“C” is for Clauses

decorative-letter-c Clauses are like trains. You have the locomotive or principal/main clause to which you can add a number of carriages or subordinate/dependent clauses. The locomotive can run on its own as does the main clause, but the carriages need to be attached to a locomotive, and these are the dependent clauses. Sometimes a train has two or more locos to pull a heavier load of carriages. You can also have what are called coordinate clauses that can each stand on their own but add to the information conveyed. They must be joined by a conjunction, such as ‘and’, ‘but’, or ‘or’.

Examples: The letters are typed and the files are in order.

I have finished the research but (I) have not written the report.

Each of these coordinate clauses can stand on their own.

There are three main types of subordinate clauses — Adjectival, adverbial and noun clauses.

As the name suggests, an adjectival clause performs the function of an adjective, adding meaning to a noun or pronoun. You can usually recognise adjectival clauses as they begin with one of the relative pronouns who, whom, whose, which or that.

Examples: The car, which he had bought for his son, was green.

The farmer, whose crop was wheat, went bankrupt.

The team that came last in the competition were not pleased.

Note in these examples that the main clause has been split by the adjectival clause. If you remove the adjectival clause, the sentence will still stand on its own, however the subordinate clauses cannot stand on their own. The noun that each adjectival clause qualifies is called the antecedent, and in these instances are car, farmer and team.

Again, like its namesake, an adverbial clause performs the function of an adverb and can be thought to answer questions like ‘when?’, ‘where?’, ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ and in order are adverbial clauses of time, place, manner and reason.

The examples given are: I arrived before the bank opened.

Helen went where she wouldn’t be disturbed.

Nick hid the biscuits as quickly as he could.

The car skidded because the road was covered with ice.

A noun clause, therefore, performs the function of a noun, acting as a subject or object. It appears similar to an adjectival clause, using the same subordinating conjunctions, but instead of splitting the main clause, it extends the function of the subject or object noun.

The examples given are: That he had the operation was news to me.

She told me (that) he needed an operation.

I soon learnt what I should do.

Nick knew who was behind all the trouble.

When you add a subordinate clause to a main clause, you create a complex sentence. You can add a number of these subordinate clauses, but there will be a point where it becomes unwieldly, like a person talking for a long time without taking a breath to pause. They add breadth and volume to a sentence that will otherwise be lost in a staccato of simple sentences. They link up thoughts and actions, creating movement and flow.

The examples and source of the information for this blog post are derived from the Guide to grammar at the back of the Macquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary (The Signature Edition), published 2011 by Australia’s Heritage Publishing Pty Ltd, Sydney.





‘B’ is for brackets

BletterMy reference for this blog is The Cambridge Guide to English Usage by Pam Peters. Brackets come in various types for a host of different jobs. The most common brackets, of course, are the ones referred to with the fancy word Parentheses ( ) or simply “round brackets”. These enclose the parenthesis or parenthetical comment which basically breaks down to an aside that is inserted into a sentence but is not needed for the sentence to make sense. However, the comment may add some useful information about the topic discussed immediately before the opening bracket. A pair of commas or dashes can also be used instead of the brackets in many instances. The guide goes into the debate about the use of these forms, but I will try to keep it as simple as possible in this blog.

Parentheses (besides being used like this) can also be applied to:

* enclose optional additions to a word, when the author wants to allow for alternative interpretations or applications of a statement. For example: The topic(s) for the assignment will be discussed in class. Note that in this instance there is no space between the word and the optional “s”.

* enclose numbers or enumerative letters (letters used instead of a number). Within text they will have brackets on either side: (1), (2) etc., but in the margin the second bracket is enough: a)

* enclose a whole sentence which forms a parenthesis within a paragraph.

* provide for author-date references.

The second type of brackets are square brackets [ ] which are conventionally used in prose to indicate editorial additions to the text, whether they explain, correct, or just comment on it. Square brackets are also used in mathematics and in linguistics.

Another form of brackets in use with maths and linguistics are braces { } or simply “curly brackets”.  I will not go into detail about these forms of brackets as they are not usually seen in general prose writing.

Slash brackets / /, also called diagonal brackets or “slashes” are commonly used to separate numbers in a date. They also find a place in linguistics.

One form of brackets that I am not familiar with is the Angle bracket 〈 〉, which (you guessed it!) is used in maths and linguistics.

Punctuation in association with brackets (parentheses) depends on the structure of the sentence around it. If the sentence would usually have a comma after the word immediately before the inserted comment, then the comma will be placed immediately after the closing bracket. Similarly, if the sentence ends immediately before the inserted comment, then the full stop will appear immediately after the closing bracket. However, if the bracketed comment stands as an independent sentence, then it will occur after the full stop, and in this instance contain a full stop just before the closing bracket. (I hope you are not confused.)

The other thing to remember about the comment within the bracket is that the first word will be in lower case unless (as in my example above) it is a standalone sentence, or it contains the title or name of something that would normally be capped.

You have now completed my crash course on brackets.


‘A’ is for Agreement

LetterAI have decided to go through the alphabet of grammar, starting with (of course) ‘A’. AGREEMENT is one of a number of English grammar terms that only English teachers, editors and serious writers will know well. However, it is an important aspect of grammar that ensures that singular nouns “agree” with singular pronouns, plural nouns with plural pronouns, and similarly subjects “agree” with their verbs. Let me begin with noun and pronoun agreement.

It is simple to say The woman took some money out of her purse. The noun woman agrees with the pronoun her, as both are singular. But consider the following example: The average Australian likes to watch his or her sport. The unspecified gender means the writer is obliged to use a clumsy his or her for agreement, but often writers will go against agreement and put their instead. This is ungrammatical, but one way around it is to use the plural noun instead, resulting in The average Australians like to watch their sport. 

Another grey area arises with collective nouns such as the name of a team, and words such as flock, crowd and so on. Usually, they are treated as singular entities and therefore take singular pronouns and verbs in agreement. However, if the writer wishes to point out actions of the individuals in the group, a plural agreement may be used. But you would not say The crowd made his or her objections known. Rather you would put The crowd made its objections known, or it would be allowable to put The crowd made their objections known if there were varying objections among individuals in the crowd.

Singular subjects must also take singular verbs, and plural subjects take plural verbs. The words every, everyone, none and each are treated as singular and therefore take singular verbs, although the exception is none where the object of the sentence will determine whether a singular or plural verb is used. For example: None of the dogs have spots or None of the dogs has a spot.

The singular agreement rule also applies when you use either/or, neither/nor and or when there is a comparison made between two singular subjects.

For this blog on Agreement, I referred to Clear Writing — A guide to current grammar and usage by Carol Manners.