This week we’re going to talk about syntax, or what happens when you throw all of that together.
What’s in a sentence?
Sentences are made up of a subject and a predicate. The subject is the person, place or thing the sentence is talking about. Therefore, a subject is always a noun. The predicate is everything else in the sentence and tells you what the subject is doing (therefore requiring a verb). It can be as simple as just the verb, or it can be more complex than that.
For this reason, “I am” is a complete sentence. I love the theological implication when God calls Himself “I Am.” It reinforces grammatically His completeness and self-sufficiency.
What’s in a clause?
There are two main types of clauses: independent and dependent. Independent clauses can stand by themselves as sentences and therefore require the same grammatical ingredients.
Dependent clauses cannot stand by themselves as sentences, but still provide valuable grammatical information. Here are a few examples:
Adjectival clauses, or relative clauses, provide more information about the subject of the sentence.
My neighbor, who has music playing late at night and early in the morning, apparently never sleeps.
The gate, which had swung shut of its own accord, hit Annie on the back of the leg.
Participle clauses provide more information about the subject with the use of a participle. Participles can operate with or without helping verbs, such as in the below phrases:
Annie was staring out the window while she brainstormed her next blog post.
The kids had been discovered in the closet when they cried, “You found us too quickly!”
Their mom had found them almost right away.
I am baking bread right now.
You will be giving a lecture tomorrow.
In the examples below, the participles are operating without helping verbs (which are implied):
Staring out the window, Annie brainstormed what the topic of her next blog post would be.
Discovered in the closet, the kids cried, “You found us too quickly!”
When these kinds of clauses are placed at the beginning of a sentence, they’re often misused. When this happens, it’s called a dangling modifier:
Kept in a drawer, Annie pulled her journal out and started to write.
Every time I use a phrase like this, I double-check the subject of my main clause. The subject of this main clause, or sentence, is Annie. Is she kept in the drawer? (I sure hope not.) Instead, rephrase the sentence to indicate it’s the journal that’s kept there.
Annie pulled her journal out of the drawer in which she kept it and started to write.
The transformation of the participle clause to a prepositional phrase eliminates the dangling modifier and clarifies what part of speech that phrase modifies.
Conditional clauses express the dependence of one element of the sentence upon the fulfillment of another.
I’ll get to work at 8:45am if I leave by 8:05.
If he doesn’t do his homework tonight, he will earn detention.
Adverbial clauses tell more about when, where, why, or how something is happening in the sentence.
When they were discovered in the closet, the kids cried, “You found us too quickly!”
While the bread was baking in the oven, she cleaned flour off the counters.
Sometimes, I pin things on Pinterest, but most of the time, I don’t.
What’s in a phrase?
A phrase is a group of two or more words that 1. does not contain a subject and predicate, and 2. gives more context to the sentence.
Phrases can act like parts of speech when their existence is dependent on a particular part of speech. For instance, when a phrase begins with a preposition, that entire prepositional phrase acts like the preposition, such as in:
Marcy took her book off the table.
The entire phrase “off the table” acts like a singular preposition.
Other types of phrases:
Infinitive phrases (include an infinitive plus modifiers)
Abraham Lincoln was the first president to die while in office.
She is trying to popularize the term “on fleek.”
Noun phrases (include a noun plus modifiers)
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
Joe looked in horror at his trophy, which had fallen off its shelf and broken.
Participial phrases (include a participle plus modifiers)
Her teeth, gleaming white, had surely been bleached frequently.
Making sure the teachers understood his point, the principal turned his attention to the next item on the meeting’s agenda.
Gerund phrases (include a gerund plus modifiers)
Gerunds end in -ing and act as nouns. (They may be confused with participles, which also end in -ing, but comprise verbs.)
Playing your music loud enough for neighbors to hear is discourteous.
Spelling in English is often a tenuous endeavor.
He enjoys watching football more than basketball.
Thanks to University College London for information on the types of dependent clauses, to Write.com for the differences between phrases and clauses, and to Capital Community College for information on types of phrases.