The sentence is the most simple form of expressing a thought. The sentence must have a subject and a predicate – well, not exactly. The subject and predicate can be explicit, or simply understood. We are assuming of course that one wants to express a complete thought. But a sentence may also have an object, may have modifiers, may have connectives, and may have independent elements. So what is so hard about that? Please feel free to help with this understanding.
For the sake of this post we will use the Plain English Handbook by J. Martyn Walsh and Anna Kathleen Walsh. Our copy has a copyright of 1959 by McCormick-Mathers Publishing Company, Inc., Wichita, Kansas This writer enjoys words. I enjoy a well constructed thought. But the rules of grammar expressed int the Plain English Handbook confuse me. Let’s take a look.
Flowers bloom. Flowers is the subject and bloom is the predicate. What blooms? – Flowers. What do flowers do? – They bloom. A complete sentence. The subject of “A complete sentence” is implied – the subject is the previous sentence, Flowers Bloom. In the context of a paragraph, or other thoughts we can reference subjects by implication. But this is obvious – the problems come around when sentences become more complex.
I would have said the subject is the object of the sentence – but that would be confusing – and perhaps this is where my thoughts go awry. Our Handbook notes “The carpenter built a house.” In this case ‘house’ is a direct object, meaning that it is “the receiver of the action denoted by the simple predicate.” Does anyone wonder why school children are confused in english class?
If there are two direct objects then we say they are compound direct objects: “Dad planted trees and shrubs.” What are you gonna do – we have to call this phrase something.
But what if something modifies the object or objects? “Dad planted beautiful trees and shrubs.” Well, we call this a modifier. And we have not yet mentioned verbs or adjectives or adverbs. Those are for another day. Today we are just trying to understand a sentence.
The Handbook confuses me again with the introduction of a ‘phrase.’ They say that is a group of related words that do not have a subject or a predicate. Example: “The book on the desk is a grammar.” But if a group of related words has a subject and a predicate it is called a clause – is this as opposed to being called a sentence? Is a phrase a sentence? Is a clause a sentence? Does ‘phrase’ and ‘clause’ merely define the type of sentence?
I want to be a competent writer. If one writes a complete sentence, but does not know the rules of subjects or predicates, is the sentence less valid? No. But when I write a sentence I would like to have some idea of being proper, of using proper grammar, of following the rules. My desire is to write in a manner which is coherent and meaningful. I seek merely to be competent.
Consider this – we have merely introduced the concept of sentence in this post. As we progress we find there are rules of connectives, independent elements, simple subjects, complete subjects, simple predicates, complete predicates, compound subjects, and compound predicates.
Then we have to consider the classification of sentences, simple, compound, and complex. And then the sentences are divided into four classes: declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory. These words came right out of the Plain English Handbook. Apparently the ‘classification’ and ‘classes’ of sentences are different things.
But wait – there is natural order and inverted order. And we can completely change the meaning of a sentence with punctuation. We can change the meaning of a word with capitalization.
OK – so help me out. I think I understand most of this. The idea of classification and classes being different confuses me – but I can live with this confusion – as long as I can write a coherent thought. I am going to explore different parts of speech, things like nouns and verbs and adjectives, and I hope I can keep them straight with the elements of the sentence.
There will surely be some overlap. A word in a sentence is called one thing when talking about the sentence itself, but might be something else when taken as a part of speech. For instance, a noun is likely the subject of a sentence and a verb is probably the predicate. An adjective is probably a modifier.
Ok – this is beginning to make sense to me. Now I am wondering, which of the sentences in this post are weak, or flat out not correct?