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By Jean Eggenschwiler
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-6393-9
Chapter OnePHRASES, CLAUSES, AND SENTENCES
Identifying independent and subordinate clauses
Clauses and phrases are the building blocks of sentences. A phrase is a group of words that act as a part of speech but cannot stand alone as a sentence. Clauses are groups of words that have a subject and a predicate. Independent clauses express a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence but subordinate clauses depend on other parts of the sentence to express a complete thought.
A sentence expresses a complete thought and contains a subject, a noun or pronoun, and a predicate, a verb or verb phrase. The four basic types of sentences-simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex-use phrases and clauses in varying degrees of complexity.
A phrase is any group of related words that, unlike a sentence, has no subject-predicate combination. The words in a phrase act together so that the phrase itself functions as a single part of speech. For example, some phrases act as nouns, some as verbs, some as adjectives or adverbs. Remember that phrases can't stand alone as sentences.
The chance that you'll ever be asked to differentiate between a gerund phrase and an infinitive phrase or a participial phrase and a prepositional phrase is small. So why learn about these phrases?First, if you understand how they work, you can avoid mistaking them for sentences. Second, you can avoid misplacing them or leaving them dangling in sentences (See Chapter 7). Third, you can learn to use them effectively in combining sentences. A series of short, choppy sentences can be turned into a more mature, effective sentence by using phrases and clauses (See Chapter 6).
The Prepositional Phrase
The most common phrase is the prepositional phrase. You'll find these phrases everywhere-in sentences, clauses, and even in other phrases. Each prepositional phrase begins with a preposition (in, of, by, from, for, etc.; see Chapter 5 for a more complete list) and includes a noun or pronoun that is the object of the preposition.
in the room of the people by the river from the teacher for the party
The object of a preposition can have its own modifiers, which also are part of the prepositional phrase.
in the smoky, crowded room of the remaining few people by the rushing river from the tired and frustrated teacher for the midnight victory party
Prepositional phrases function as either adjectives or adverbs.
The woman in the trench coat pulled out her cellular phone.
The prepositional phrase here acts as an adjective describing the noun woman.
Most of the audience snoozed during the tedious performance.
The prepositional phrase here acts as an adverb modifying the verb snoozed.
Phrases Containing Verbals
To understand phrases containing gerunds, infinitives and participles see Chapter 2 for a complete review of verbals. Briefly, these verbals act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs in sentences.
The participial phrase
A participial phrase begins with a past or present participle and is followed by its objects and modifiers. Like participles alone, participial phrases are used as adjectives.
Sniffing the fresh air, Jim realized he had found paradise.
In the preceding sentence, the present participle sniffing introduces the participial phrase, which includes the participle's object (air) and its modifiers (the, fresh). This participial phrase acts as an adjective modifying the subject of the sentence (Jim).
The soldiers, trapped by the enemy, threw down their guns.
Here, the past participle trapped introduces the participial phrase trapped by the enemy. The entire phrase acts as an adjective modifying the subject of the sentence (soldiers). Notice the phrase-within-a-phrase here. By the enemy is a prepositional phrase modifying the participle trapped. Remember that phrases can act as modifiers in other phrases.
The gerund phrase
At first, a gerund phrase may look like a participial phrase because gerund phrases begin with the -ing form of a verb (riding, seeing, talking, etc.) and have objects and modifiers. But a gerund phrase always acts as a noun in a sentence, not as an adjective. Like other nouns, a gerund phrase can serve as the subject of a sentence, the object of a verb or preposition, or the complement of a linking verb.
In the following example, the gerund phrase Riding the black stallion acts as a noun and is the subject of the verb terrified.
Riding the black stallion terrified Hugh.
In the next sentence, the gerund phrase seeing the suspect is the direct object of the verb reported. Notice that the entire phrase, not just the word suspect, is the direct object.
The police officer reported seeing the suspect.
Here, the gerund phrase talking often and loudly is the object of the preposition by.
The senator made his reputation by talking often and loudly.
In the final example, Calling Uncle Roberto is a gerund phrase acting as the subject of the sentence. Asking for trouble is a gerund phrase acting as a complement of the linking verb is.
Calling Uncle Roberto is asking for trouble.
The infinitive phrase
An infinitive phrase contains an infinitive (for example, to sleep, to have slept, to consider, to throw) and its objects and modifiers. Infinitive phrases usually function as nouns, though they can be used as adjectives and adverbs.
In this sentence, To sleep all night is an infinitive phrase acting as a noun. It is the subject of this sentence.
To sleep all night was his only wish.
Here, To take an unpopular stand is an infinitive phrase acting as a noun. It is the direct object of the predicate didn't want.
The representatives didn't want to take an unpopular stand.
Next, the infinitive phrase to spend foolishly acts as an adjective modifying the noun money.
He had plenty of money to spend foolishly.
In the following sentence, the infinitive phrase to clear her mind acts as an adverb modifying drove. It answers the question "Why did she drive?"
After the confrontation, she drove miles to clear her mind.
Breaking up an infinitive with one or more adverbs is called splitting an infinitive. Splitting an infinitive isn't considered the grammatical sin it used to be, but most careful writers still don't split infinitives unless they have a reason to do so.
They taught her to spend money wisely. NOT They taught her to wisely spend money.
Sometimes, however, not splitting an infinitive is almost impossible.
We expect the population to more than double over the next twenty years.
Other times, not splitting an infinitive causes ambiguity or sounds unnatural. In these cases, don't worry about breaking the old rule; clarity and smoothness take precedence over unsplit infinitives.
In this sentence, does further modify Russian efforts or discuss?
We wanted to discuss further Russian efforts to modernize. Splitting the infinitive makes the sentence clearer. BETTER We wanted to further discuss Russian efforts to modernize. Splitting the infinitive in the following sentence makes it less stilted, more natural. He planned to take quickly the children to another room. BETTER He planned to quickly take the children to another room.
Types of Clauses
Like a phrase, a clause is a group of related words, but unlike a phrase, a clause has a subject and predicate. An independent clause, along with having a subject and predicate, expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence. On the contrary, a subordinate or dependent clause does not express a complete thought and therefore is not a sentence. A subordinate clause standing alone is the most common type of sentence fragment.
He saw her; The Washingtons hurried home, Free speech has a price. Grammatically complete statements like these are sentences and can stand alone. When they are part of longer sentences, they are referred to as independent (or main) clauses.
Two or more independent clauses can be joined by using coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet) or by using semicolons. The most important thing to remember is that an independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence.
In the following example the independent clause is a simple sentence.
Erica brushed her long, raven hair.
Here, the coordinating conjunction and joins two independent clauses:
Fernando left, and Erica brushed her long, raven hair.
Here, a semicolon joins two independent clauses:
Fernando left; Erica brushed her long, raven hair.
All sentences must include at least one independent clause.
After she told Fernando to leave, Erica brushed her long, raven hair.
The independent clause is preceded by a clause that can't stand alone.
Erica brushed her long, raven hair while she waited for Fernando to leave.
The independent clause is followed by a clause that can't stand alone.
Beginning sentences with coordinating conjunctions
Any of the coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) can be used to join an independent clause to another independent clause. But can you begin a sentence with one of these conjunctions?
No one knew what to do. But everyone agreed that something should be done.
An old rule says that you shouldn't. But beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is widely accepted today. (Notice the preceding sentence, for example.) Sometimes beginning a sentence this way creates exactly the effect you want; it separates the clause and yet draws attention to its relationship with the previous clause. Use this technique when it works for you. If you're confronted with an advocate of the old rule, you'll have no trouble finding support for your position from the best writers and usage experts.
A subordinate clause has a subject and predicate but, unlike an independent clause, cannot stand by itself. It depends on something else to express a complete thought, which is why it is also called a dependent clause. Some subordinate clauses are introduced by relative pronouns (who, whom, that, which, what, whose) and some by subordinating conjunctions (although, because, if, unless, when, etc.). Subordinate clauses function in sentences as adjectives, nouns, and adverbs.
A relative clause begins with a relative pronoun and functions as an adjective.
In the following sentence, the relative pronoun that is the subject of its clause and won is the predicate. This clause couldn't stand by itself. Its role in the complete sentence is to modify novel, the subject of the independent clause.
The novel that won the Pulitzer Prize didn't sell well when it was first published.
In the next example, which is the relative pronoun that begins the subordinate clause. Celebrities is the subject of the clause and attended is the predicate. In the complete sentence, this clause functions as an adjective describing ceremony.
The ceremony, which several celebrities attended, received intense coverage.
Note that in a relative clause the relative pronoun is sometimes the subject of the clause, as in the following sentence, and sometimes the object, as in the next sentence.
Arthur, who comes to the games every week, offered to be scorekeeper.
Who is the subject of the clause and comes is the predicate. The clause modifies Arthur.
In the following sentence, mother is the subject of the clause, adored is the predicate, and whom is the direct object of adored. Again, the clause modifies Arthur.
Arthur, whom the team mother adored, was asked to be scorekeeper.
A noun clause serves as a noun in a sentence.
What I want for dinner is a hamburger. (subject of the predicate is) The host told us how he escaped. (object of the predicate told) The vacation is what I need most. (complement of the linking verb is) Give it to whoever arrives first. (object of the preposition to)
Pronoun case in subordinate clause
Who, whom, whoever, whomever. In deciding which case of who you should use in a clause, remember this important rule: The case of the pronoun is governed by the role it plays in its own clause, not by its relation to the rest of the sentence. Choosing the right case of pronoun can be especially confusing because the pronoun may appear to have more than one function. Look at the following sentence.
They gave the money to whoever presented the winning ticket.
At first, you may be tempted to think whomever rather than whoever should be the pronoun here, on the assumption that it is the object of the preposition to. But in fact the entire clause, not whoever, is the object of the preposition. Refer to the basic rule: The case should be based on the pronoun's role within its own clause. In this clause, whoever is the subject of the verb presented. (A good way to determine the right pronoun case is to forget everything but the clause itself: whoever presented the winning ticket, yes; whomever presented the winning ticket, no.)
The following two sentences show more dramatically how you must focus on the clause rather than the complete sentence in choosing the right pronoun case.
We asked whomever we saw for a reaction to the play. We asked whoever called us to call back later.
In each sentence the clause is the direct object of asked. But in the first sentence, whomever is correct because within its clause it is the object of saw, while in the second sentence, whoever is correct because it is the subject of called.
Many subordinate clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions called adverbial clauses. Examples of these conjunctions are because, unless, if, when, and although. For a more complete list, see Chapter 5. What these conjunctions have in common is that they make the clauses that follow them unable to stand alone. The clauses act as adverbs, answering questions like how, when, where, why, to what extent, and under what conditions.
While Mauna Loa was erupting and spewing fountains of lava into the air, we drove away as quickly as we could.
In the preceding sentence, while is a subordinating conjunction introducing the adverbial clause; the subject of the clause is Mauna Loa and the predicate is was erupting and [was] spewing. This clause is dependent because it is an incomplete thought. What happened while the volcano was erupting? The independent clause we drove away as quickly as we could completes the thought. The adverbial clause answers the question "When did we drive?"
In the following sentence, because introduces the adverbial clause in which van is the subject and needed the predicate. This clause is an incomplete thought. What happened because the van needed repairs? The independent clause The group of tourists decided to have lunch in the village is necessary to complete the thought. Again, the subordinate clause as a whole acts as an adverb, telling why the tourists decided to have lunch in the village.
The group of tourists decided to have lunch in the village because the van needed repairs.
Excerpted from CliffsQuickReview Writing by Jean Eggenschwiler Excerpted by permission.
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