How do people become first-class craftsmen or designers? They may have a knack or a flair for their work. But almost certainly they have learned a great deal about the materials and the tools they use. By study and experiment they have found out how to achieve the best results, and how to avoid mistakes. Their fine workmanship does not happen of its own accord; it is the outcome of patient attention to detail.
How do people become expert writers and speakers of English? In the first place they take their example from others. But sooner or later they must study the language in detail—the ways in which words and sentences are built, and the rules and customs by which English is governed.
Imagine how difficult it would be to understand lessons in woodwork or domestic science if you did not know the meanings of words such as chisel and omelette. Who ever heard of a chemist who did not know the difference between glycerine and strychnine, or of a railway engine-driver who did not understand the signals ? How could anyone discuss the working of a motor car unless he knew the names of the various parts and how they fit together?
The English language is made up of many parts. There are rules to be obeyed and mistakes to be avoided. For all these there are special names. Unless we are familiar with them we cannot discuss the language intelligently; neither can anyone else explain clearly to us where we may have gone wrong.
In this section on Grammar you will learn many of the most important names and rules that you need to know for the writing and speaking of good English.
PHRASES AND SENTENCES
- If a person says I am going home we know perfectly well what he means, but if he suddenly says On my way home we wait to hear what else he is going to say. I am going home is a sentence, because it makes sense and has a complete meaning. On my way home is not a whole statement, and is called a phrase.
Say which of the following are sentences and which are phrases.
- Down by the bridge
- Peter said nothing
- All the day long
- The sea is salt
- Next to the doctor’s
- Nelson was wounded
- Grass grows
- As cold as ice
- Up the hill he went
- Go to your places
Turn these phrases into sentences by making suitable additions.
- Behind a hedge ….
- On the stroke of twelve ….
- A few days ago ….
- Since yesterday ….
- At the foot of the cliff ….
- In spite of his tiredness ….
- A mile along the road ….
Turn these phrases into sentences by putting not less than four words in front of each.
- …. a most interesting book.
- …. inside the cave.
- …. a horse without a rider.
- …. at the water’s edge.
- …. throughout the day.
- …. at regular intervals.
- It is possible to remove a phrase from each of the following sentences and leave a complete sentence. Write out the sentences that remain when these phrases are removed, and make sure that they convey the main sense of the originals.
EXAMPLE: He sprang to his feet, blazing with anger.
ANSWER: He sprang to his feet.
- She crept into a back seat, late as usual.
- Delighted at our success, we held a party.
- With pieces of string he repaired the net.
- There he stood, hands on hips.
- The men, fearing an explosion, ran for safety.
- Each morning, before breakfast, I go for a swim.
- Re-arrange each of these sentences so that the phrase now at the end is moved near the beginning, with commas before and after it. In the first two sentences the phrases to be moved are printed in italics.
EXAMPLE: This book is not an easy one, even for adults.
ANSWER: This book, even for adults, is not an easy one.
- Every pupil has passed the examination, without exception.
- The fox walked away in disgust, tired of trying to reach the grapes.
- No man could move that boulder, however strong.
- Jim kept one eye open, hoping to see Santa Claus.
- Mary put her head under the clothes, afraid of the thunder and lightning.
- The peasant killed the goose that laid the golden eggs, hoping to get rich quickly.
- How not to do it. Some journalists, trying to appear brisk and conversational, avoid long sentences in which several phrases are separated by commas. They put them between full stops as though they were sentences. For example:
The Government should act now. Before it is too late.
This is thoroughly bad English, and you should not imitate it in your own writing.
Another kind of bad English sometimes used by journalists leaves out the verbs, as we sometimes do in conversation. For example:
Quite a good idea.
In the following extracts from newspaper columns pick out the phrases and parts of sentences that are printed as though they are complete sentences.
- In Cornwall they order another small, privately-owned bus company to raise its fares. So that it will keep in line with the higher fares of the big undertakings. The Government should make up its mind whether it really wants to bring prices down. Or whether that is just talk.
- They came in their thousands to see the great motorway. The week-end driver with the children in the back. The young sports-car enthusiast with his girl friend. And the pedestrians, the cyclists, and the coach parties who thronged the fly-over bridges. They came to pay a spontaneous tribute to the new motorway.
- Fifty thousand pounds is to be spent on tests for the hull of a new America’s Cup challenger. A lot of money to spend before a yacht is even started. But not too much.
- From the Chancellor of the Exchequer, good news. And better advice. Production has risen by eight per cent, in a year. A stable cost of living has been achieved in Britain.
- This man knows what it is like to endure failure and misfortune. Because he has known fame and glory. Ten years ago he was a celebrity. Today he is almost forgotten.
Wright, Walter D. 1961. A Basic Course in English. Digswell Place UK: James Nisbet and Company, pp.vii, 1-2.