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Sentences and thinking; a practice book in sentence making online

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Sentences and Thinking is a textbook for the first term of
Freshman English. Although it could be used as a review
of fundamentals at the end of the high school course, it is
designed primarily for the college freshman, who can
scarcely be said to have mastered fundamentals in com-
position, but who nevertheless tends to regard himself as
sufficiently acquainted with unity, coherence, and em-
phasis. It is true that the large rhetorics are also designed
for the college freshman; but too often they are obsessed
with the sacred need of comprehensiveness, or adhere to
the language and modes of thought of the old mechanical
rhetoric. The authors of this little book, instead of seeking
comprehensiveness, have sought absolute eisentials; in-
stead of following tradition blindly, have worked out a new
approach to Freshman rhetoric — the substance being old,
of course, but the mode of presentation, it is hoped, fresh
and attractive because it is philosophical in a simple way.
When the freshman comes to college, he is prepared to ex-
change his excellent high school conviction " that authority
is the soundest basis of belief " for the equally excellent
college conviction that blind faith is " the one unpardonable
sin '* and independent inquiry into the nature of things the
prerequisite to all progress. We have asked the freshman,
not to master " rules," but to think out the reasons behind
the rules in terms of the psychology of the human mind.

Chapter I, " Sentences and Punctuation," deals with the
appalling blunders in sentence construction that abound


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during the first month of the course. Chapter II, " Sen-
tences and Thinking," the core of the book, is a connected,
constructive account of the principles of subordination,
parallelism, emphasis, etc. A third chapter, on " Summary
Sentences," offers material for training in the construction
of sentences through a special kind of paragraph analysis.
Finally, " A List oiF Common Errors " will enable the in-
structor, if he so desires, to use the book, not in addition to
the usual rhetoric during the first few months of the course,
but in place of it throughout the year.

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I. Sentences and Punctuation

1. What the Sentence is i

2. The Skeleton of the Sentence .... 2

3. Phrases and Clauses S

4. The Cardinal Error in Sentence Structure . 8

5. Misuse of Conjunctions . . . . ' . 12

6. Punctuation 15

II. Sentences and Thinking

1. Subordination 27

2. Parallelism 37

3. Emphasis 45

4. Economy 56

5. Vagueness 61

III. Summary Sentences 76

IV. A List of Common Errors 92

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I. What the sentence is. The sentence, as the thought-
unit, is the starting-point for the study of composition.
It should be regarded, at the outset, not as the result of a
mechanical manipulation of grammatical elements, but as
an organism, an organic whole, reproducing in words a
thought in the mind, as a photograph reproduces a scene.
It is always our first concern to see the thought clearly, to
get it clearly focused in our minds; to this everything else
is secondary, — the "grammar," the "parts of speech,"
the " syntax " that are so often the bugbear of the student
because they are approached wrongly. In the discussion
that follows, we shall look first to the thought.

What is a sentence? It is a group of words expressing a
complete thought^ It must omit nothing that is essential
to the completeness of the thought; and on the other hand,
it must admit nothing that is not essential to the thought.
It must be a unit, no less, no more. There are conse-
quently two fundamental tests for the unity of a sentence:

Test I: Does it express a complete thought.? In an ex-
amination paper a student wrote: "Milton thought that
man should be humble, obedient, and thankful toward
God. Observing and obeying his laws." Did the student
really suppose that the last group of words, " Observing

* It begins with a capital letter and is followed by a period — this
distinguishes it from an independent clause (see pp. 5-6).

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a sentence? It is mani*

ajid^qboyiag bia laws^" .coa^tituted
fe*st!y'in€r6inpletie}it:iS')es^than a


Test II: Does it contain foreign matter — does it go be-
yond completeness and give us matter quite unnecessary
for the expression of the thought? Consider this sentence:
" At last, on the 4th of August, 1914, England declared war
on Germany, where I spent six weeks some years ago."
We do not mind learning from the writer that he spent six
weeks in Germany, but at this moment the information is
decidedly out of place, because it distracts from the main
idea; it violates the unity of the sentence.

What we want, then, is the whole truth and nothing but
the truth; the whole thought and nothing but the thought.


Point out the violation of unity in the following sen-
tences and indicate whether the lack of unity is due to
incompleteness or to overcompleteness. Apply the two
tests given above.

1. He works hard and keeps regular hours. While his brother
is a worthless spendthrift.

2. The peasants wear curiously-shaped flat caps, and grow huge
crops of buckwheat.

3 . In his youth he read widely among the best books. Thereby
increasing both his reading and his speaking vocabulary.

4. Chaucer, the first English artist in poetry, ushered in the
modern period of English literature, and had a beard the
color of wheat straw.

5. The wagons were loaded heavily, and the new road was not

2. The skeleton of the sentence. Grammatically con-
sidered, every sentence consists of a subject — something

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named — and a predicate — something asserted as true of
the thing named. \ Or we may say that every sentence con-
tains a subject and a verb. A verb should be carefully dis-
tinguished from a verbal noun (infinitive or gerund) or a
verbal adjective (participle). A verbal noun or adjective is
a noun or an adjective derived from a verb. Its function
in the sentence is that of a noun or an adjective; it names
something or it describes or limits something named. This
difference in use is illustrated in the following sentences:

The National Highway runs through the center of our town.

Running is good exercise.

To run three miles at a stretch requires good lungs.

In the first sentence runs is a verb; it makes an assertion
concerning the subject. In the other sentences running
and {to) run are verbal nouns. Although they are derived
from the verb run^ they are used just as simple nouns, base-
bally tennis^ for example, would be used in these sentences.

Running water is purer than stagnant water.

In this sentence running is a verbal adjective. It is used
in the sentence in precisely the same way that the simple
adjective stagnant is used.

We may say, then, that a verb asserts an action concern-
ing the subject, whereas a verbal noun or adjective names
something or describes it. In the following sentences ver-
bals are incorrectly used as verbs:

There I enjoyed myself very much. Visiting all the theaters
and seeing all the exhibits.

One reason I like this book is that it is written in very simpl .
language* Therefore making it very easy to read.

" I think I '11 lie down a minute," he said. Forthwith springing
up and flinging himself on the sofa near the window.

He tried tp write his letters with great care. To make them
neat and presentable in appearance.

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In this year, although each retaining its former powers, Austria
and Hungary agreed to establish a common administration.

Every sentence, then, whether short or long, whether
simple or complex, must contain a subject and a verb.
These are the essential elements of the sentence — the
backbone, the skeleton, of every sentence, f Either subject
or verb, or both, may be qualified or modified by the addi-
tion of other words; but no matter how much may be
added to the skeleton of the sentence the skeleton itself
remains the same.


Point out the skeleton (the simple subject and verb) of
the following sentences:

1. All summer the trip had been discussed.

2. Accompanied by a friend, I visited the Exposition grounds.

3. Have you spoken to him about our plan.^

4. Not a drop of rain had yet fallen.

5. Are you going now.?

6- Of the assistants, he alone slept in the house.

7. She took up the pencil without moving the book.

8. What time did he say that he would come back?

9. And in the innocence of childhood she believed him.

10. There are many reasons for my answer.

11. The words were interrupted by the sound of groans beyond
the door leading to the bedrooms.

12. The change from the customary spot and the necessary occa-
sion of such an act — from the dressing hour in a bedroom
to a time of traveling out-of-doors — lent a novelty to the
idle deed.

13. Through a spur of this ridge, from the Downs to the castle,
the old home of the family, ran a dusty and rocky road.

14. I, James Woods, President of Walker College, by virtue

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of the authority vested in me by the Faculty and Trustees
of this institution, am authorized to confer the following
15. The girl on the summit of the load sat motionless, sur-
rounded by tables and chairs with their legs upward, backed
by an oak settle, and ornamented in front by pots of gerani-
ums, myrtles, and cactuses, together with a caged canary, —
all probably from the windows of the house just vacated.

3. Phrases and clauses. There are certain groups of
words which are sometimes used as the equivalents of
nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. and which are often
confused with sentences. These word groups are called
phrases and clauses.

A group of logically connected words not containing a
subject and a predicate is called a phrase. Since the phrase
does not contain both of the necessary elements of a com-
plete thought, it should never, of course, be used as a sub-
stitute for the sentence. A phrase is often the equivalent
of one of the elements of a sentence, of subject or of predi-
cate, but is never the equivalent of both.

A group of words containing both a subject and a predi-
cate and forming part of a sentence is a clause. It is ob-
vious that a clause expresses an idea more nearly complete
than the idea conveyed by a phrase. Since the clause con-
tains both subject and verb, it might be supposed that it
expresses a complete idea, a thought-unit. What, then,
distinguishes the clause from the sentence? The sentence
expresses a complete thought, the clause only a part of a
complete thought.

Clauses are classed as dependent or as independent
according to the relation of the thought of the clause to
the complete thought of the sentence in which the clause
stands. If the clause expresses a thought which is not

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perfectly clear and definite in itself, but which depends
upon the thought of the rest of the sentence, it is called a
dependent clause, A dependent clause is meaningless when
it is taken by itself. The clauses " What I said," " Until
the road was cleared," " That he has made a mistake " con-
vey no complete idea; they depend for their meaning upon
the rest of the sentence in which they occur:

He did not hear what I said.

We waited patiently until the road was cleared.

That he has made a mistake is perfectly obvious.

These dependent clauses resemble phrases (i) because the
idea expressed is not complete in itself, and (2) because the
grammatical construction of both is that of a single word:
direct object, adverb, subject of verb, etc.

An independent clause is a group of words containing a
subject and a verb and capable of standing alone as a sim-
ple sentence. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and
the firmament showeth his handiwork." Each of these
clauses makes a clear and definite statement, and if written
alone, each would express a complete thought. The use
of the comma and the conjunction and^ however, makes a
compound sentence of the two clauses. The thought unit
of this sentence, then, is composed of two equal and logically
related parts, each of which could stand alone as a complete
sentence. Whether such a group of words is a sentence or
an independent clause depends entirely upon the way it is
used. If it stands alone, it is a sentence; if it is used as a
part of a larger unit of thought, it is an independent clause.

Test: If we wish to pick out the independent clauses in a
given sentence, we examine each clause to find out whether
it could be written as a separate and complete sentence.
If the clause can be so written, it is independent.

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A. Point out the dependent and the independent clauses
in the following sentences:

1. I saw him, but he did not see me.

2. James was there, Jonathan was there, but Henry was not

3. When night falls, the lake seems twice as wide.

4. The lake seems twice as wide when night falls.

5. Little men endure little men; but great men aim at a solitary

6. The wild goose is more of a cosmopolite than we; he breaks
hb fast in Canada, takes a luncheon in Ohio, and plumes
himself for the night in a Southern bayou.

7. He intended to be gone a year, but returned at the end of
two months, harshly criticizing his folly in leaving home.

8. When we try to pick out amythmg by itself, we find it
hitched to everjrthing else in the universe.

9. As he reflected upon the matter now, scowling at the picture
on the wall, he remembered his first trip to her home.

10. But some thoughtful person, who had seen him walking
across one of his fields, might have regarded him in another

11. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in
blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear
evening sky; but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape
is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about
their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will
glow and light up like a crown of glory.

12. The British worker might or might not be convinced of
Henry George's contention that the power of the landlord to
extort rent was the cause of increasing or continuing poverty
in the midst of increasing wealth; he was in any case likely
to be strongly moved by the contention that poverty in-
creased side by side with wealth, that it increased because
the increasing wealth was more and more unequally dis-

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tributed, and that the evil arose from human law and not
from inevitable forces of nature.

B. Compose three sentences consisting of two or more
independent clauses. Compose three consisting of com-
binations of dependent and independent clauses.

4. The cardinal error in sentence structure. The un-
pardonable sin in English composition is ignorance of what
a sentence is. The student who displays this ignorance
does more than confess himself untaught and unlearned —
he brands himself as illiterate. Until he masters this ele-
mentary conception, he can never hope to write effective,
or even decent, sentences. Ignorance of what a sentence
is may show itself in two common forms:

a, Comma-for-period, The so-called " comma fault " or
" illiterate comma " is the writing of two or more sentences
as if they were one — the use of a comma where a period
is needed.^

Wrong: He said he would come, when others would invent ex-
cuses he keeps his word.

These are manifestly two separate sentences, and should,
of course, be followed by periods, not commas :

Right: He said he would come. When others would invent
excuses he keeps his word.


Correct the ** comma fault " in the following sentences:

I. I had now come in sight of the house, I decided to wait no

* Frequently the semicolon may be used instead of a period, or a comma
with a simple coordinating conjunction, and sometimes, when the
clauses are short, contain no interior punctuation, and express intimately
related ideas, the comma alone is permissible. But of course any one who
has not yet mastered the " comma fault " should concentrate his atten-
tion on the basic distinction between comma and period.

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2. Kipling wrote "The Man Who Was," this is an excellent
short story.

3. In the evening we reached a village, I determined to spend
the night there.

4. "Well, good-bye," he said," I '11 see you again soon, I hope."

5. There is something in the very season of the year that gives
a charm to the festivity of Christmas, at other times we
derive a great portion of our pleasure from the mere beauties
of nature.

6. The climax is the crucial point in a narrative, of this the
author must have a definite idea before he begins to write a

7. A thought seemed to strike him, the island had been left
behind and the shore lay far oflF in the hazy sunlight.

8. These orders were sufiicient, as I well knew, they could not
return before morning.

9. Furthermore, the people who constitute the National Gov-
ernment also constitute the various states, the people gave
to the National Government its powers.

10. "Watch this pitcher," I said, "he isn't going to let the
batter touch the ball."

11. Bill lounged lazily in his leather-cushioned chair, his feet
were propped up at a comfortable angle.

12. My friend was an extremely gay and humorous fellow, no
matter how dull and blue things were, he could always make
the situation pleasant and delightful.

13. While still very young, I learned to play the piano, I thought
then that I would make a great reputation as a musician.

14. He is of medium height and of slender figure, his eyes are
light blue.

15. When we entered the restaurant, a waiter showed us a table,
he was a young man with light hair and fair complexion, he
wore a white coat and apron, on his head he had a soft
white hat.

b. Periodr-for-comma. The so-called "period fault" or

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" illiterate period " is the writing of only a part of a sentence
as if it were a complete sentence — the use of a period
where a comma is needed.

Wrong: When I saw him last, he said he would come. Though
his desire was obviously faint.

Qearly, there is only one sentence here and only one
period should be used.

Right: When I saw him last, he said he would come, though his
desire was obviously faint.

There are three common varieties of the "period fault*':

1. A phrase consisting of a noun or pronoun plus a verbal
noun or adjective in -ing is often treated as a complete

Wrong: She cared little for society. Her chief interest being
the care of her house.
Right: She cared little for society, her chief interest being the
care of her house.

2. An appositive phrase is sometimes written as a sepa-
rate sentence. This type of error occurs most frequently
when the appositive is introduced by such expressions as
namely y as^ for example^ that is.

Wrong: He hated the town. As a place of residence especially.

Right: He hated the town, as a place of residence especially.

Wrong: He was praised by those who knew him best. Namely,

his brothers.

Right: He was praised by those who knew him best, namely,

his brothers.

3. The second of two /A^i^clauses is often written as a
separate sentence.

Wrong: He said that he would certainly help us. That he
has no objection to the plan.

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Right: He said that he would certainly help us, that he has no

objection to the plan.
Wrong: Milton thought that man should be obedient to God.

That woman should obey God through man.
Right: Milton thought that man should be obedient to God,

that woman should obey God through man.


Correct the "period fault" in the following sentences:

1. Learning is, in too many cases, but a foil to common
sense. A substitute for true knowledge.

2. Some men cannot reason wrongly. Since they do not reason
at all.

3. Greatness is power. Producing great effects.

4. Carlyle said that it was a great thing for a nation to have a
poet to speak for it. That all people of English descent
thought and spoke through Shakspere.

5. He was accustomed to taking long walks alone. Thereby
increasing his knowledge of trees, flowers, and birds.

6. Our teacher acted like a friend to us. One who would sym-
pathize with us.

7. There is one night that I shall always remember. Because
something memorable happened to me then.

8. The citizens have the right to overthrow an unjust form of
government and set up a desirable form. Which will guar-

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Online LibraryNorman FoersterSentences and thinking; a practice book in sentence making → online text (page 1 of 9)