New lessons: Sentence structure

New lessons on sentence structure including simple sentences and connectors

Now that our resident linguist, Kat, is back on board, we're finishing our long-languishing lessons on sentence structure (which follow from the Word Groups lessons).

This week we're releasing the first two lessons in the set:

As with other Writelike grammar lessons, these lessons are less about 'grammar' and more about developing a toolkit to help with the functional analysis of language in text, so you can't rely on them exclusively, but they provide a good bridge between more technical grammar and the actual practice of writing.

Simple sentences

In our first lesson on sentence structure, we focus on sentences that contain only one verb group, for example:

Mr Cartright sighed.

You'll notice we sidestep important but tricky concepts such as the definition of a clause, and we abstract up one level from word group labels (verb group, noun group, etc) to use more general functional labels (action/process, person, quality, etc).

However, with these simplified concepts we survey a range of simple sentence patterns, from 'who did what' type statements such as the one above, to more complex 'who did what when, where, and how' type formulations:

Neither my mother nor my father could some see the play on opening night.

On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed.

We even squeeze in a little room to talk about the slippery grammatical subject of 'empty subjects' as in this example:

There was a low, mocking laugh behind him.

All in all, a great introduction to simple sentences!

Connectors and an introduction to complex meaning

In the second lesson, we explore how we can connect simple sentences to create more complex statements of time, manner, concession, and condition.

Once again, we abstract up from narrower grammatical terms such as 'conjunction' and instead use the general label 'connector' to refer to any word, phrase, or punctuation that can connect two or more simple sentences. Similarly, we co-opt the label 'compound sentence' to stand for any connected complex of simple sentences, even though it's not strictly correct.

With these more general labels, we can quickly zoom in on the kinds of complex meaning that can be created through compound sentences.

For example, statements that use comparison to communicate manner:

Now I had prickly heat like my whole skin was burning, hot pinpricks all over me.

Or sentences that qualify a statement with a concession:

There was a museum in town, but it wasn't very exciting.

Or sentences in which one statement is conditional on another:

If you climbed the dying jarrah trees down there towards the creek, you'd see the lights of the city.

We can also look at how punctuation can be used to connect simple sentences:

You're not going to marry Violet figuratively—you're going to marry her literally! This play won't be pretend; it will be real and legally binding.

And we can look at how connectors can carry meaning across what are 'officially' separate sentences:

"It's funny, but I do. Even though it sounds so silly."

So you can see that even with a simplified conceptual toolbox, we can explore a lot of interesting territory and lay a solid foundation upon which to build a more refined model of complex sentences in subsequent lessons.

Check out the Connectors and an introduction to complex meaning lesson here.

What's next?

Lessons on clauses, compound & complex sentences, plus conflict and resolution in narrative.