Gramatically Speaking (and — another favorite theme — looking backward)

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Todayʼs post arises directly from yesterdayʼs. And as yesterdayʼs got a little bloated with extraneous complaints (about CenturyLink) and (in picture captions in particular) additional information about the Echo smartpen (which I am using to compose longhand right now), Iʼll try to keep this short and as sweet as possible for this human.

Yesterday I originally composed this sentence: “A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, I find it forces me to write almost legibly,” which I corrected before publication as “A bit larger (wider/fatter) than a normal pen, it forces me, I find, to write almost legibly.” And I wondered if you, Gentle Reader, knew why the alteration was important (and necessary).

The difference was required because of the nature of a dependent clause. Thatʼs a clause (words that grammatically could be a sentence,* having both a subject and verb in the appropriate relationship) used to describe or “modify” a word in another independent clause, almost invariably —  because of how our language operates — describing the word right before the dependent clause starts. “I am writing the sentence which you are reading” is an example. “I am writing the sentence” is the main clause, and “which you are reading” is the dependent clause modifying “sentence,” telling you which sentence I am discussing. (I am keeping this discussion simple because in reality there are many kinds of subordinate clauses.)

In yesterdayʼs sentence, “it forces me to write almost legibly” is the clause dependent on (describing) the noun ”pen.” The “I find” is an interjected clause,** intended in its turn to modify the dependent clause (“it forces me to write almost legibly” in case you had forgotten). And if placed in its original position, immediately after “pen,” then “I think” becomes the modifier dependent on “pen,” meaning it and “pen” should somehow be related*** (and theyʼre not). “Pen” is the antecedent for “it” in the actual dependent clause (and itʼs that pronoun/antecedent relationship — between “it” and “pen” — that creates or permits the dependent clause to work and have meaning, just like “which” and “sentence” in the example I invented in the previous paragraph).

Short and sweet — “I think” couldnʼt follow “pen” logically/syntactically because that position is where the actual “it forces me to write almost legibly” clause had to fit. So in revision I did with “I think” what it grammatically did: inserted it interjectionally within the clause it modifies.

(And with that utterly roundabout and probably unclear explanation, I have created the necessary post for today.****)

* Actually my example of a subordinate/dependent clause (“which you are reading”), that I present toward the end of the paragraph, could never be a sentence on its own because it begins with a subordinating, relative pronoun. (So my example isnʼt exactly the same kind of subordinate clause as the one I used yesterday.)

** a third clause, and the shortest one of the sentences involved, having only a subject and a verb in it

*** and the meaning would be that I am a pen, and Iʼm not a pen, please.

**** And I will explain tomorrow (or one soon thereafter) what my fascination with having a post a day this week is all about.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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