The problem I hear hobbyist writers–the ones with notebooks of poetry and short stories that they have no interest in publishing–complain about the most is their lack of knowledge regarding English grammatical structure. Now, as an English major who has studied the history and development of the language, I can tell you with 100% certainty that English can be cruel, frustrating, and downright illogical. Expressing complicated ideas can be like pulling teeth, when half the rules don’t make any practical sense at all. For those of you who have been struggling for years, I present my first tutorial: How to Write a Complete Sentence.
Subjects & Predicates
Subjects and predicates are the two halves needed to make any sentence whole. Subjects are the people, places, and things existing or acting in the sentence; they usually come at the beginning of the sentence. The predicate, on the other hand, comprises everything else in the sentence: verbs, direct objects, indirect objects, etc. So in this sentence–
The cat sits.
–“cat” is the subject, because it is the thing performing the action. “Sits” is the verb–what the subject is doing–and that single word is the whole predicate for this sentence. “The” is an article. If you removed it, you would be left with “Cat sits,” which is a complete sentence, but not a very good one; English likes its articles.
In the following sentences, the simple subjects are in bold and the predicates are italicized.
My dog ran away.
His books are very heavy.
Let the wild rumpus start!
Did I mess up that last one?
The last sentence above has a subject, but it isn’t “rumpus.” The subject isn’t even in the sentence; it’s implied.
In English, the only subject that can ever be implied is “you.” That means the following sentences are all complete and grammatically correct:
“Let the wild rumpus start!” could also be written as: “You let the wild rumpus start!” This makes the role of “rumpus” clearer; it’s the direct object. We’ll visit those in a later post.
A complete sentence can sometimes be made incomplete by the addition of one or more words. For example, the sentence–
I ran the zoo.
–is complete; it has a subject and a predicate. But it can be turned into a subordinate clause very easily. See?
If I ran the zoo
When I ran the zoo
Because I ran the zoo
These sentence fragments have subjects and predicates, but, because they contain subordinating conjunctions, they cannot stand alone as complete sentences. You could attach any one of these clauses to a complete sentence, but doing so would not make that sentence more grammatically correct.
Grammar in Conversation
Sometimes, speaking or writing in perfect grammar can be complicated. Your sentences can come out sounding, well, just awful. Think of how burdensome it would be to answer in complete sentences all the time.
Q: “What time is it?”
A: “It is 6:03 PM.”
Unless you’re German, this seems like a lot of wasted breath in a situation where you could just say, “Six.”
The same also goes for sentences beginning with “because.”
Q: “Why did you do that?”
A: “Because I could.”
Conversationally, this answer makes perfect sense. You wouldn’t put a sentence like “Because I could” anywhere on a résumé, but, in interpersonal communication, grammar can sometimes get in the way of brevity and flow.
Stay tuned next Thursday for another tutorial. Happy writing!