We use the word sentence to refer to a rather mechanical thing. Grammar books tell us that a sentence is a linear arrangement of two or more words in an order such that an identifiable subject and an identifiable predicate combine to yield a meaningful expression.
Well, that's very nice, but for a piece of nature that rivals the DNA molecule for elemental importance and beats it for complexity, this definition falls short.
If the sentence could speak for itself, it might tell you:
So our business here is to explore the great power of the sentence, respectfully, humbly, and analytically. Maybe writing does not feel so good to you. Is that a bad thing? Are writers just born writers, you may wonder? Can sentence components be usefully examined as a way to develop a personal styles? What roads might lead to being a better writer? I hope what you find here will help you to unleash your best sentences.
To begin, take a look at the blue bubbles lumped together in the picture here. They represent four aspects of any sentence that make it what it is. At the center is what is called the ideational content of the sentence.
What is the idea that the sentence expresses? To the degree that this is able to be separated from the four surrounding bubbles (and that is a vexed question) the "idea" is usually regarded as the heart of the sentence. But you should know that distinguishing the ideational content of a sentence from its accompanying rhetorical elements is a fool's errand. They are all stitched together too tightly. All five bubbles need to be taken together as a unitary item -- the quincunx. (A quincunx, if you are wondering, is a arrangement of five things so that one is in the center and the other four surround it -- like the five-dot pattern on dice.) In the sentence quincunx, the idea is central.
A Few Basic Terms
(For more grammar, click here)
SYNTAX: Word order. The linear arrangement of words that affects the meaning of a phrase or sentence.
I saw a black cat. (makes sense) vs. Black a saw cat I. (makes no sense)
SEMANTICS: The meaning of individual words or phrases.
Duck: noun -- an aquatic bird.
Duck: verb -- to lower ones head in a sudden motion. (Duck! Low-flying duck.)
SUBJECT: The part of a sentence that the sentence is about. Think noun.
Quite suddenly, my little brother Arthur lowered his preposterous head. Arthur, along with my little brother, is the subject.
PREDICATE: The part of a sentence that is about the subject. Think verb.
Quite suddenly my little brother Arthur lowered his preposterous head. The verb, lowered, and everything that is not part of the subject is predicate -- including "Quite suddenly."
LINGUASPHERE: The realm of existence created by language. Note: The term Linguasphere is a neologism coined at NextSentence to fill a void in the English lexicon. ("Discourse" doesn't quite do it.)
A QUICK INTRODUCTION TO THE PARTS OF SPEECH
"Wow! That girl gave Jack the red sweater that he still keeps in his closet because it is, like, all his now."
Wow = interjection
That = demonstrative pronoun
girl = noun (subject)
gave = verb (transitive, past tense)
Jack = proper noun (indirect object)
the = a definite article
red = adjective (modifies “sweater”)
sweater = noun (direct object)
that = relative pronoun
he = personal pronoun
still = adverb (modifies “keeps”)
keeps = verb (intransitive)
in = preposition
his = possessive pronoun (adjective)
closet = noun (object of preposition)
because = subordinating conjunction
it = personal pronoun (subject)
is = linking verb (copulative)
like = expletive (Go figure.)
all = adverb (modifies "is")
his = possessive pronoun (predicate adjective )
now = adverb (modifies "is")
Four Thoughts for Writers
Here are four valuable one-liners from the Greats.
Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.
Ludwig Wittgenstein - philosopher
The act of a pro is to make it look easy . . . If you’re good at it, you leave no fingerprints.
Lillian Ross - journalist
You cram these words into mine ears against the stomach of my sense.
William Shakespeare - The Bard
Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea.
Jack Kerouac - Holy Goof
BEST BALL: This is a language game that has been developed here at NextSentence.net. Individuals in a group or class compete anonymously against each other to create the best next sentence. Try it.