Do you remember diagramming sentences? Did you wonder why you did it? Now that your work includes putting words together and disseminating them, you’ll be glad that you know the little rules, names, and functions. I’m not going to cover the more esoteric elements because you can trot out and buy any number of books on the subject. But I am going to make sure we’ve got a level playing field here.
The major players:
Subject: The subject of a sentence provides the noun, pronoun, or phrase on which the predicate acts. The subject is the central aspect of the sentence in that you must have a subject to make a sentence. (You can say he laughs, where there is only a pronoun and a verb, or you can say he laughs at the clown, where there is a subject consisting of the same pronoun and verb and a prepositional phrase forming the predicate.)
Predicate: The predicate of a sentence provides information, the explanation of the action, condition, or effect of the subject.
Phrases: A phrase is a group of related words but has no subject and predicate. The phrase is treated as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb as a unit. A restrictive phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence in that it defines or limits some other aspect of the sentence (the girl who is not afraid can catch the dog).
Subordinate clauses: A subordinate clause is a phrase that does not make complete sense by itself (why I’m happy rather than that is why I am happy) and contributes information or focus.
Tense: The tense of a verb indicates the time of the action. Tense is indicated by the form of the word itself (see, saw, show, showed) or the use of an auxiliary verb (had seen, will show). The tenses include present tense (where the verb often takes an “s,” like he sees), past tense (where the verb often takes an “ed,” like you showed), present perfect (where the verb takes a present tense auxiliary verb and the past tense of the verb itself, like “has spent”), past perfect (where the verb takes a past tense auxiliary verb and the past tense, like “had cheated”), future tense (using shall and will or should and could), infinitive tense (using the “root” of the verb, like to go, to see, to show), and subjunctive mood (which expresses the condition of the unreal, “if I were king”).
Adjectives: An adjective modifies a noun in a way that limits, identifies, or describes.
Adverbs: An adverb modifies the meaning of a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Many (but not all) adverbs end in “ly.”
Conjunctions (as, and, if, that, whether, either, or, neither, nor, etc.): Conjunctions connect words, phrases, or clauses.
Indefinite Pronouns (all, both, either, some, none, several, etc.): Indefinite pronouns do not refer to any specific person or thing. Many of these words can also be adjectives, depending on their function in the sentence. (Pronoun: Several had hats. Adjective: Both people were tall.)
Nouns: Nouns are the names of persons, places, and things. Nouns can be “proper” if they are someone or something’s name, like your name or a product name.
Prepositions (in, at, of, to, by, for, among, between, with, out, from, across, beside, next, into, etc.): Prepositions connect words in a way that shows the relationship of a noun or pronoun to some other word.
Pronouns: A pronoun is a kind of noun, in that pronouns identify a person. The list is short, so I’ll provide it here: I, you, he, she, it, we, and they. The list also includes other forms of these words, like me, mine, myself, yours, yourself, him, his, himself, theirs, etc.
Relative pronouns (who, that, which, what, etc.): A relative pronoun introduces a subordinate clause that modifies a noun or pronoun from earlier in the sentence. Relative pronouns are also “substitute” words that refer to the previously mentioned noun or pronoun. (The cat, who had eaten all the food, was orange.)
Verbs: Verbs provide action, mode of being, occurrence, and condition. They provide information about what the subject (noun, pronoun, or clause) does or what happens to it.
Now that you have a handy-dandy list of the basic parts of a sentence, I’ll write some blog entries that discuss frequent problems with some of them, like pronouns (me, myself, I) and adverbs (hopefully, basically). Of course, if you have a problem area, please drop me a note, and I’ll try to address it.