Today we discuss sentence structure, along with one of the Scribe’s favorite sentence elements, objects (direct and indirect). This topic was necessitated by last week’s dismal showing by the Scribe in the Yoda v. Scribe voting—where the readers picked Yoda’s poor sentence structure over the grammatically pure revised sentences offered by the Scribe. Clearly, Yoda’s celebrity status clouded your better judgment.
We begin with sentence structure. The basic elements of a simple English sentence are subject, verb, and object. The subject and object are usually nouns (but sometimes pronouns), and the verb usually follows the subject and identifies an action or a state of being. An object receives the action and usually follows the verb. So the basic structure for most simple sentences is subject-verb-object, e.g., “The Scribe loves baseball.” Other simple sentence structures include subject-verb sentences (“Yoda won.”) and subject-verb-adjective sentences (“Yoda is short.”).
Now let’s talk about objects.
There are two types of objects: direct and indirect. A direct object is a noun or pronoun (a pronoun substitutes for a noun, e.g., she, he, they) that receives the verb’s action or shows the result of an action. Usually, a direct object follows the verb and can be identified by asking who or what received the verb’s action, e.g.,
Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star.
After his failure, Captain Needa apologized to Lord Vader.
The judge granted the motion.
Tom bought a Ferrari.
The rarer form of object is the indirect object—which is a noun or pronoun that describes who is receiving the direct object. For an indirect object to exist, there must be a direct object. (Think of indirect objects as the cheese to the direct object’s macaroni.) An indirect object usually precedes the direct object, is usually found with verbs of “giving” or “communicating” (such as give, bring, tell, show, take, offer), and can be identified by asking who or what received the direct object, e.g.,
While watching “The Empire Strikes Back” last night, I was appalled by the ruthless way in which Yoda butchered the English language. I know, I know . . . Yoda is a Jedi Master, he is really old, and he deserves our respect. But still, someone must stick up for our language—no matter who does the butchering (or how awesome he is with a saber made of pure energy).
As the Scribe has patiently explained before, standard English sentences should follow a subject-verb-object order. (“Ahh . . . father. He was a powerful Jedi. Powerful Jedi.”) But Yoda shifts around sentence elements, generally using an object-subject-verb word order. (“Ahh . . . father. Powerful Jedi was he. Powerful Jedi.”)
So I challenged Yoda to a contest. But the diminutive master of the Force hasn’t responded to my challenge, and I simply haven’t the time to go to Dagobah. Which means that you, my loyal readers, must decide whether you prefer the original Yoda sentences—or the Scribe’s edited version of those sentences. The sentences are set out below, first in Yoda-speak, and then in the Scribe’s revised versions. Using the poll below, vote for Yoda or the Scribe. Before my post next week, I’ll let you know how badly I crushed the little master.
Try not. Do … or do not. There is no try. [Yoda]
Do it . . . or don’t. [Scribe]
Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. [Yoda]
Size is irrelevant. Especially when you have a cool ally like the Force. [Scribe]
Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. [Yoda]
I’ve been training Jedi for 800 years. So I think I’ll go with my opinion about your readiness, not yours. [Scribe]
Decide you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could; but you would destroy all for which they have fought, and suffered. [Yoda]
It’s a tough choice. You can leave and help them—but that would undo everything for which they fought and suffered. [Scribe]
Look I so old to young eyes? When 800-years-old you reach, look as good you will not. [Yoda]
You won’t look so good when you’re 800, youngster. [Scribe]
I spent last Monday in Seattle, and was struck by a sense of loneliness. Birds singing for a mate. Lovely, intelligent restaurant servers hoping for a date. And my thoughts turned to sentences that leave out strong verbs. So here I am, writing about nominalizations.
There are many kinds of nominalizations, but this week we discuss the use of nouns that contain within them a buried verb (usually followed by a weak verb). These vague, abstract nouns do the work of a strong verb—which leaves the verb home, alone, and without a date. *Sigh* Worse yet, the resulting sentence is likely to confuse (and annoy) your reader. Consider these examples:
An evaluation was undertaken as an investigation of the process by which common law evolves. [Bad nominalization.]
We evaluated the process by which common law evolves. [Good sentence.]
Stephen had a discussion with the judge concerning premises liability law. [Bad nominalization.]
Stephen discussed premises liability law with the judge. [Good sentence.]
A re-examination of the caselaw led the judge to a reconsideration of the summary judgment motion. [Bad nominalization.]
After re-examining the caselaw, the judge reconsidered the summary judgment motion. [Good sentence.]
The lesson here? If you want to make your sentences more clear and concise, choose a verb over a nominalization. Oh, and be sure to tip your server so she’s not broke and alone!