A postilion sentence, from the oft-cited phrase "My postilion has been struck by lightning", is an example of language which, although grammatically correct, has "little or no chance of ever being useful in real life."
As David Crystal points out, "it conveys a structural meaning, and a lexical content, but that is all."
This is the epitome of classroom language teaching far removed from the needs of students. Such phrases remind us of the need for teaching language that has a direct bearing on the present or future communicative needs of language learners.
- "My tailor is rich." Very well known in Spain and popularized by "Asterix in Britain", is the first sentence of the Assimil method.
- "My hovercraft is full of eels." In fact invented by Monty Python, but well known on the internet.
- "Who is this man/woman in my bed?" Allegedly from a Czechoslovakian phrase book.
- "The table is being bitten by the dog." Seen in a textbook exercise on the passive - what question or situation would realistically give rise to this statement?
- What colour are my trousers?" Fairly typical teacher question.
- Wikipedia, My postillion has been struck by lightning, reference 11
- Crystal, David "Postilion Sentences" Journal of Clinical Speech and Language Studies pp. 12–22 (1995)
- Wikipedia, Assimil - Influences, version of 10 November 2015.
- Wikipedia, Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook, reference 1