Write in Style: A Guide to Good English

By Richard Palmer | Go to book overview

4

BONE STRUCTURE

4.1

WHAT IS A SENTENCE?
The sentence is the single most important linguistic structure: it is, if you like, the backbone of all writing. And it is disturbing how much invertebrate writing one encounters. Many otherwise quite capable writers either do not understand what a sentence is or are incapable of applying that understanding at all times. One reason for this is that the sentence is a very difficult concept to explain and therefore to master. There are only three 'rules' which pertain, and each is of limited value.
1. All sentences must begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop.
2. All sentences must express a complete thought.
3. All sentences must contain a subject and a finite verb.

Comfortably straightforward, aren't they? No? You're absolutely right!

The first rule is one of the first things most of us learn at primary school. It seems elementary: using a capital letter is simple, and we all know what a full stop is. But the rule is not much use on its own:

Manchester United.

Write In Style.

Those start with capital letters, and I've [legitimately] placed a full stop after each one. They are not sentences, however; to establish why not, we need to consider rules 2 and 3.

I've often felt that rule 2 ought to be more helpful than it actually is. 'A complete thought' seems to be a clear and precise term: in this pair of examples it is obvious that the first is incomplete, making no sense whatsoever.

The man in a yellow.

The girl in rags.

But in what way is the second 'a complete thought'? It makes a certain amount of sense, yes, but only in terms of naming, of identification. Like 'Manchester United' and 'Write In Style', 'The girl in rags' prompts

-16-

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Write in Style: A Guide to Good English
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • From the Reviews: vi
  • Contents vii
  • List of Exercises xi
  • Acknowledgements xiv
  • Preface xv
  • Part One - Engage Brain and Ear Before Writing 1
  • 1 - Disasters 3
  • 2 - Triumphs 9
  • Part Two - Foundations 13
  • 3 - Introduction 15
  • 4 - Bone Structure 16
  • 5 - Joints 28
  • Part Three - Style 65
  • 6 - Introduction: Style Versus Fashion 67
  • 7 - Fight the Flab 70
  • 8 - Voice 109
  • Part Four - Tailor-Made 139
  • 9 - Introduction 141
  • 10 - Letters 142
  • 11 - Essays 161
  • 12 - Articles 189
  • 13 - Reviews 192
  • 14 - Reports 194
  • 15 - Minutes 199
  • 16 - PrÉcis and Summary 203
  • 17 - Reportage 225
  • Part Five - Grammar Primer 229
  • 18 - Grammar Primer 231
  • 19 - Inflections 274
  • 20 - Syntax 286
  • 21 - Parts of Speech (Advanced) 294
  • 22 - Punctuation in Speech and Quotation 315
  • 23 - Spelling and Confusibles 327
  • Appendix: Answers to Exercises 343
  • Further Reading 355
  • Authors, Sources and Named References 359
  • Subject Index 361
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