May 31, 2019
Grammar is a way of organizing what we know about language so that we can talk about and manipulate this knowledge. Much of our adult knowledge of grammar is intuitive and unconscious, acquired as we learned language as children. By trial and error and by imitation of the adults around us, we learned grammatical structures, how to organize speech to communicate our needs, to ask questions, to name the world. But there is also a conscious aspect to grammar, a reservoir of linguistic understanding that we can access when we speak and write. When we access this conscious information and make conscious choices about sentence form and organization and when we arrange words to create specific effects, we apply grammatical knowledge to create a rhetoric of the sentence. The study of rhetoric concerns the choices that writers make and the effects of these choices upon their readers. Using rhetoric means choosing what to write, how to express our thinking, how to order this expression, and what to emphasize—all within an ethical context. As writers and users of rhetoric, we consciously decide what to write; we determine how to order, arrange, and punctuate our words and sentences so that we can create a response in our audience. Thus, this book addresses not only grammar but grammar within a framework of rhetoric. You will be asked to learn about grammar and also to consider the rhetorical implications of your grammatical choices.
Just as there is more than one way to think about the English language, so there is more than one grammar to describe its structures and its functions. Think of it this way: a grammar is like a supermarket. Go to any supermarket, and you will find certain products in fairly predictable places: the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and the frozen spinach are going to be in the refrigerated cases; the fresh bagels are going to be near the Italian bread; most of the Coca-Cola and Pepsi will be down one aisle; and the pet food and supplies will be down another. Similar grocery products cluster together. That doesn’t mean that you won’t find a kind of product in more than one place in the store (you might find fresh bagels one place, frozen ones another), but it does mean that you can predict with some certainty that fresh green beans will be in the produce section—not with the soda and not with cleaning supplies. You also might find green beans in other parts of the store, according to how they are prepared: canned ones in one place and frozen ones in yet another.
Grammars are like this. Not every grammar is alike (just as every grocery store is slightly different from others), but there are some grammatical principles that operate consistently and predictably, regardless of the kind of grammar we may be discussing. Thus talking about grammar becomes a matter of understanding what things go together, under what circumstances they go together, and why. A grammar* is a way of describing what a language does. Rhetoric* considers the way that grammatical elements (or parts of sentences) work together to create certain effects. If you place a clause at the beginning of a sentence instead of at its end, for instance, you send readers a particular message and you emphasize a specific aspect of your message. But . . . let’s begin with sentence patterns, the major structures into which most English sentences fall.You will read material in this chapter that is very familiiar to most stdundents who pass through the public school system in the United States. But you will also be asked to think about this familiar material in a new way. Take in all this new information; add it to what you already know as a native speaker and nascent student of grammar and the English language. And be patient: although some of the information seems easy, it is more difficult than it looks (and more subtle). Allow yourself the time to be confused, but also think purposefully about the material so that it all begins to gel. By book’s end, you will have a considerably more supple understanding of how to use the language in your writing and speaking.In this chapter, you’ll find a description of the basic ways that English sentences fit together—the patterns* of English—and you’ll think about the effects of using each one.
An important concept underpinning most English grammars is this: that patterns exist in the ways that we speak and write. Over and over the same structures occur, with regularity. One major feature of all English patterns is that English is a verb-medial * language: this means that verbs typically occur in the medial or middle position in the sentence. In English, as in many languages, the verb is the key player in the sentence: the verb determines the pattern of the sentence. So we will pay special attention to verbs as we consider patterns, and we will scrutinize the verb first: the verb is the key to the pattern of the sentence. English has transitive verbs*, linking verbs*, and intransitive* verbs—and a number of patterns for each kind. Let’s look at some basic examples of patterns for each kind of verb.