Grammar: The hardest part of English

When one understands that the sentence is the very foundation of grammar, the whole subject becomes easier.

June 18, 2010 19:43
3 minute read.
Grammar: The hardest part of English

grammar 88. (photo credit: )

I have just returned from three weeks in Hungary where I asked many people what was the most difficult part in learning the English language. Over and over they said, “Grammar.” So what we are dealing with in this column has meaning for students ready to learn.

Incidentally, I was taken to task by one reader who felt I had never been a teacher. After I picked myself up, I realized you know nothing about me. Since 1964, I’ve been a teacher in public high school, college, university and graduate school classes. I’ve taught days and nights, daily classes, week-long seminars and semester-long sessions. I love teaching. Another reader rapped my knuckles for not making the column more encompassing of a total lesson. Help! I’m only allowed a short amount of space (some 500 words) so I compact information as best I can. I have been a credentialed teacher in California, Virginia, Washington D.C. and Indiana.

NOW BACK to our lesson: When one understands that the sentence is the very foundation of grammar, the whole subject becomes easier. A sentence, fundamentally, is a group of words that expresses a complete thought in writing. It begins with a capital letter and ends with a concluding mark (period, question mark or exclamation point). Most sentences have a subject and a verb, but not all.

An imperative sentence which demands an action, may have only a verb (Bow!). An interrogative sentence, which asks a question, may have only one word (Who?). An exclamatory sentence, which expresses emotion, may have only a word or phrase (Heavenly days!).

The declarative sentence, the most common kind, conveys information and is likely to have a subject, a verb and an object – usually in that order (He throws the ball.). If it contains one or more clauses, it is a complex sentence, and has one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. The independent clause is called the main clause. If its subject consists of more than one parallel noun, etc. or its predicate of more than one verb, etc., it is a compound sentence.

Every sentence should provide clear and complete information. Most effective sentences are concise, conveying their meaning in as few words as possible. Effective sentences stress the main point or the most important detail. Generally, the main point is located in the main clause. Choose your sentence structure for its audience. We use simple sentences for children, while more sophisticated audiences rate more complex sentences. Always consider your purpose for writing before you select your sentence type. And most importantly, the rhythm and pacing of your writing is determined by your sentences.

LABEL THE following sentences as simple, compound, complex or compound-complex. No peeking at the answers!

1.) If the times are changing, men must change with them.
2.) The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread.
3.) You will never learn to cook if you don’t turn on the stove.
4.) It takes about half a gallon of water to cook spaghetti and about a gallon of water to clean the pot.
5.) Saturday is a lively day in the whole spectrum of the week.
6.) Genetics explains why you look like your father and if you don’t, why you should.
7.) To succeed in life, it is often necessary to rise above your baser instincts.
8.) An introduction is only the beginning.
9.) When oxygen is combined with anything, heat is given off, a process known as “combustion.”
10.) To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

For your assignment, please work with your favorite book. Try to identify sentence structures and decide for yourself if the author included enough variety to please you.

The writer is an author, teacher and body language expert living in the US.

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