The English Sentence


   "Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary English sentence - which is a noble thing." Winston Churchill, A Roving Commission, My Early Life (1930).

   This little book has but a single purpose - that of presenting in a simple and logical manner the structure of the English sentence. The study of grammar should do more than help one avoid such technical errors as are commonly called "bad grammar" - those comparatively minor offenses against language etiquette, such as between you and I, he don't, it is me, taller than him. Such offenses are by no means the worst anyway, for they are committed only against form. The teaching, therefore, of miscellaneous scraps of grammar (so-called "functional" grammar) in the hope of preventing or correcting such faults, only scratches the surface of what may be realized from an orderly and thorough study of the sentence; for the greatest offenses against expression are vagueness, inadequacy, and feebleness - offenses committed by those who have not learned, either from language environment and experience or by deliberate language study, to marshal the full powers of the sentence.

   The plan of these studies adheres consistently to two basic principles: it teaches by example rather than by rule, and it presents one new thing at a time with a cumulative review. This method of teaching by the concrete is commonly accepted as the best method of presenting knowledge to pupils, and it is the only method by which the study of language can be made a living thing. The presentation of one new thing at a time has marked pedagogical advantages. It throws stress upon the new point of interest by singling it out, and it makes the new point of interest more readily understood by keeping it clear of unfamiliar structural context. The cumulative review provides continuous drill, a device vitally essential to any method of teaching grammar to younger students; and it keeps a constant check upon the pupil's progress.

   As to the arrangement of material, the plan departs somewhat from the traditional by making an extended study of the simple sentence before introducing the complex and the compound sentence. This plan is followed, not only because it is logical, but because experience has shown that pupils understand clauses and the articulation of clauses much more readily if they are thoroughly familiar with the structure of the simple sentence; for the complex and the compound sentence are structurally nothing more than two or more simple sentences articulated according to the demands of the thought to be expressed.

   This work starts out succinctly elementary, to be begun, if taken slowly, as low as the seventh grade; and it is sufficiently advanced in the latter part of Part One and throughout Part Two, which is a more advanced treatment of constructions introduced in Part One, to meet the standard normally expected of the entering college freshman.
- Benjamin Null







Return to the English Sentence