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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Michael Collings on sentences

   
Author Topic: Michael Collings on sentences
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Michael Collings is a poet and a proser (he's written horror fiction, among other things, and he's written scholarly stuff about OSC as well.

Here, on his blog, he talks about various kinds of sentences (including what is really a passive sentence).

Even if you think you know sentences, this is worth reading.

And the part on passive sentences is even more worth reading, especially to make certain that what you think is passive really is passive.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Yes. I think there are more styles he could have gone into. I'm usually guilty of using loose sentences too much. Perhaps I'll try some periodic instead.

The point about passive is important. It isn't what your freshman English teacher said it was. It isn't about To Be verbs at all. It's about the subject being acted upon. I'm personally tired of being told sentences like "He had been drinking all night," is passive.

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extrinsic
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"Sentence completer"? What a delightfully clever-cute invented term for encompassing a range of sentence clause types. Collings uses an example object clause to span sentence object clauses, predicate nominative clauses, object complement clauses, dependent restrictive or nonrestrictive clauses, subordinate clauses, and subject complement clauses.

His example of a complex sentence is a bit off cue. It falls in a gray zone between compound, complex, and compound-complex sentence types. A compound sentence contains one or more dependent or subordinate clauses and one independent clause. A complex sentence contains two or more independent clauses. The example is more compound than complex due to the lack of a second independent but parallel clause. "Before I saw the movie" is a clause subordinate to and dependent on the main clause for its meaning. The subordinate clause is a restrictive clause though. Collings' comma usages for the examples accord with nondiscretionary punctuation principles there.

He also misses ancillary usages for passive voice: subject depersonalization, animacy demotion of subject, and passing responsibility for action away, to other subjects.

Nor does he address the stream-of-consciousness strengths for loose sentences and periodic sentences. Their inherent value.

He also mentions sentence fragments but doesn't follow up with what constitutes a discretionary use thereof. Mostly interjections of the understated or overstated exclamation kinds.

I'm reluctant to follow grammar advice from a writer who has a liberal take on grammar.

He does credibly identify "passive sentences"--passive voice though.

[ July 29, 2012, 04:06 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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babooher
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Pyre Dynasty, you must have had some sucky English teachers.

Extrinsic, you are wrong about compound and complex sentences. You can go to the Purdue OWL page http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/owlprint/573/ to see or grab a grammar book or look below.

Simple sentence = 1 independent clause.
Compound sentence = 2+ independent clauses.
Complex sentence = 1 independent clause and 1+subordinate clauses
Compound-complex sentence = 2+ independent clauses and 1+ subordinate clauses

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
Extrinsic, you are wrong about compound and complex sentences. You can go to the Purdue OWL page http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/owlprint/573/ to see or grab a grammar book or look below.

Simple sentence = 1 independent clause.
Compound sentence = 2+ independent clauses.
Complex sentence = 1 independent clause and 1+subordinate clauses
Compound-complex sentence = 2+ independent clauses and 1+ subordinate clauses

Whoops, back awkwards. What I get for not referring to my Little Brown definitions of complex and compound and compound-complex sentences and doing so while wearing my reading glasses. Thank you for pointing out I was so totally wrong.

I stand by the example being a bit off cue, though. The example having two complete sentences joined by a subordinating preposition might cause readers unneeded confusion. A stronger example would demonstrate an unequivocal complex sentence. I read the book you gave me, for example.

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babooher
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extrinsic, I've never heard of subordinating prepositions. Did you mean subordinating conjunctions? Even in your example, there is (linguistically) a subordinating conjunction, at least an understood one. It's called the "expletive that." The real sentence is "I read the book that you gave me." Most complex or compound-complex sentences have either a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun to introduce the subordinate clause.
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extrinsic
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I mean subordinating preposition in the linguistics sense of subordination, which places a clause or word in a position dependent upon another clause or word for meaning. The manner Collings uses "before" in "I read the book before I saw the movie" could be construed as either or both a preposition and a conjunction, not to mention the term also has adverb and adjective uses.

The alternative example Collings provides clearly illustrates a preposition subordinating the first clause: "Before I saw the movie, I read the book." The meanings of both examples are identical, a semantics sense. One has slightly more impact, a linguistics and semiotics sense. One is causally logical, a logos and a kairos sense from rhetorical appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos; and decorum.

"Expletive that," expletive in the sense of syntactical expletives? Which are sentence subjects serving a syntactical function but adding nothing meaningful to meaning. Expletives are interjection parts of speech, right? Interjections serve as either appositives or as expression features or both. If a syntactical expletive doesn't enhance or add meaning, why use it?

Speaking of which, other pronouns with absent, vague, or awkward subject antecedents or subsequent referents are often idiomatically abused or artfully used as syntactical expletives: it and it's, there and there's, this, those, these, they, and them.

"Real sentence"? Noteworthy try for a nonjudgmental evaluation, rather than right, correct, or proper sentence. Idiomatic, yes. Disrcetionary, yes. Syntactically superfluous, maybe; maybe not. Unreal, wrong, incorrect, or improper sentence, no.

[ July 29, 2012, 11:44 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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Yes, yes I did. (I had some good ones too.)
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babooher
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Again, extrinsic, I disagree with your take on the word "before." "Before I saw the movie" is not a prepositional phrase because a phrase does not contain both subject and predicate. Therefore, there should be no misunderstanding about "before" acting as a conjunction as opposed to a preposition. The word should be judged as it is used.

"Expletive that" is the term. I'm not talking expletives as in "babooher's full of s***." But, like the understood you in many imperative sentences, the expletive that is often omitted but abstractly still there.

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extrinsic
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I don't know that a phrase necessarily must have only one syntactical component: subject, predicate, object, complement. Phrase is synonymous with clause as blur is synonymous with smear, close but not exactly identical. A clause is typically taken as a fraction of a sentence. The very nature of a compound sentence belies the misconception that a clause or phrase cannot be a syntactically complete sentence.

Before as Collings uses the term could be construed as an adverb, too, and "before I saw the movie" as an adverbial clause or phrase adding meaning, modifying the meaning of the main clause's action "I read the book." Temporal relation meaning.

Prepositions and conjunctions serve similar relational purposes. Their similarities are more abundant than their differences. Both are connective tissues, ligaments that connect meaning relationally, in small and large scope. Where they most differ is in how they connect meaning. Conjunctions connect separate ideas; prepositions and other adpositions establish the relationships of a modification or predication.

The meaning of Collings' complex sentence example is clear. The parts of speech before represents in the sentence are fuzzy. They overlap: conjunction, preposition, and adverb. The least possible use therein of before, adjective modifying a noun or noun clause, is a stretch.

The overlaps and vagaries of language principles are what gives language life, freedom of expression, and artful applications. And gives linguisticians, semioticians, semanticists, grammarians, and language students fits and heartaches. The one writing principle close enough to a law to be practical is writing's first principle: facilitate reading and comprehension ease.

Collings' complex sentence's meaning is clear; it's easy to read and comprehend. His use of it as a complex sentence example is frustratingly unclear. I think an underlying language complication is at the root of my frustration. Reading a book and seeing a film are two different product experiences, albeit, two different actions.

Epithets are a subset of expletives. Derogatory, disparaging, offending, foul-language epithets are a subset of expletive epithets. Syntactical expletives are a subset, too, though an arguably larger subset in common usage.

An expletive is a term used as a syntactical placeholder anticipating a subsequent term that will provide the meaning of the expletive. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." "It" is an expletive in Charles Dickens uses in the opening to A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens uses the expletive "it" for synchrisis.

Bonehead is a derogatory expletive epithet. Its emotionally-charged meaning relies on a relation to a being, thus an expletive. Although not a pronoun, the term's use as a metonymy acts like a pronoun placeholder for a being.

"You," similarly, is a pronoun. Whether it's also an expletive in implied imperative second person usage is open to interpretation. One, its presence or omission doesn't significantly alter meaning. Two, "you" has linguistic and semiotic meaning. Three, simply because "you" can be omitted and meaning doesn't appreciably change it is not a subject placeholder. An area where inclusion or omission of "you" could be construed as changing meaning from its omission is when an expression is intended as less assertive, a softened imperative command omitting the imperative you, like for a recipe. Blend wet and dry ingredients.

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babooher
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A phrase is not the same as a clause. They are not synonymous. Not even close. A clause is not defined as a fraction of a sentence. A word is a fraction of a sentence. A phrase is a fraction of a sentence. A word is not a phrase is not a clause.

A subordinating conjunction is not a preposition. I don't care if a word could be both, it won't be both at the same time in the same place. Just because they are similar doesn't mean they are interchangeable. Are adverbs and adjectives just as interchangeable because they're kinda close? How about my cousins? I can barely tell them apart.

Every grammar book I own (an occupational hazard) states that by definition a phrase cannot be a complete sentence by itself. A phrase cannot have both a subject and predicate, a clause must have both, and a complete sentence must have at least one independent clause. Now, could a noun clause be the object of a preposition? Yeah. So does that mean that the phrase has a subject and a predicate since a clause is in the phrase? No, because the noun clause is acting as a single unit and would be diagrammed as such.

Finally, "you" is not the same as the "Understood You." The "Understood You" and the "Expletive That" have very specific instances of usage and both are recognized terms. I'm not making this stuff up. I'm not deducing anything. I'm not even pretending I thought this crap up. No, really this is just a confession of how much time I've wasted in grammar books.

In summary, a clause is nowhere near the same as a phrase, subordinating conjunctions are not the same as prepositions, and I need a life.

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