Tag Archives: clause

#amwriting: the #nanonovel: starting with the basics

a writer's styleI receive a lot of unsolicited manuscripts, by new authors looking for an editor. Most of them are from authors who just completed NaNoWriMo. They’re just learning the ropes and don’t realize their work is still in the unreadable stage. I always explain to them why these manuscripts are not submission ready, much less ready for an editor to have a look at.

What many first-time authors lack is knowledge, so I direct them to workshops, seminars, and writing groups.

This is where the work comes into it. We must learn and use the basic writing conventions that underpin how all English literature is written. These conventions consist of:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Grammar

These are the fundamental rules authors follow so their work is understandable by any person who can read English, no matter if they are from Sacramento, London, Sydney, or Mumbai.

Kathleen Cali, in an article at Learn NC, says: “Conventions are the surface features of writing — mechanics, usage, and sentence formation. Conventions are a courtesy to the reader, making writing easier to read by putting it in a form that the reader expects and is comfortable with.”

When we write, whether we are writing a book, an essay, or an email, we are writing something we want the intended reader to comprehend. Therefore, we write using universally accepted rules for sentence construction.

So what makes an understandable sentence? It will consist of

  • a subject (My dog)
  • a verb (barked)
  • some words to help explain those two things (all night long.)
  • My dog barked all night long.

Sentences consist of clauses. Commas are the universally acknowledged pausing and joining symbol. Periods (or full stops) are how we signify the end of a sentence. Without these pausing and stopping symbols, our words become a jumble and make no sense. You might think this is a “Well, Duh!” moment, but when a person is in the throes of laying down the first draft they begin to write in a kind of mental shorthand, and sometimes these fundamentals fall by the way. This is why we do a second draft before we have anyone look at it.

Readers expect to find a pause between two clauses and commas are sometimes the signifiers of those pauses. Words that are conjunctions (such as and, or, but) also serve to join clauses to form compound sentences.

According to About EducationA clause may be either a sentence (an independent clause) or a sentence-like construction within another sentence (a dependent or subordinate clause).

Subordinate Clause definition: A group of words that has both a subject and a verb but (unlike an independent clause) cannot stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a dependent clause. Contrast with coordinate clause.

Example:

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
(John F. Kennedy)

Mostly I find subordinate clauses cropping up in conversation–dialogue–when I look at my own writing. These “grammatical juniors” are like any other form of seasoning in our writing and must be used consciously and sparingly. When we write with too many subordinate clauses, we separate the reader from the narrative.

We provide balance in how we phrase our sentences, using a variety of sentence structures. We use complex sentences, consisting of:

  1. a simple clause 

I went to the grocery store.  (the meat of the matter)

  1. a dependent clause

because I needed skewers. (technically not necessary but adds to it)

  1. I went to the grocery store because I needed skewers.  

Who was I going to skewer? I don’t know, but I at least I had the right tool for the job.

We can set the clause off with commas:

The lake, its surface calm and black, called to me.

The lake called to me is the meat of this sentence, the clause describing it is technically not necessary, but without that clause the sentence is flat.

Sometimes, we want to use sentence fragments in our narrative. When they are written well and interspersed correctly, using sentence fragments emphasizes certain passages, creates a desired atmosphere, and can make conversations sound more natural.

A sentence expresses a complete thought.  Also, every sentence, no matter how short, contains a subjector an implied subject—and a verb.  Linda Neuman of Sophia.org says:

So a sentence fragment would be a piece of a sentence.  It’s not a sentence because it’s incomplete, and does not contain both a subject and a verb.  Sometimes sentence fragments are referred to as incomplete sentences.  There is something missing, and you know it when you read it.  The thought is not complete, like a sentence would be.

Example of a sentence:  Her car was old, but very stylish.

Example of a sentence fragment:  Her car was old.  But very stylish.

The internet is full of good information about sentence construction and how to write a narrative that any reader of English, no matter what their nationality, will be able to understand. You can access a great deal of information on how to construct a readable narrative and it will cost you nothing.

commaThe Chicago Manual of Style is a volume that defines the rules of the road for US English Grammar.  I consider it an indispensable guide for serious authors. This particular book is the reference manual used by the US publishing industry and is the foundation book for my personal reference library. It is one of the oldest and most comprehensive style guides available, and for me in my role as an editor, it’s an indispensable tool because it contains information that I can’t find anywhere else. While I could easily access it all via the online version, I do like having my large book at my fingertips.


Quoted and Researched Sources:

AboutEducation.com: Clause (Grammar) by Richard Nordquist, accessed Dec. 11, 2016

GrammarRevolution.com:  What are Clauses by Elizabeth O’Brien, accessed Dec. 11, 2016

LearnNC.com: The five features of effective writing, by Kathleen Cali and Kim Bowen, accessed Dec. 11, 2016

Sophia.org: Using Sentence Fragments Wisely, by Linda Neuman, accessed Dec. 11, 2016

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Clauses and Pauses

commaCommas–those mysterious, curving morsels of punctuation designed to contain clauses, but which, when used  irresponsibly, wreak havoc in the ordinary life of the author.

According to the wonderful website, Get it Write, there are two specific situations that call for the use of a comma before the word and:

The first instance is created when there are  three or more items in a series. This mark of punctuation is called the serial comma which I covered in a post called Comatose Ambiguity, (see link here)

“The second situation occurs when “and” is being used to coordinate two independent clauses. An independent clause—also known as a main clause—is a group of words that has a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence. In the following example, the independent clauses are in brackets:

  • [Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years], and [today he is an accomplished performer].

“The use of the comma would also apply when any of the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) join two independent clauses.

“Notice in the next example that we do not use a comma before “and” because it does not join two independent clauses but merely joins two verbs:

  • Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years and today is an accomplished performer.

“Here we have only one independent clause—two verbs (“took” and “is”) but one subject (“Miguel”).” (Quoted directly from Get it Write, Sept 8, 2014)

I know this will be difficult for some to swallow, but commas do not serve as pausing places for the reader to breathe.  They join together clauses–short sentences–that would make your narrative sound choppy if they were left to stand by themselves. Take these short sentences, for instance:

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily. He cut a swath through the ranks quickly. Even Garran had no legitimate complaints. He still needled John at every opportunity.

Each sentence  can technically stand alone, but they are boring and choppy that way.

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily, cutting a swath through the ranks at such a rate that even Garran had no legitimate complaints, although he still needled him at every opportunity.

Another good online reference is Brian Wasko’s Write at Home Blog. His article called 7 Ways NOT to Use a Comma is good stuff. Of particular interest to this post on using commas for pauses: “The comma-by-ear method doesn’t work — at least not consistently. I inevitably inserted unnecessary commas all over the place.”

One rule he mentions (that is one of my personal weak areas) is rule number four (and I love his comments): 

4. Don’t use a comma to connect two clauses if the second clause is subordinate (i.e., dependent).

Frowny face:  Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined, because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers.

Smiley face: Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers. (end quote)

I would have shot straight to sticking the comma in front of ‘because’ because it is a good place to pause. (Yep. I said because because.) (Snicker.)

Using commas for pauses is an invitation for comatose mayhem. Consider this: Every person reads aloud at a different rate and with a different cadence. If you indiscriminately throw your commas in wherever YOU think a pause should go, your prose will be filled with strange bumps in the road, because your reader won’t be pausing where YOU think they should. No matter how much of a control freak you are, you can’t force people to read the same way you do. This is why we follow common rules when using punctuation.

Commas separate independent clauses from each other and also from introductory words. In other words, they divide little sentences from each other in order to form compound sentences. 

Oh, the editorial agony.

 

 

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Sharpening my clause

I’ve been reading a lot lately, some for editing, which is a great pleasure, and some for my own amazement, which can be a mixed bag of nuts.
 .
So let’s talk about what it is that makes reading for pleasure not a pleasure at times:  Some authors don’t understand the basic rules of how to write coherently.  I suppose that’s not a surprise to you, but I am always shocked.
 .
So what makes a coherent sentence? We want a subject, a verb and some words to help explain those two things. We call this a sentence.
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Sentences frequently consist of clauses. Okay, they always do, but…anyway:
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clause
klôz/
noun
  1. a unit of grammatical organization next below the sentence in rank and in traditional grammar said to consist of a subject and predicate.
 .
Well, that seems pretty simple–simply confusing, anyway.
 .
According to About Education: A clause may be either a sentence (an independent clause) or a sentence-like construction within another sentence (a dependent or subordinate clause).
 .
Subordinate Clause definition: A group of words that has both a subject and a verb but (unlike an independent clause) cannot stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a dependent clause. Contrast with coordinate clause.
.
Example:
If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
(John F. Kennedy)
 .
Mostly I find subordinate clauses cropping up in conversation–dialogue–when I look at my own writing. These “grammatical juniors” are like any other form of seasoning in our writing and must be used consciously and sparingly. When we write with too many subordinate clauses, we separate the reader from the narrative.
 .
If you go on a cruise that consists exclusively of drinking, dancing, and partying, I shall worry.
.
Well, I won’t really worry, but I shall be jealous.
.
In genre fiction, which is what I write, readers do not want to be held away from the story by too many words. They want to be immersed in the tale, living it with the characters. One way we do this by providing balance in how we phrase our sentences, using a variety of sentence structures. We use complex sentences, consisting of:
 .
Fun-Fruit-Skewers-21. a simple clause 
I went to the grocery store.  (the meat of the matter)
2. a dependent clause
because I needed skewers. (technically not necessary but adds to it)
 .
I went to the grocery store because I needed skewers.  
 .
Who was I going to skewer? I don’t know, but I at least I had the right tool for the job.
 .
We can set the clause off with commas:
 .
The lake, its surface calm and black with deceptive serenity, called to me.
.
The lake called to me is the meat of this sentence, the clause describing it is technically not necessary, but without that clause the sentence is flat.
 .
An excellent FREE and entertaining resource for writers who want to get a grip on clauses, commas, and all that conjunction stuff is:
.
 .
You might want to check it out, it costs nothing and is really easy to understand.

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