I got my assessment back on Friday, and my teacher said I need to work on metalanguage and sentence structure. I don't understand what she means. I have looked on the internet for past 20 minutes about metalanguage but cannot seem to get my head around it. Can someone please elaborate? Thanks!

Here is one of my short answer responses, whereby she said I need to work on my metalanguage:

The extract from the novel Whispering Death by Gary Disher uses the construction of the character Grace to communicate the idea of criminality, which is usually expected in crime fiction stories. Disher portrays this through the characterisation of Grace, hence her actions and motives in the narrative. By using the actions of Grace to describe the extract, the reader becomes known to the idea of offence against the law. We are told, “She took a pair of shoes … slipped them over her runner … Something to occupy the detective who would be called to investigate. Then she went to work.” In this example, it not only explains how she is going to commit a felony, but also shows how she is use to and now an ‘expert’ in the field of crime and robbing rich houses. In Whispering Death, the actions of Grace have helped to construct and communicate the expected idea of criminality in crime fiction stories. Further to this, the construction of Grace and moreover her motive for money depicts the idea of criminality as Grace is so addicted to money that it is all she thinks about, especially when she “mentally selected for target …” After her raid in the second house all she was worried about was how “the software alone was $6000 new, the computer $3000.” This quote demonstrates what any typical crime fiction antagonist would care about, they all know what “… the smell of money” is. Throughout the course of the text, the author has wanted the reader to know that Grace loves money. Thus the construction of her character has conveyed the expected crime fiction idea of illegality and breaking the law, from Disher working together with Grace and the main idea in the text. Therefore, the extract from the novel Whispering Death by Gary Fisher has used the construction the main character Grace to communicate the idea of criminality, through her actions and motives.

Thanks you so much!!!!!!! I'm in year 10 by the way too in English Extension, so please be hard on me because I need to know how to do this!

  • Welcome to EL&U. Essentially you are asking for proofreading which, on this site, is off-topic.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 18, 2018 at 13:33
  • You have, also, made it difficult by producing a 'wall of text' without any paragraph structure, which is unhelpful for your (potential) readers
    – Nigel J
    Mar 18, 2018 at 13:41
  • Sorry @Nigel J, I will leave this sight. I didn't realise that I wasn't allowed to get feedback from people (it wasn't proofreading, as I have my mark back :))
    – Maddy S
    Mar 19, 2018 at 5:05
  • Maddy S, fyi, metalanguage as used by your teacher simply means the language you use to talk about what happens in the crime novel. The crime novel has its "language" and you have your "metalanguage". I actually think that with a bit of help, you could become an excellent crime fiction critic. I realize you are young, therefore, I also see that you are trying hard. I will construct an answer for you.
    – Lambie
    Mar 20, 2018 at 17:28
  • 1
    You have the right to ask teachers to explain their feedback on your work if it is not clear to you; and they have the duty to provide the explanation. So I suggest you talk to your English teacher. What I assume your teacher means by 'metalanguage' in a literary context also goes by the term 'elements of fiction'. These are the words that you need to use when analysing literature. There is a good list of common 'elements of fiction' here: englishtutorlessons.com.au/what-is-metalanguage-in-english
    – Shoe
    Mar 20, 2018 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


I don't know what metalanguage is but having read the extract you provide I think I can see what your teacher was getting at. It includes @NigelJ's plea for paragraph breaks but goes rather further.

Before writing anything, you need to consider what ideas you wish your reader to understand you be conveying. You can write them down to help your own thinking but do not attempt to write polished prose at this stage. Think then how those ideas fit into a logical structure that will help the reader see the whole while also seeing the individual ideas. One way of doing that is to present the ideas as answers to questions in the reader's mind, questions that you have put there. So, in your extract, you might want to lead the reader to ask "What is the main idea conveyed by the extract from Whispering Death". Having put that question in the reader's mind, answer it eg the author uses the character of Grace to exemplify what criminality is.

Then give your reasons. For each reason give your supporting evidence, such as quotations from the text. It is probably easier for the reader to state the reason first and then give the quotation that supports it.

Only when you have thought through the logic of what you want to say should you begin to write polished prose.

The general idea is to write with your reader in mind throughout, be clear what you wish the reader to get from what you write, and structure your writing in a way that is consistent with the reader's naturally occurring questions, questions that you can guide the reader to be asking.

  • 'Metalanguage' is language that is used to discuss language itself. (see Wikipedia)
    – Nigel J
    Mar 18, 2018 at 14:59

An example from the text illustrating what a teacher might mean by metalanguage in this context:

Metalanguage is language used to talk about actual language usage, among other things. For example, if I say "He got up out of the chair." and then say: "English has complex phrasal verbal constructions." verbal construction is metalanguage (language about language) I use to discuss a real example from speech.

Here is a broad description of the concept: metalanguage

Examples of metalanguage, bad grammar and poor wording in the text you wrote:

  • "The extract from the novel Whispering Death by Gary Disher usesthe construction of the character Grace to communicate the idea of criminality, which is usually expected in crime fiction stories."

So, here is the type of problem your teacher was trying to point out:

  • The extract does not use the construction. The extract is an example of x; the extract illustrates x, The extract shows x....
  • Generally, one would say something like: In the extract from y, we can see that the author or narrator uses the character Grace to represent criminality. [Then, give an example.]

  • she is now an "expert in the field of crime": No, she could now be an expert criminal but she is not an expert in the field of crime. That would be a police officer, investigator or detective, for example.

  • "By using the actions of Grace to describe the extract, the reader becomes known to the idea of offence against the law.". This is poor grammar and poor semantics (meaning). Grace's actions do not describe the extract. A criminal offence is a term: idea of offence against the law is not right here. "becomes to known" is poor grammar.

  • You mean to say: the reader comes to know Grace's criminal offence through her actions.

  • The use of phrases like: the "expected idea of criminality" make your answer sound like it was nicked from online essays. It is not the expected idea of criminality we find in a crime novel: It is that a character is expected to commit a crime. It is the expectation that a crime will be committed.

My comments are merely examples of what your teacher most likely was intending for you to understand.

  • I just love the way downvote. Of course, the clueless are always out there. Let's make sure we never, ever help a student or a neophyte, shall we? Oh, the poor in spirit....
    – Lambie
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:19

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