The sentence is the basis for intelligible communication in the English language. It may be defined several ways, but, essentially, it is a group of words that, by nature of the words used and the order in which they appear, expresses a complete thought. Consider this example:
NON-SENTENCE: Hortense kicking the ball out of the stadium.
NON-SENTENCE: Because Hortense kicked the ball out of the stadium.
These two examples are non-sentences because of the nature of at least one of the words in each of them. In the first example, kicking is a verbal, not a verb, and the group of words is incomplete as a meaningful thought because kicking cannot establish a meaningful relationship between the subject, Hortense, and the direct object, ball. The progressive forms, is kicking or was kicking, would make that relationship, however.
In the second example the word because, by its nature, subordinates the entire group of words to some other thought not expressed here. For instance, the statement, ". . . she was signed by the Washington Redskins." could complete the thought of our example. Now consider this non-sentence:
The ball stadium kicked Hortense of out.
This group of words is composed of words which by nature can make a sentence (or complete thought), but their order is such that they make little sense without the reader or listener mentally sifting through the words and rearranging them. There are several ways to sort these words out into a meaningful sentence: "Hortense kicked the ball out of the stadium." would probably be the most likely order to put them in. Notice that, "Out of the stadium, Hortense kicked the ball." means something entirely different from our original sentence. So, you can see the importance of order as well as the nature of the words used in making sentences meaningful.
SENTENCE PARTS: SUBJECTS, VERBS, COMPLEMENTS, AND MODIFIERS
Sentences (all clauses, for that matter) are made up of at least two of these four basic parts: subjects, verbs, complements, and modifiers. The sentence (and the independent and dependent clause as well) must have an explicit or implicit subject and verb. In most standard written English sentences, the subject and verb are explicitly stated, and you are certainly encouraged to favor that practice in your writing for academic or career situations.
In conversational English, however, you will frequently encounter the verbless sentence, that is a complete thought without an explicitly stated verb: [Bring me] "Three cokes, please." [I was] "Glad to help!" "What a test!" [that was.] In imperative sentences, on the other hand, it is the subject that is implied rather than the verb. The subject is usually the unstated second person personal pronoun you. Many of the directions in this book, for example, use an implicit subject: [You] "Work exercises I through 10; then [you] check your answers on page 57."
The typical sentence that you will write for college or career writing situations will have explicitly stated subjects and verbs and will most often also have complements and modifiers. We will be examining the distinguishing characteristics of each of the parts as well as their relationship to each other in this chapter. However, since all subjects and most complements are nouns or noun equivalents, a few words about case forms are appropriate at this point.
All subjects and most complements are nouns or noun equivalents (that is, pronouns, certain verbals and verbal phrases, and noun clauses). You will remember from the chapter on Parts of Speech that nouns and noun equivalents fall into three cases according to their use in the sentence: subjective, objective, or possessive.
Subjects are always in the subjective case, and most complements (all except the subjective complement) are in the objective case. With nouns, distinguishing between subjective and objective presents no problems--they look exactly the same in either case. In the sentence, "Mulroy lost his shirt," Mulroy is in the subjective case; shirt is in the objective. In the sentence, "The shirt belonged to Mulroy," shirt is subjective, and Mulroy is objective.
Only in the possessive case do we see a distinction: "Mulroy's shirt was lost." Mulroy's is possessive; shirt is subjective. In "Mulroy liked the shirt's color," Mulroy is subjective while shirt's is possessive. Nouns in the possessive case, such as the two above, usually function as adjectives modifying the thing possessed. Occasionally, however, you will see a noun in the possessive case used as a subject or an object when the thing possessed is clearly understood: "Mulroy's was purple!" "Did you see Mulroy's?" (Mulroy's shirt).
Although nouns present no problems in choosing between subjective and objective case forms, pronouns do present some problems. Most pronouns differ distinctly from case to case.
my, mine, our, ours
his, her, hers
Its, their, theirs
It is important, then, to know the proper case forms for subjects and complements and sometimes, even, for modifiers when using pronoun forms for these parts of the sentence.
Finding the Subject
Subjects are always nouns or noun equivalents (pronouns, gerunds, certain infinitives, phrases made from these verbals, and noun clauses). The subject is the person, place, or thing that does or controls the action of the verb. It is the concept that answers the question who? or what? does or is in relation to the verb.
John eats flies. (Who eats? John does.)
Homer crawls nicely. (Who crawls? Homer does.)
Anything goes. (What goes? Anything does.)
It seems silly. (What seems? It seems.)
Minerva is tired. (Who is? Minerva is.)
There is a book missing. (What is? Book is. In this example there is a substitute subject; Book is the real subject.)
If the subject consists of who or what does or is relative to the verb, the following kinds of words and word groups can be subjects:
proper nouns (John, New Orleans, etc.)
common nouns (motorcycle, Justice, etc.)
personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, etc.)
relative pronouns (who, which, that, etc.)
possessive pronouns (mine, ours, yours, etc.)
indefinite pronouns (each, one, anybody, etc.)
demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those)
interrogative pronouns (who? which? what? etc.)
gerunds (swimming, running, etc.)
gerund phrases (swimming a river, etc.)
infinitives (to swim, to run, etc.)
infinitive phrases (to swim a river, etc.)
noun clauses (what I see, whoever calls, etc.)
What this all adds up to is this: a subject can be a noun, a pronoun, one of two kinds of verbal phrases, or one kind of dependent clause.
Finding the Verb
The verb is most often defined as the word or words that express action or state of being. The trouble with this definition is that it is so broad that it is difficult to pin down just when a word expresses action" or "being." Verbals seem to express action, and even some nouns seem to convey a sense of action (the race, his answer, my worry, for example).
Maybe a better way to pin down the sentence verb is to find the word or words in the sentence that express action or state of being but also display some of the formal characteristics of verbs, those characteristics which have to do with the different spellings of the word in question, that is, the different forms of the word.
With the possible exception of the personal pronoun, verbs have more different forms (or spellings) than any other part of speech. To find the sentence verb, then, look for the "action" or "being" word or words that have the most potential for change while still retaining the original sense of the sentence. Only the "time reference" or "tense" of the sentence changes. Consider this sentence:
Magruder expressed the losing team's worries.
In this example several words are candidates for "action" words: expressed, losing, worries. You would probably eliminate worries right away on the basis of what you have learned about nouns in Chapter One because it is modified by a noun in the possessive case, teamís. (This possessive noun functions as an adjective; therefore, worries has to be a noun.)
In addition to the fact that worries is clearly a noun being modified by team's, it has only limited potential for change in this sentence. Worry, the noun singular form, makes sense in this sentence, but has worried or is worrying, (verb forms) makes no sense. Of the two candidates left, expressed and losing, only expressed has the potential of a number of different forms without drastically altering or destroying the meaning of the sentence. Losing changed to any other form will not make any sense: "Magruder expressed the lose team's worries." Lost, has lost, or am losing makes as little sense in this context. Expressed, on the other hand, can be changed several ways without sacrifice to meaning except that associated with time or "tense."
PRESENT: Magruder expresses the losing team's worries.
PRESENT PROGRESSIVE: Magruder is expressing the losing team's worries
FUTURE: Magruder will express the losing team's worries.
PRESENT PERFECT: Magruder has expressed the losing team's worries.
There are any number of other tense forms that we could use here to show the potential for change in form displayed by the sentence verb.
Finding the Complement
The term complement refers to the word or words of a sentence (or clause) that complete the verb or, more specifically, that complete the subject-verb relationship when such a "completing" idea is necessary to the sense of the sentence or clause. "Ada turnips," for example is not complete. Neither is "Grows turnips," for that matter. But "Ada grows turnips" is a completed idea. Turnips completes the subject and verb, "Ada grows." (Now, "Ada grows" is a complete thought, too, but it means something entirely different from "Ada grows turnips.")
In some sentences and clauses we have an "actor" (such as Ada) and an "action" (such as grows), and that is all that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. In other sentences and clauses there are an "actor," an "action," and something "acted upon," such as turnips in our example above.
There are several ways by which the subject and verb of a sentence or clause can be completed, depending largely on the nature of the verb. In relation to their ability to take complements in a subject-verb combination, verbs may be divided into three categories: transitive (those which require noun objects to complete them), intransitive (those which do not require noun objects), and linking (those which establish a notion of "equality" between the subject and a noun or adjective complement.
A fourth category might be added: passive. Although passive voice verbs are always formed from transitive verbs, a passive voice verb may take a complement that is either a noun or an adjective. Here are all of the complements that are possible with their respective subject-verb combinations:
SUBJECT + INTRANSITIVE VERB (S iV) (NO COMPLEMENT)
SUBJECT + LINKING VERB (S LV) + SUBJECTIVE COMPLEMENT (SC)
SUBJECT + TRANSITIVE VERB (S tV) + DIRECT OBJECT (DO)
SUBJECT + TRANSITIVE VERB (S tV) + INDIRECT OBJECT (IO) &
DIRECT OBJECT (DO)
SUBJECT + TRANSITIVE VERB (S tV) + DIRECT OBJECT (DO) &
OBJECTIVE COMPLEMENT (OC)
SUBJECT + PASSIVE VERB (S pV) + RETAINED OBJECT (RO)
These patterns may be simply expressed in the following way:
S V SC
S V DO
S V IO DO
S V DO OC
S V RO
"Linking" verbs are actually intransitive verbs, that category being divided into intransitive complete and intransitive linking. For the sake of simplicity, we simply refer to them as "intransitive" for intransitive complete and "linking" for intransitive linking. Let's look at these complements one by one:
1. Subjective Complement:
The subjective complement (sometimes called a predicate nominative when it is a noun or predicate adjective when it is an adjective) does just what its name implies--it completes the subject. There exists the idea of "equality" between the subject and the subjective complement established by the nature of the linking verb. (And of course that is why it is called a "linking" verb.) The verb to be in all of its forms (am, are, is, was, and were along with the various progressive and perfect tense combinations of these) is the most frequently used linking verb. In sentences or clauses using this verb, and other linking verbs, you can substitute the idea of "equals" (=) between the subject and its subjective complement.
Melroy is a poet.
Melroy = a poet.
When the complement is an adjective, it modifies the subject, but the idea of "equals" is still there; you simply have to supply the noun in the usual appositive position with its adjective to see the relationship:
Melroy is poetic.
Melroy = [a] poetic [person].
The sunset is lovely.
The sunset = [a] lovely [sight].
Many other verbs other than the verb to be can establish this relationship of "equality" between a subject and its subjective complement: seem, become, look, feel, act, to name a few. Consider these examples:
Penroy seemed the best candidate.
Penroy = the candidate.
Harriet acted the fool.
Harriet = a fool.
Iago looks sneaky.
Iago = [a] sneaky [person].
You need to exercise great care in your writing when using subjective complements that are personal or relative pronouns because, unlike all other complements, they are always in the subjective case form. With nouns this case distinction presents no problem because the objective and subjective case forms look exactly alike. But many pronouns, you will remember, differ sharply in form from case to case. Here are some sentences with pronouns used in the subjective complement function:
The co-captains are Beth and I. (co-captains = Beth, I)
S LV SC SC
Who is it? (it = who)
SC LV S
It is Bert and I. (it = Bert, I)
S LV SC SC
2. Direct Object.-
A direct object is a noun or noun equivalent that is the receiver of the action of a subject-verb combination. It answers the question who? or what? in relation to the subject-transitive verb combination. The direct object is always in the objective case.
Pennystint hoarded trading stamps.
(Pennystint hoarded what? Trading stamps.) DO (noun)
Prunella loved singing in the rain.
(Prunella loved what? Singing in the rain.) DO (gerund verbal phrase)
Singing in the rain irked Irvin.
(Singing in the rain irked whom? Irvin.) DO (noun)
He didn't know what he wanted.
(He didn't know what? What he wanted.) DO (noun clause)
Because she loved children, she spoiled them.
(She loved what? Children; she spoiled whom? Them.) DO (noun) DO (pronoun)
3. Indirect Object.-
An indirect object is a noun or noun equivalent that, whenever it is used, always precedes a direct object and answers the question to or for whom? or what? in relation to a subject-transitive verb-direct object combination. It is always in the objective case and helps to complete verb ideas such as, give, tell, read, pay, etc., where something is done to or for someone or something else.
Pruneheart gave them trouble.
(Pruneheart gave to whom? Them; what? Trouble.) I 0 DO
Pearl read Mortimer a poem.
(Pearl read to whom? Mortimer; what? Poem.) I 0 DO
Snodgrass paid the detective a fee.
(Snodgrass paid to whom? Detective; what? Fee.) I 0 DO
Grandmother bought Sweetpea a toy.
(Grandmother bought for whom? Sweetpea; what? Toy.) I 0 DO
Sweetpea gave the toy a kick.
(Sweetpea gave to what? Toy; what? Kick.) I 0 DO
4. Objective Complement.-
An objective complement is a noun or noun equivalent or an adjective that completes a direct object. It has the same relationship to the direct object that the subjective complement has to the subject. The idea of "to be" can always be inserted between the direct object and the objective complement. This kind of complement can occur only after the direct object and is usually found in sentences containing verbs such as, make, consider, cause, etc., where someone or something causes someone or something to be something else.
Murgatroid painted the Mercedes purple.
(Murgatroid caused the Mercedes to be purple.) DO O C
Hortense made Homer happy.
(Hortense caused Homer to be happy.) DO OC
They elected Bullwhipple president.
(They caused Bullwhipple to be president.) DO OC
Another way to test these direct object-objective complement relationships is to put them into subject-subjective complement combinations:
S tV DO OC: Murgatroid painted the Mercedes purple
S tV DO: Murgatroid painted the Mercedes
S LV SC: The Mercedes is purple.
So, you can see here that the sentence combination of two simpler forms--subject-transitive verb-direct object plus subject-linking verb-subjective complement--join together to make the direct object-objective complement pattern. An understanding of this kind of "sentence combining" technique will help you to maintain more control over your writing and to write more effective sentences.
5. Retained Object:
The retained object is the complement of a passive voice verb. The simplest way to recognize a passive verb is by the fact that it always consists of at least two words, the last of which is a past participle and the next-to-last is some form of the verb to be (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been). The retained object occurs when an active voice expression containing a transitive verb and two complements (I 0 + DO or DO + OC) is rearranged making one of the objects into a subject and retaining the other in the complement position. Consider these sentence alternatives:
ACTIVE: Horace gave Prunella a pony. I0 DO
PASSIVE: Prunella was given a pony by Horace. RO
ACTIVE: The committee elected Murphy chairman. DO OC
PASSIVE: Murphy was elected chairman by the committee. *RO
Prunella and Murphy, both objects (one indirect, the other direct) in the active voice constructions, become subjects in the passive sentences while pony and chairman, direct object and objective complement in their respective active sentence patterns, become retained objects. Notice that in these two examples the subjects of the active sentences become prepositional phrases modifying the passive verb.
*.More precisely, (Chairman is the subjective complement renaming Murphy; however, it is easier to identify the complement following a passive voice verb as retained.
Modifiers are all of those adjective or adverb words, phrases, or clauses that change (modify) the meaning of other words, phrases or clauses. Although they take many forms, there are only two kinds of modifiers-adjective and adverb.
1. Adjective Modifiers:
Adjective modifiers always and only modify nouns or noun equivalents: noun words, pronouns, certain verbals and verbal phrases, and noun clauses. They may be "pure" adjectives (e.g. red, slow, large, good, etc.); they may be verbal adjectives (certain infinitives and all participles); they may be adjective phrases (certain prepositional phrases, some infinitive phrases, and all participial phrases); or they may be adjective clauses.
"PURE" ADJECTIVE: Mighty Mortimer met his match.
PRONOMINAL ADJECTIVE: His match was Homer Turtle.
POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVE: Mortimer's defeat stunned us all.
VERBAL ADJECTIVE: The defeated champ asked for a rematch.
VERBAL ADJECTIVE: Homer had a new race to win
ADJECTIVE PHRASE: The winner of the race is the new champ.
ADJECTIVE PHRASE: The contestant running the swiftest usually wins.
ADJECTIVE PHRASE: Homer's plan to win the race succeeded
ADJECTIVE CLAUSE: Mortimer Rabbit, who was always cocky, lost again.
NOTE: Special kinds of adjective modifiers were discussed under the topics, subjective complement (predicate adjective) and objective complement. Adjectives in these functions modify their respective subjects or direct objects.
SUBJECTIVE COMPLEMENT(predicate adjective): Magruder is hopeless. (Magruder is a hopeless person.)
OBJECTIVE COMPLEMENT:Everyone considers Magruder hopeless. (Everyone considers Magruder to be a hopeless person.)
In brief, adjective modifiers modify only the noun parts of a sentence (subjects, some complements, objects of prepositions, and appositives). Adverb modifiers modify the other parts (verbs and other modifiers).
2. Adverb Modifiers:
Adverb modifiers modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and adjective and adverb phrases and clauses. They may be "pure" adverbs (e.g. slowly, down, well, etc.); they may be verbal adverbs (some infinitives); they may be adverb phrases (some prepositional phrases and some infinitive phrases), or they may be adverb clauses.
"PURE" ADVERB: Melrose sank very slowly out of sight.
(Very modifies the adverb slowly; slowly modifies the verb sank.)
VERBAL ADVERB: Hortense plays to win. (To win Modifies the verb plays.)
ADVERB PHRASE: Penelope was tired of Mugwart's lies. (Prepositional) (Modifies the adjective tired.)
ADVERB PHRASE: Prunella lied to save her Fairy godmother. (Infinitive) (modifies the verb lied.)
ADVERB CLAUSE: Bullwhipple lost the election because he lied. (Modifies the verb lost.)
More will be said about some of these modifiers (modifying phrases and clauses) in the next chapter.
Here are some of the key points to remember in recognizing sentence parts:
Subjects are always nouns or noun equivalents that control the action of the verb. They tell who or what does or is in relation to the verb.
To find the sentence verb, look for the "action" or "being" word that indicates what a subject does or is. It will be a word or words that have a great deal of potential for change in form to indicate change in tense or "time."
Complements complete the verb when a "completing" idea is necessary. Some verbs (intransitive) need no complement. Others (transitive and linking) require some "object" to receive or complete the idea expressed in the verb.
There are several complements that require nouns or noun equivalents: the direct object is the noun (or noun equivalent) that answers the question who? or what? in relation to a transitive verb. The indirect object is the noun (or noun equivalent) that answers the question to or for what? or whom? in relation to certain transitive verbs. Indirect objects always precede the direct object.
Two of the other complements--subjective complement and objective complement--can be filled by either nouns or adjectives. When a noun is used, it equals the subject or object being completed; when an adjective is used, it modifies the subject or object that it completes. The subjective complement completes the subject of a linking verb (one that means "equals"); the objective complement completes a direct object (DO = OC).
The retained object (which may also be a noun or an adjective) is the complement of a passive voice verb (a verb consisting of a past participle as the last word in the verb phrase and a form of the verb to be as the next to last word).
ERRORS TO AVOID
Faulty Complements (Marking Symbol FC)
A faulty complement occurs when a word or group of words is used incorrectly in the complement position. This error usually occurs when an adverb clause is placed where a noun clause should be used. Most often these errors occur when clauses beginning with when, where, and because (subordinating conjunctions that frequently introduce adverb clauses) are used as complements of the linking verb is.
FAULTY: A good citizen is when you care about people. (Adverb clauses should not be used as subjective complements.)
CORRECT: You are a good citizen when you care about people. (Revise the main clause to provide a subjective complement.)
ALSO CORRECT: A good citizen cares about people. (Combine both clauses into one.)
ALSO CORRECT: Good citizenship is caring about people. (Revise to provide a true noun complement; in this case a gerund phrase.)
FAULTY: Apathy is where people don't care. (Here we have two problems: the faulty complement and the subordinating conjunction where.)
CORRECT: Apathy exists in a nation where people don't care (Revise the main clause and make the dependent clause into an adjective clause by giving it a noun to modify.)
ALSO CORRECT: People are apathetic when they don't care. (Revise the main clause to provide an adjective for the adverb clause to modify; change where to when if necessary.)
ALSO CORRECT: Apathy is not caring. (Revise to provide a noun complement for the linking verb: here a gerund is used.)
ALSO CORRECT: Apathetic people do not care. (Revise the sentence entirely.)
FAULTY: The reason for apathy is because people don't understand their civic responsibility. (Again, an adverb clause should not function as a subjective complement.)
CORRECT: The reason for apathy is that people don't understand their civic responsibility. (Change the adverb clause to a noun clause by replacing because with that.)
ALSO CORRECT: Apathy occurs because people don't understand their civic responsibility. (Replace the linking verb with an intransitive verb.)
ALSO CORRECT: Apathetic people don't understand their civic responsibility. (Revise the sentence entirely.)
Avoid Overuse of Passive Voice (Marking Symbol PASS)
In order to express the same action or state of being, passive voice verbs require at least one more word per verb phrase than do their active voice counterparts. Thus, to reduce wordiness, avoid the overuse of passive voice verbs.
Because the most effective passive voice constructions are variations of active constructions containing two complements (I 0 DO or DO OC), passive voice sentences made from potential single complement active constructions are often weak in that the actor (active subject) is generally cast in a prepositional phrase.
ACTIVE (I0 DO): The team gave Hortense the game ball.
PASSIVE (RO): Hortense was given the game ball. (Here Hortense receives the sentence emphasis. This is an acceptable use of the passive voice.)
ACTIVE (DO, OC): They also made her offensive co-captain.
PASSIVE (RO): Also, she was elected offensive co-captain. (This is an acceptable passive form.)
ACTIVE (DO): Hortense won the game.
WEAK PASSIVE: The game was won by Hortense. (Hortense loses its emphatic position as subject.)
ACTIVE (DO): Hortense threw a 70 yard "bomb."
WEAK PASSIVE: A 70 yard "bomb" was thrown by Hortense. (Weak and wordy structure.)
The passive voice sentence also provides more potential for grammatical error than its active counterpart, especially for dangling modifiers.
ACTIVE: Cheering wildly, the fans loved Hortense.
PASSIVE: (dangling modifier) Cheering wildly, Hortense was loved by the fans.
ACTIVE: To celebrate victory, her teammates poured champagne over her head.
PASSIVE: (dangling modifier)To celebrate victory, champagne was poured over her head by her teammates.
Now that you have studied the material, if you would like to take Quiz One of Chapter two, Click here.
To go to the Chapter Two selections, click here.
To go to the Instructional Systems "Cookie Jar," click here. (You must be connected to the internet to do this.)
To go to Instructional Systems other free resources and links," click here. (You must be connected to the internet to do this.)
To visit the Instructional Systems site for links to additional grammar instruction, click here. [NOTE: You must be on the internet to visit the i S i site.]
To visit Instructional Systems "Cookie Jar" for grammar, spelling, ESL, and composition instruction, click here. [NOTE: You must be on the internet to visit the "Cookie Jar."]
To visit Instructional Systems other free resources and links, click Here.
To visit the Instructional Systems Home Page and Main Menu, click Here
Web Author: J. Kline
Copyright ©1997 by Instructional Systems 1996 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED