sentence structure

Subject, Verb, Object

I love words, and sentences, and paragraphs, and stories. It’s why I’m a blogger. I blog solely for the sheer love of the thing, because it makes my life fuller, and because it cheers me up to feel that I’m making efforts with my writing.

However, even I didn’t enjoy studying English in school very much. So many English classes consisted of identifying the subject, verb, and object of a sentence.

Subject, Verb, Object. Subject, Verb, Object. Absolutely ad nauseum, believe you me.

Sometimes we got a little crazy and learned about direct objects and indirect objects. But then it was back to Subject, Verb, Object (pick which kind). Subject, Verb, Object (pick which kind). I mean, yawn.

I’m thinking about this because I realized, in the course of reading blogs that I follow, that my knowledge of restrictive and non-restrictive clauses was shaky at best. Particularly when it came to using that or which to introduce a clause.

I mean, I get it now. I did a nice handy Google search, found a site that ended in .edu, and educated myself about clauses and how to introduce them. I won’t get into it now, because that’s really not the point of what I’m writing.

I’m just wondering, now that it’s far too late, why my grade-school English education relentlessly hammered Subject, Verb, Object into my brain until it was so repetitive I was ready to throw my pencil across the room. Why all this repetition, when a whole world of sentence structure was still out there, waiting to be discovered?

I had a sixth-grade English teacher who taught us to diagram sentences. I remember prepositional phrases, compound sentences, complex sentences, and even compound-complex sentences. But even then, I don’t remember ever learning about clauses, either restrictive or non-restrictive.

As a side note, Mrs. Parker, said English teacher, was always telling us about the grateful students who would come back years later and thank her for teaching them to diagram sentences. Maybe my life and career have gone the wrong way (how could that be? I’m an English major!), but I have never once had cause to use my finely-honed sentence-diagramming skills. Still, diagramming sentences was certainly more complicated and engaging than yet another year of Subject, Verb, Object.

And I was lucky enough to have an eighth-grade English teacher who taught us about gerunds, infinitives, participles, and the passive voice. However, he was definitely more interested in style and usage than sentence structure. He made me a better writer, in those tender years of my adolescence, and I loved his class.

But, somehow, clauses eluded me all through my grade-school education. Unless I just don’t remember them. Still, look at how much I do remember. And I love this stuff. I love thinking about sentences and how they’re put together. I can’t believe I ever would have forgotten learning about clauses.

I’m not exactly sure what my point is. I’m certainly not about to use my experience as a springboard for complaining about my teachers, and I was lucky to have three strong English teachers in a row in middle school, or the woeful condition of public education thirty years ago.

Probably teaching absolutely all the ins and outs of complicated sentence structure was just out of fashion then. It’s probably stayed out of fashion since then, too.

But, you know. My interests are rarely in line with the prevailing popular culture. I’ve even been reading articles that suggest that blogging is on its way out, and it’s all about twitter now. Well, I very much like meandering on. I did create a twitter account, because I couldn’t live with the possibility (remote) that someone else might steal my pseudonymous twitter handle, but my experience has mostly consisted of getting desperate-sounding emails from the twitter people encouraging me to get more involved with their product.

Still, here on my nice little blog I can talk about myself a lot, and go on and on about clauses and sentence structure. Much better than racking my brains to come up with witty one-liners on twitter.

Twitter might be a little too Subject, Verb, Object for me. And I’ve had more than my fill of that.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

Do I Know How?

I’m reading a non-fiction book, which is very rare for me. It’s called How to Write A Sentence, and it’s written by Stanley Fish. As I say, I’m in the process of reading it. It’s rather short, which I think is all to the good. Mr. Fish has a point to make about thoughtful appreciation for sentence structure, and I’m thankful that he makes his point without a lot of repetitious belaboring.

Still, I do wonder what kind of help this book will be in guiding me as a writer. It’s good to think about how sentences are put together, and still better to analyze what the sentence does and how it contributes to the paragraph that contributes to the chapter that contributes to the novel (or short story or blog post).

I guess what I’m wondering is, if you think about sentence structures enough, does it become ingrained enough in your mind that you don’t have to go through your work sentence-by-sentence, looking at each and asking yourself “What is this sentence doing?” Because I can’t imagine that anyone would ever write anything if that were the case.

Although, I only write this little blog. What do I know?

Is the art of putting together a sentence guided by the intellectual exercise of pulling it apart or by a general feeling of a sentence “sounding right?” Do our great writers have an instinctive sense of what makes a good sentence without having to think about it too hard?

Or is writing well more of an intellectual exercise than I had previously imagined?

That is entirely possible. What do you think?

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy