This is my third week in a row writing about clauses. This is the last week. I promise. As I said last week, one secret of clear writing is to express action in clauses. But in our campaign for clarity, some clauses are more useful than others. Independent clauses and adverb clauses express action directly, whereas adjective and noun clauses are more likely to tuck action away.
I’m going to try to make this discussion as un-technical as I can. Wish me luck.
There are four kinds of clauses:
- independent clauses
- adverb clauses
- adjective clauses
- noun clauses
An independent clause, or main clause, can stand alone as a sentence. Here are two independent clauses:
- The squirrel raids my bird feeder.
- I am sad.
They discuss writer’s block as a form of decision fatigue, the demand on our attention created by unmade decisions, the problematic desire “to be great,” how her training as a sign language interpreter has made her a better listener, and what a difference can be made by merely investing in our aspirations to write.
In last week’s letter, I wrote about all the ways one might communicate action in a sentence besides the subject-verb nexus. As I suggested last week, participial phrases, infinitive phrases, nominalizations, nominative absolutes, gerunds, subordinate clauses, and other grammatical structures can be an efficient way to include extra information in a sentence beyond the main clause. However, clauses–especially independent clauses and adverb clauses–enjoy a privileged status. So I am devoting this week’s letter to clauses.
Who Did What?
Every time a reader encounters a sentence, he is looking to answer one question: Who did what? He may be looking for other information as well, but he always want to know who did what. And who did what (or who is being what) is the essence of every clause. The subject-verb nexus is the sine qua non of every clause, and the clause is the sine qua non of every sentence. Every clause, independent or dependent, has a subject and a verb. That’s about as fundamental as grammar gets.
Jonathan Rogers loved Matt Conner’s interview with Jericho Brown so much that he wants you to hear it, too. Jericho Brown won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection The Tradition and is one of America’s great literary geniuses.
Originally aired on The Resistance Podcast, Matt and Jericho discuss the necessarily conflictive posture of the poet as one who speaks truth to a culture he must also inhabit. Jericho’s work has called him to become both insider and outsider, and it’s taken a special kind of resilience to follow that call.
You can follow The Resistance wherever you listen to podcasts.
They discuss Flannery O’Connor’s early-onset fascination with with birds and the ways O’Connor’s birds taught her how people react to strangeness; how Amy’s father taught her to love mathematics; and the ways in which both math and writing invite the discovery of a happiness that was there before you found it.
This week, Jonathan Rogers talks with Michael Ward, C. S. Lewis scholar and author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. They discuss Michael’s surprising thesis about the Narnia books, the medieval notion of the “music of the spheres,” and the necessity of allusivity in communicating theological reality. Find out more about Michael Ward’s work at MichaelWard.net.
In this episode, Jonathan and Scott discuss the difference between being for and being against, why we’ve recently seen such a renewed interest in Fred Rogers, writing as an instrument of peace, and how gentleness can survive in a world that has made hostility into an asset.
Jonathan Rogers talks with Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well and Booked. They discuss common mistakes in how we read classic literature, the vaster meaning of the word “comedy,” the excellent new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, and the difference between portrayal and endorsement in art.