Complex sentences are called complex because they are complex, but that doesn’t mean they’re difficult to understand. A great many sentences we say and write in the most common of circumstances every day are grammatically complex. Take, for example, this statement: She’s one of those persons who always knows exactly what to do. What makes this a complex sentence and is it grammatically correct? English grammar recognizes three basic types of sentences: simple, compound, and complex (some add a fourth, the compound-complex, but for practical purposes, three will get the work of revision done). These types are based on the
What, if anything, is wrong with this sentence: The pediatrician wanted to prescribe medication for the boy, his parents objected to using drugs to treat anxiety. A compound sentence that states clear subjects (pediatrician and parents) with simple verbs (wanted and objected) in two clauses of identical length—so what’s the problem? Some would say nothing at all. If the sole criterion for good writing is getting ideas across, then this sentence certainly meets that standard, for who could complain they don’t understand what the sentence means? But writing is more than telegraphy. We write down ideas from wherever it is
To analyze something means, originally, to loosen it apart. When we undertake an analysis, we are trying to find the basic elements, the components that make something what it is. You would think, then, that the best analysis of a sentence would be the most atomic, understanding how each individual word works grammatically to express meaning. Such a minute understanding, however, is often only one part of a more practical revision. Let’s think about how we would usefully analyze this sentence, for example: It’s true it was a wonderful time for him then, graduating college, finding a good job, feeling
How is the word myself used differently in these two sentences: I hurt myself exercising and I saw it myself ? And for that matter, what is the difference between I saw it myself and I myself saw it ? English pronouns can be confusing, and where we place them in a sentence matters stylistically. First, let’s remember that a pronoun works pro, on behalf of, a noun. If a noun names something directly, a pronoun refers to the same thing indirectly. Thus the noun Tom and the pronoun he, or the noun chair and the pronoun it. A pronoun
Sometimes simple questions are not so simple. If I asked what the verb elected means in the clause the board elected her president, few of us would hesitate long in saying chosen by vote, or selected, or even just made. But if I then said that she was president for two years, how exactly would we define the verb was? What, in other words, does it mean to be? (Mercifully, I’m asking that question grammatically, not philosophically.) Let’s step back and remind ourselves that verbs can be organized into three large groups: transitive, intransitive, and linking. A verb, of course,
The adage that one can risk losing the forest for the trees applies to grammar and writing more than is often made clear. Yes, we have to understand how individual words work in a sentence, but if we forget that larger groups of words work together as a unit in their own right, we will miss the bigger picture—the point of the proverb. One category of error in writing is called the misplaced modifier, sometimes also named a miscue. If someone in hospital administration says that patients were contacted using the new online portal, we will probably understand what was
In working out a short story on the verities of love and moralism, a student of mine recently composed this passage, the last two sentences of which offer a chance to see how grammar and rhetoric work together with logic: They still saw each other at work, but civility replaced genuine friendliness. He missed the walks, learning about the world through her eyes, and the sense of belonging that had been emerging from her friends and family. He no longer went to church, but continued to walk on his own, trying to be more observant, but his heart wasn’t really
Writing clearly depends on thinking clearly, and thinking means making distinctions. The many rules and cautions of grammar serve to help us say what we mean, and among the more important of grammatical distinctions is the concept of tense. Tense means time, but just what is that? Imagine this scene. You’re driving with a friend past a factory of some sort. You both have seen the place many times before, but as you wait at a light, your friend says, I never realized how big that building is. Straightforward enough, but why is the verb in the first clause (realized)