”) that is often preceded by a preposition (i.e.: “on”) and sometimes accompanied by an articles (i.e.: “the”) or one or more adjectives (i.e.: “muddy”).  

Let’s now take a look at each of these “complementary players” in more detail.

Warning: in all the ToB examples that follow, the red arrows just highlight the flow between the verb and the nouns and are not part of the actual notation.  The same goes for the wording in the red font.

Complements “of ORIGIN” (the right-back)


Many actions on the pitch start from deep defence.  In the same way a goal-scoring movement can be found to originate from the right-back, actions described in sentences are often accompanied by complements that provide insights on “origin”.   They provide answers to questions such as “from where?” (space),  “since when?” (time), or …”due to what?”.

You may ask: “what has ’cause’ to do with space-time?”.  Here are abstraction and metaphor at work, beautiful products of the human brain.  Think of space-time in a more abstract way and see how it can fit mode or mood: “he did something from experience” or “she sought revenge because of hatred“.  

Finally, you may recall that the star player in the space above the bottom line was the agent.  It It too belongs to the domain of “origin”.

Complements “of STATE” (the mid-fielder)


Mid-fielders form the natural “bridge” between defensive and attacking play.  The language equivalents are complements that describe “state”.  These great contributors to the meaning of a sentence  help to set the context: where is something or someone?  When did it happen?  In whose company or how (with whom or what)?

With complements “of state”, some of the most common prepositions that accompany the noun are: in, on, under, at, with.

The star-player that also belongs to the domain “of state” is the captain, a.k.a. the subject.  This is why it is positioned on the space just above the line.

Complements “of DESTINATION” (the forward)


In football, forwards work with the striker.  They are often at the receiving end of a pass from the mid-field.  In language, the complement “of destination” is often found with verbs of “movement”: “the player runs towards goal,  “the referee goes to the penalty spot“.

However, when dealing with mode or mood,  we encounter a more abstract type of destination, something that answer questions such as: “what for?”, “to what end?”.

You will have guessed by now that the object is the half-brother of the complement of destination, sharing with it the domain “of destination”.

Complements “of TRANSITION” (the left-wing)


This is the final and in some ways the most exciting space-time boundary: beyond “reaching a destination” is the ability to “penetrate”, to go “through”.  This is the realm of possibility, of change, of strife.  It is the domain “of transition”.

It is no coincidence that the star player that shares this domain with complements “of transition” is the indirect object, which could be described as the receiver of an “altruistic action”.

To sum it up

Space-time provides the backdrop for all communication.  Just about every concept or action you can talk about may be placed in one of the four ToB domains: ORIGIN, STATE, DESTINATION, TRANSITION.   This important grammatical categorisation is instantly visible through the position of the bubbles on the pentagram.

The game is almost over… the second half of extra time will deal with strange issues…. but will it go to penalties?!?

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Football Language – 2nd Half

[Full match highlights]

Welcome back!  In the 1st half we saw how, in language,  nouns work with the verb like players work with the ball.  Positioning is key.


Let’s talk tactics.   Check out the special, bubbly team I created by super-imposing a football pitch on a ToB pentagram in the picture above: each ebble represents a noun, and the positioning of the ebble on the pentagram describes the role of the noun within the sentence.

It’s the same on the pitch: as you see players taking up their position, it’s obvious whether their contribution to the game will be as left-wing or right-back. In football there are 11 players.  In ToB  there are only 9. Basically, grammar is easier than football.

…Here’s an example: s_SVO

Note: the red arrows just show the flow of the action, they are not part of ToB notation.

…And here’s a simple explanation of the notation:
a) the (proper) noun “Pelé” is the subject;
b) “dribbles” is the verb which describes the action;
c) the noun “defenders” is the object.  

You can see different kinds of bubbles neatly positioned above each word: as  notes on top of lyrics represent music, bubbles in ToB represent grammar (intriguing? read this).

The action goes from below the centre line of the ToB pentagram to just above.  Think about the mid-field line of a football pitch: behind is the defence, beyond the attack.

This high-level spatial organisation is reflected in ToB:
– nouns used to kick-off the action (or provide justification or context for it) are positioned below the mid line [DEFENCE];
– nouns that are on the receiving end of the action (which define its end or limit), are above the mid line [ATTACK!].

There are, of course, nuances within defence and attack: in ToB‘s DEFENCE there are 5 distinct positions; in ATTACK another 4.  But what’s ON the line?   In football, at kick-off, the ball is placed right in the middle.  In ToB, this is the natural position of the verb (represented by a fubble):  all the nouns in a sentence revolve around it.  The nouns’ specific positions in relation to the verb create meaning.

In our “Pelé dribbles defenders” example we came across the “stars” of the two sides of the pitch: the subject and the object.  These belong to a group of four “key players”: the other two are the indirect object and the agent.


Primary Complements

Look at the picture again…  these four key roles (in grammar: complements) are represented by the yellow ebbles that go from bottom left to top right… See them? Agent, Subject, Object, Indirect Object.  Their special status is recognised by placing them in between the lines of the pentagram.  It is now time to explore them further!

The subject (the captain)

In a sentence, the subject is the captain of the team, the one that starts the action.  Every meaningful sentence will have AT LEAST a verb and its subject:  somebody or something (subject) performs an action (verb).  Examples: “Messi scores”, “Rooney scuffs”, “Ronaldo shoots”, “Neymar dives”. 

The object (the striker)

The object represent someone or something that is on the receiving end of the action.  Think of it as the striker: if the subject chooses to pass the ball (i.e.: if the sentence goes beyond subject+verb), the most likely player to receive the ball is the object.  Examples: “Messi scores goals“, “Rooney scuffs shots“, “Ronaldo shoots screamers“.

The indirect object (the right winger)

Let’s move on to the right-winger in the picture at the top, the indirect object.  It represents the receiver of something by someone: you will typically find it with verbs that describe a “giving” action, as in: “Messi passes the ball to Aguero“, “The referee shows a red card to Zidane“.


…and here is the ToB representation  (again, the red arrows just highlight the flow between the verb and the nouns and are not part of the actual notation).

But hang on, what are those  smebbles and  smubbles in the picture?   Those are the symbols for other types of word, the player’s kit described in the 1st half: articles (a), adjectives (beautiful), prepositions (to)*.  Their position is always in line with the noun they refer to.

* The bubble song summarises all the main symbols (note: articles “a” and “the” are a special kind of adjective, and that’s why we use a double smebble for them).

The agent  (the bicycle kicker!)

s_SVA  … compare it to: s_SVO

…mmm… Alarm bells will start ringing now… what’s happening here?  The first example above shows the agent in action: it is represented by the words “by Pelé” (a proper noun preceded by a preposition).  Also note that “Defenders” is marked as the subject.

Comparing the two sentences, you will have worked out that the meaning is absolutely identical.  So are the nouns used (“Pelé” and “defenders”).  Now… although the verb used is also the same (“to dribble”), you can see that, in the first picture, there is something different about it: it is in the passive voice.

[Remember: when you see a verb in the passive voice, look for the agent (the noun preceded by “by”).  Bye bye 🙂  ].

You can imagine this turn from active to passive  as a sort of “verbal somersault” (see the blue curving arrow on top of the fubble?):  the verb “to dribble” may be turned around into its passive “to be dribbled”.   This has a wider impact on the whole sentence structure: as you “turn” the verb from active to passive (right picture to left picture), the object becomes the subject and the subject the agent…!  

Stop.  Look again at the elements in the two pictures. Carefully.  

…See? The result, even if the overall meaning is unchanged, is that “defenders” are now the focus of attention.

Let’s replay this in football.  Imagine the captain beautifully crossing the ball to the striker (as in the image above right): all eyes are on the captain‘s silky feet – I am thinking Andrea Pirlo …

… But what if the striker sometimes wanted to get more of the attention?  What if he did something spectacular …Something like… a bicycle kick?

bicycle kick

– Where’s his head?!?  “Oh my… that’s where his feet should be!”
– Where are his feet?!?  “Oh my… that’s where his head should be!”

Why, the striker could have hit a simpler, “normal” shot by adjusting his positioning as he saw the ball coming in from Pirlo…  But no, Balotelli does not just want to score…  Balotelli wants the crowd to go wild!!!

Basically, the same kind of action could happen, but in one case the captain takes the credit while in the other the striker, for a fleeting moment, can steal the captain’s armband … All he needs is a somersault!  In football, the somersaulting device is a bicycle kick; in grammar, it is the flipping of the verb from the active to the passive voice.  And as the object becomes the subject, the real* subject  turns into the agent.
*for the action, semantically, is still originating from Pelé.


My goodness, time’s up!!!  … And we have only covered the four key positions … this post will have to go into extra time!!!  Hang on to your seats!

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Football language – 1st half

[Full match highlights]

Everyone in the world understands football: the logic of the beautiful game is based on a few simple rules. So is – believe it or not – the logic of language.

In this post I will try to prove that if you know football …you’re more than half the way there with grammar!

Let’s start with the ball: without it, there’s no footie. In language, the ball is the verb: without it, there is no sentence.

Next come the players: each of them is tasked with a specific role. The game only makes sense if everyone, within reason, sticks to it. In sentences, the players are nouns (words that refer to creatures or things you can describe, be they concrete such as “whistle” or abstract such as “statistics”). As with players with the ball, noun positioning is critical: “John catches the net” and “the net catches John” mean very different things.

…And there’s also the bench! Pronouns are subs for nouns (e.g.: he, she, this) and work in the same way.

In footie, as in most sports, players wear different kit: the goallie wears an altogether different-coloured shirt, a defender’s boots may be designed to firmly stand the ground, while a striker’s maybe lighter and with a leather surface suitable for maximum spin. The kit of nouns and pronouns is made of prepositions (e.g.: from, to, between, in, on, at), adjectives (e.g.: long, short, strong), articles (the, a): their contribution to meaning may be as subtle as laceless shoes or as essential as goalkeeper’s gloves.  Compare “Silky Diego passes the keeper” with “Prudent Diego passes to the keeper”: here, the preposition “to” makes all the difference in meaning and the adjectives (“silky”, “prudent”) help produce a consistent description of Diego’s action.

Kitted out players perform all sorts of tricks with the ball: they hit it in different ways, they spin it, they control it. The ball is the middle of the action. So is our friend the verb and it too has tricks: adverbs can enhance it (i.e.: greatly, quickly, niftily, well), reverse (i.e.: not), set it in time (i.e.: today), temper it (i.e.: almost), as in “I will not play well tomorrow!”; in some cases, prepositions help to control, or define the verb better as in “wait for” or “look after“.

Finally… What happens when the ball goes out of play? Fouls, throw-ins, corners, kick-offs, penalties… These are all (re)starts after a pause in the game. Their language equivalents are conjunctions (e.g.: and, or, but) that separate lists of nouns or sentences.

Ball, players, bench, kit, tricks, (re)starts: these are the building blocks of football. Not that many, eh? Well, duly translated, they are also the building blocks of language structure.

And this is it for the 1st half of this game. In the 2nd half I’ll build on from this to explain how bubbles in ToB are positioned on the pentagram using a logic not altogether dissimilar from the way players are organised on the pitch.

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Shape-shifting, moody Timelords!

Verbs are the soul of Language. By describing action or existence, they deal with the magical properties of Life. Without them there would be no sentences: only catalogues, inventories and lists.

A humble word, the verb is a marriage of space and time: Einstein’s relativity enshrined in Language.

In a sentence, verbs describe the action and are essential to unlock meaning (e.g.: “John LOVES Mary” vs “John HATES Mary”).

Generally, each sentence has one, and only one, verb at its core. This is why verbs take centre stage in ToB: prominent fubbles right in the middle of the pentagram.

Shape-shifting Timelords


This picture shows various examples of the action of “going”: they differ in terms of when it happens and who does it.

Each separate time reference is given a different shape (after all, in plain language the same verb can take radically different “shapes” according to time, e.g.: “I go”, “I went”):

Sometimes the “verb shape” requires using multiple words, such as “have gone”, “will go”, “could have gone”.  The above examples show how we deal with this in ToB: fubbles for the “primary” verb-word (“gone”, “go”) and smubbles for the “secondary” ones, with “joining lines” above or below to indicate that we are dealing with the “same bubbly family”.

You can also see up to three  smebbles (singular) or smubbles (plural)  underneath the main fubbles: these are optional indicators describing who carries out the action (I, you, …, they), a distinction that is more important in languages other than English.  

…and verbs are Moody too!


Verbs also describe mood or intention.   The main moods are:

  • Indicative (or mood of reality,  as in all the examples in the picture at the top);
  • Imperative (used when issuing orders, as in “go!“);
  • Conditional (when describing an action carried out on condition, such as “I would go if…”;
  • Subjunctive (for desire or belief …in English this is rarely distinguishable from the indicative past, but “I wish you were” is a good example where this mood stands out);
  • Infinitive (“to be or not to be” …easy: just add “to” before the verb!)
  • Gerund (“going“, sometimes used instead of a noun “the going is tough” )
  • Participle (in the present tense, in English, it’s indistinguishable from the gerund in terms of spelling 😦 …It may help to remember that it is often used as an adjective, as in the “easy-going man”;  the past is easier, i.e. “gone”… as in many languages, the past participle is used in composite verbal forms, as in “I have gone”).

In ToB, verb moods are smebbles positioned on the outside perimeter of the main fubble: one or two, except for the indicative which has no smebble.  See the examples above: at the top for imperative, top-left for conditional, and so on…

As a final, comprehensive summary, please refer to the picture below: a true bubble-fest. VerbAll

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