I'm not talking a string of words pasted and glued together with capitalization, random commas, and a period. Nope, I'm talking beautiful sentences that are rich and complex, yet simple and clear. Thought provoking sentences that readers like me go back and re-read, fawning over word choice, punctuation, rhythm, etc.
Sentence construction is much more complicated and simple than most people think. Yeah, I said complicated and simple at the same time. Hello oxymoron. There are infinite possibilities constrained and funneled down through a small set of "rules." Let's equate sentences to chocolate chip cookies. There is a million different ways to make them--chewy or crispy, chopped nuts or toffee chips, kitchen-sink mixes or classic Toll House varieties. And dare I ask warm out of the oven or cookie-dough ice cream?
But all of these variations on the classic chocolate chip cookie have two things in common: they have a vanilla, brown sugar dough base, and some sort of chipped bits of chocolate. Whether the dough has subtle notes of almond or orange, or the bits of chocolate are chunks of bittersweet or mini vegan chocolate chips, a chocolate chip cookie has two "base" elements.
Guess what? A sentence is no different than a chocolate chip cookie. It has two base elements and an infinite number of possibilities. See simple.
Subject and Predicate = Chocolate bits and Cookie Dough
Quick review: Subject is the who, what (topic) of the sentence and predicate is the action s/he, it, they are doing, or is being said about s/he, it, they.
See, simple again.
But notice something before I move on. In my rough equation I paralleled chocolate bits to the subject and cookie dough to the predicate. That was purposeful to further illustrate the roles subjects and predicates take on in a sentence.
If I would have named cookie dough as the subject it would not have got you very far in identifying the necessary information of what type of cookie, i.e. the "subject" or topic of the cookie. Follow me? Think about this, if I told you I just made the most wonderful cookie in the world and you asked me what was in it, we wouldn't get very far if I said "cookie dough," right? But if I said chocolate chips or chunks....ahhh...you'd know I must be talking about a chocolate chip cookie.
The point is that the subject identifies. The predicate carries the action just like our cookie dough carries (and holds together) the chocolate bits.
All of that explaining to illustrate what I've learned is the key to understanding sentence construction: every "slot" in the sentence plays a role. We'll talk further about slots in a second.
Know your sentence role(s) and you will surely construct beautiful sentences.
Now that we've tackled the simple part, let's get to the "infinite possibilities constrained and funneled down through a small set of rules" complicated part.
This is the deal--sentences come in a limited array of patterns. Patterns meaning rules or guidelines of most of the possibilities grammatically correct sentences follow. Before we go on please know that this is not saying these are all of the possibilities, just the most common ones used in grammatically correct sentences.
So how many patterns? Well that depends who you're asking or what book you're reading. The general consensus seems to be anywhere from 6 to 10. The books that I study have seven, which have been broken down further for nerdy people like me who like to categorize and know more than I'll ever need to know into ten, which is basically taking the original seven and expanding a few of them into other variations.
But let's not get caught up in the details just yet.
Learning these sentence patterns unlocks the secret garden gate of grammar. It also unlocks pandora's box, but hey, I did say simple and complex early on. Behind the gatekeeper is the key to punctuation, rhythmic writing, grammar do's and don'ts, and of course beautiful sentences.
Why? because contained within those neat and cute patterns are slots. Remember my advice: know your sentence role? Well once you learn the patterns you learn the roles. And, the roles are contained in those slots that make-up the sentence patterns.
So it goes like this:
are made up of
that together build
I promise, understanding this sentence breakdown is truly the viscera of good writing. There's other rules, tips, tricks we can adorn this breakdown with but it truly comes down to this--the bones of good writing is knowing how grammatical sentences are constructed.
Again, simple and complex.
Although it disturbs me to think this, I know that a great many may be wondering why this is important. "I'm not a writer, English major, or Grammar nerd," they say. Or better yet, "I'm a blogger, creative writer," or of course, "the only time I really write sentences is on facebook." Those are the ones saying "who cares about grammar" as they write with no caution. Sigh. Please cease and desist.
Oh it matters. All of us communicate through the written word and spoken word. Grammar helps you effectively communicate your thoughts, and in this day and age of facebook, twitter, and text messages, grammar helps you to not sound ignorant when you really need and want to sound intelligent. And I hope that is all of the time, not just cover letter writing.
Don't think I'm not talking to you creative writers? Don't trip. I'm a creative writer too, and please let me tell you that I've work-shopped many of creative writing pieces that excelled in content but was laid out like a beetle on its back trying to turn over and recover from bad grammar or punctuation. Wanna mess up your plot? Mess up your grammar. Care to destroy that image? Mess up your punctuation. Not interested in authentic characters? Go ahead, mess up your diction.
Poets, I'm looking at you too. You cannot effectively break the rules unless you understand and know them. An arbitrary and careless grammar mistake means nothing compared to one done with purpose to illustrate a point.
All of this gets us to two important words, rhetorical grammar. You may not know what it is now, but I bet you chocolate chip cookies once you do know, you'll know why grammar is important. Even if you are out of school and hate writing.
Nope, I don't care, grammar is for everybody.
In the spirit of giving, knowing my purpose, sharing, facilitating my learning process, and my general English nerdiness--I will be covering basic sentence construction in a series of posts.
I promise to:
1. Try and do my best to educate you,
2. Be honest when I don't understand or know something fully,
3. Relate these nerdy grammar terms and ideas into something you can understand,
4. Be as forthcoming and transparent as possible with where I gathered and learned my information, and finally,
5. Be patient with you and me as we both dive into something 99% of people either hate, fear, dread, or have some other sort of emotional/traumatic baggage attached to. Who has not gotten a paper back without cryptic red symbols all over it? If your raising your hand than you just volunteered to write your own series of post.
Finally, I have been tutoring College English/Writing for a semester now. I have had graduate students and freshman students, ELL (English Language Learners) and native English speakers. Let me tell you the number one thing they all have in common--dysfunctional sentence construction. Yes, they have other issues concerning essay writing in general (which I will cover in another series of posts), but across the spectrum I see dysfunctional sentences that need work. Some a little, some a lot.
I love working with their writing. I love it when they come back and have gotten a B+ on a paper when they first came to me the teacher was generous with a D+ or C-. I don't write their papers, but I do show them what their writing issues are and try to teach them how to correct those issues.
Nothing makes me happier than taking the fear out of writing and empowering others to take reign of their thoughts and ideas.
♥, Nerdy Ki.