Friday, February 27, 2009

Use S-V-O and write stronger sentences.

If you are learning to write English as a second language (or know the language and just want to write it better), pay attention to sentence patterns and you will write with more clarity.

English sentences rely heavily on the Subject-Verb-Object pattern. Look at any newspaper on any day and you'll see the pattern at work: "Obama asks for trillions", "Republicans want concessions", "A-Rod admits steroid use", and so on. Those that deviate from this pattern risk losing clarity.

Look at how pattern dictates meaning. If you change the position of the words, "Dog" and "Man" in the following sentence, you change the meaning completely: "Dog bites man" becomes "Man bites dog", same words but certainly different meanings, although the pattern remains the same. This isn't true for all languages.

We talked yesterday about Latin. Let me invite you into this beautiful language again, this time with the Christian prayer, "Our Father." This well known prayer reads as follows in Latin:

"Pater noster, qui es in caelis: sanctificetur nomen tuum: adveniat regnum tuum: fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie: et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem. Sed libera nos a malo."

"Pater" means "father", of course (ala "paternalism"). We all get that. And, as we said in the last post, "caelis" means "heaven." You may guess that "nomen" means name, especially if you know the prayer, that is, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." Now, look at the next part of the prayer, "adveniat regnum tuam." You may surmise that "regnum" has to do with "kingdom" (as in "regal") and you'd be right. But, it's the pattern of the language that's telling.

Latin depends, not on pattern and word placement, but on case endings. If you translate "adveniat regnum tuum" to English, it reads, "comes kingdom your." If you want to know the meaning, you need to know the case endings. Not true in English. You need only understand the patterns, and the power of the verbs. If you use the Subject-Verb-Object pattern and also keep the subject and verb close together, you will write solid, easy-to-understand sentences.

Those of you who use a language that depends on case endings, watch for sentence patterns in English. And, those of you who write English as your first language, use the sentence pattern S-V-O to write stronger sentences.

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