Scramble the Sentence Structure
By Martin Wiles
Before I learned to read, Mom, Dad, and my grandparents read books to me from one of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss.
And what kid in those days didn’t love the rhyme and rhythm of Dr. Seuss’ writings? I took my 1960 edition of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish from one of my bookshelves for this writing and relived the joy I must have felt when Mom read, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Black fish, blue fish, old fish, new fish.”
When I learned to read, I craved the simple yet quirky words and sentences of a Dr. Seuss book. I collected every book Mom and Dad would buy me. What happened to them, I’m not sure, but when I hit mid-life, I wanted them again. I grabbed them up from thrift stores and antique stores or bought new copies and read them to my grandchildren.
In first grade in my day, teachers introduced students to the Dick and Jane series. Before writing this article, I pulled my 1956 edition of The New Fun with Dick and Jane from the same shelf as my Dr. Seuss book, opened it to the first page, and read what I must have learned to read as a first-grader. “Dick said, ‘Look, look. Look up. Look up, up, up.’ Jane said, ‘Run, run. Run, Dick, run. Run and see.’”
When I was a preschooler and first grader, I relished the simple sentences of subject, verb, and adverb. Complete thoughts were short and to the point. And who can forget the hand-drawn pictures that accompanied those brief sentences?
But as a teenager or an adult, who wants to read an entire book full of such sentences? Although I might occasionally read them for nostalgic purposes, I wouldn’t select them for my daily reading list.
As an English teacher for middle and high schoolers, I teach my students to vary their sentence structure so they don’t write papers that read like a Dr. Seuss or Dick and Jane book. One of the ways I instruct them to do this entails summoning the verbals.
Verbals come in three varieties: gerunds, participles, and infinitives. All are verb forms but don’t serve as a verb in the sentence. Rather, they serve as adjectives, adverbs, and nouns. Knowing how to use them gives us writers an arsenal of ammunition to scramble our sentence structures, making our writing better in the process. After all, variety is the spice of life—and it is in writing too.For example, consider the verb run. Knowing verbals, and how to expand them into phrases, allows us to talk about running in numerous ways that say the same thing yet with different approaches. Check out the variety.
- I run because I love it.
- Running is enjoyable.
- To run is enjoyable.
- I love to run.
- Running along the trail, I had fun.
- I had fun running along the trail.
- I love running.
English may be one of the most difficult languages to learn, but when we master the art of scrambling our sentence structure, we’ll be better writers, our readers will be better readers, and we’ll likely attract more readers (and publishers) because we have demonstrated the beauty of variety. So go ahead. Scramble away.
(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, David Castillo Dominici, and ankris.)
Martin Wiles is the founder of Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com) and serves as Managing Editor for Christian Devotions and as a copy editor for Courier Publishing. He has authored six books and has been published in numerous publications. He is a freelance editor, English teacher, author, and pastor.