Grammar 8

 

Challenge Questions

Personally, I love seeing how complicated-looking sentences can be boiled down to a simple clause. Here is an example. (I was inspired to write this sentence a few years ago, after a particularly rough class).

On the Friday afternoon of the fourth week of school, in September of 2017 (during the troubled presidency of real-estate magnate Donald J. Trump), at Presidio Middle School, in San Francisco, in my brightly-lit classroom with open windows, at the end of the long, gloomy, first-floor hallway with the highly-polished white-tile floor, during fifth period, my obstreperous 7th-grade class of immature, game-loving students was, because of an overabundance of carefree, youthful, devil-may-care enthusiasm, extremely, annoyingly, unimaginably noisy, despite my many exasperated warnings.


Is that a beautiful sentence?

No!

Is it grammatically correct?

Yes!

How do I know?

Because I can simplify it down to its base clause, and when I do, I see that it does indeed fit one of the five basic patterns.

Here is my proof: I start by canceling out all the helping words, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases, and then I simply see what's left.

On the Friday afternoon of the fourth week of school, in September of 2017 (during the troubled presidency of real-estate magnate Donald J. Trump), at Presidio Middle School, in San Francisco, in my brightly-lit classroom with open windows, at the end of the long, gloomy, first-floor hallway with the highly-polished white-tile floor, during fifth period, my obstreperous 7th-grade class of immature, game-loving students was, because of an overabundance of carefree, youthful, devil-may-care enthusiasm, extremely, annoyingly, unimaginably noisy, despite my many exasperated warnings.


Hmm . . . after crossing out everything that can be crossed out, I'm left with four words: "my class was noisy".

Is that a complete clause? Yes! (It's an equative clause).

So now I know that I've written a grammatically correct sentence. And I also know that everything except for those four words is optional. I can simplify that sentence as much as I want, by cutting out words and phrases, as long as I don't touch those four essential words.

Or, if I prefer, I can leave the sentence just the way it is—smug in the knowledge that whether you like that sentence or not, it is grammatically correct.

That's a valuable skill. It's valuable to be able to look at your own writing that way, and it's valuable to be able to look at someone else's writing and "boil it down" to the essentials.

Are You Ready for a Challenge?

The quiz for this lesson asks you to simplify long, tricky sentences. Since this quiz is harder than usual, it's worth a full 50 points, with one catch: You can only take it once. (No retakes!)

Before you tackle the quiz, however, let's analyze a few more "challenge questions".

For example, what do you make of this one?

Edmund, Darlene, Rolando, Glenn, Francis, Irving, Kendra, Bradley, Rosa, and Glenda stole the Christmas tree.

I hope you realized that all 10 of those people are the subject of the sentence. (It's a compound subject).

What did they do? They stole a Christmas tree.

So that sentence—as ugly as it is—boils down to:

And that is clearly a transitive clause (SVO).

Let's try one more:

I gave presents to my aunt and my uncle and my sister and my cousin and my mother and my father and my brother and my dog.

Hopefully, you recognized that everything after "to" is the object of the preposition "to". (It's a compound object) Therefore, we can cancel out that whole long prepositional phrase, like this:

I gave presents to my aunt and my uncle and my sister and my cousin and my mother and my father and my brother and my dog.

We're left with "I gave presents". And that, clearly, is a transitive clause (SVO).

That's not too hard, is it? Good! Then it's time to challenge yourself with the quiz. 

Instructions for the Quiz

The quiz consists of two kinds of questions:

Quiz