At Saint Mary’s Grade School in September 1946, words and I became friends. An earlier posting explained how Sister Mary McCauley invited our fifth-grade class to learn forty-five prepositions. With these prepositions + a noun and a verb we learned to construct and claim sentences.
A second posting detailed how she then introduced us to the other parts of speech. Ultimately, she explained their use in sentences, such as subject, predicate, object of a preposition, direct object, indirect object, predicate nominative. With this information, we built more sentences.
Here’s a sentence describing what I see right now: On her fleece-lined cat bed Maggie snores genteelly. Sister Mary McCauley would explain that this was a simple sentence with one subject—Maggie—and one predicate—snores.
Today I’ll pick up the thread of those two earlier postings by describing how, in sixth grade, I learned about the three types of sentences and their variations. Once again, Sister Mary McCauley used magazine pictures to encourage us to build sentences that later appeared on bulletin boards.
For our picture, we built a web of simple sentences of subject + predicate. Next came compound subjects—Maggie and Ellie snored. Next, compound predicates. Maggie snored and stretched. Finally, compound subjects + compound predicates. We then wrote paragraphs that used the four types of simple sentences we’d learned:
A) one subject + one predicate
B) compound subject + predicate
C) subject + compound predicate
D) compound subject + compound predicate.
Using these letters, Sister Mary McCauley gave us a roadmap for a paragraph. For example: A, B, D, B, A, C, A. Each day she presented us with different magazine photos and a different roadmap.
We then explored compound sentences. Maggie snored and Ellie stretched. Now Sister Mary McCauley began to use the word clause to describe any group of words with a subject and a predicate. Then came roadmaps for paragraph building with the four types of simple sentences + compound sentences and their variations.
In seventh grade, she introduced us to complex sentences and their independent and subordinate clauses: As Maggie snored, her human composed a blog posting. Once again, roadmaps such as S, C, CX, C, S, S, CX. Using that roadmap, let’s write Maggie’s story today.
(S) Maggie sleeps contentedly on my computer desk. (C) Sometimes she snores, but often she settles deeper into the fleece-lined pillow and purrs. (CX) As she snoozes, I soundlessly leave the desk. (C) She’s weary from her dreams and my absence does not disturb her. (S) Then the sound of the can opener reaches Maggie’s finely tuned ears. (S) She leaps from the computer desk and races down the hall. (CX) When she spies the bowl of tangy tuna sitting on the floor, she hunkers down to the business of the day: eating.
By seventh grade, the roadmaps had gotten more complicated and detailed with various kinds of simple, compound, and complex sentences. Thus, did I learn to vary my sentences so as to move a reader quickly or slowly through a story.
Just think of all we know and take for granted as we write. Daily, we sit at our computers and type our postings and comments. The nouns and verbs present themselves to us as subjects and predicates, direct objects, objects of prepositions.
We don’t think about parts of speech or sentence elements; we simply communicate our thoughts in the English syntax. We don’t need to know these names or terms and yet I admit to taking delight in those roadmaps—both in the 1940s and now!
How about you? How did you learn to write so well?
The first three photographs from Wikipedia.