Those grammar classes seem like eons ago. Now we’re writers and we’re not as sure as we used to be. Years of exposure to lazy writing and editing by publishers and the media make things sound right, just because we’ve heard them over and over. As an editor, I’m offering some tidbits that I hope will help you refine your writing.
Phrase vs. Clause
A phrase is a group of grammatically related words that does not contain a main verb. T e wards in the phrase act as a unit, usually functioning as a part of speech. For example:
The girl is in school today, but tomorrow she is going to hunt. Notice that ” in school ” and “to hunt” are phrases functioning as adverbs describing a place or activity. “The girl” is a phrase in the sense that the words go together as determiner and noun, but it does not function as a part of speech.
A clause is a group of grammatically related words that does contain a main verb_
Some clauses can stand alone as complete sentences. Such clauses are called main or
independent clauses. For example: The girl is at home today, but tomorrow she is going hunting.
The two clauses in this sentence are “The girl is in school today” and “tomorrow she is going to hunt.” The joining word “but” is simply a connecting word; it does not belong to either clause. Either clause, therefore, can stand alone, expressing a complete thought:
The girl is in school today. (complete thought) Tomorrow she is going to hunt. (complete thought)
Other clauses are prevented from standing alone because they begin with words that limit their meaning, words like because and when. Such clauses are called subordinate or dependent clauses. For example: The boy quit school because he missed too many classes. “The boy quit school” is a complete thought and, therefore, a main clause. “Because he missed too many classes ” is an incomplete thought and, therefore, a subordinate clause. The “because” leaves us wondering what went before.
COMMON ERROR: A common writing fault is to separate two independent clauses with a comma (with no conjunction after it).
INCORRECT: They have a fly casting class here, the students like it.
CORRECT: They have a fly casting class here. The students like it.
CORRECT They have a fly casting class here, and the students like it.
What’s the Object?
As a part of the sentence, an object is a word that receives the action of an action verb. For example, in the sentence The batter hit the ball, the action of hitting has a receiver, ball. The ball receives the action and is, therefore, called the object of the verb.
There are two kinds of objects: direct and indirect. The word that receives the action of the verb is called the direct object. When the direct object is passed indirectly to another receiver, that receiver is the indirect object. For example: My sister writes me long letters.
The direct object is “letters.” The indirect object is “me.” “Letters” receives the action of writing, while “me” receives the letters. One way to tell the two objects apart is that the indirect object usually comes directly after the verb.
Another way to determine which object is which is to ask these questions about the verb:
1. “Writes” what? Answer. “letters,” so direct object.
2. “Writes” to whom or for whom? Answer: “me,” so indirect object
Some verbs that often take indirect objects are: write, send, tell, give, buy, and sell.
Standard forms of this pronoun include: what, which, who, whom, whose. These pronouns are used to introduce questions: What are the odds? Who left the gate open? Which is mine?
NOTE: The subject pronoun “who” has the object form “whom.” It is the pronoun most often misused in the media today.
The tendency for many speakers is to avoid whom altogether and use who as both subject and object. This is no longer viewed as a serious error. However, using whom where the subject form is called for is an error to be avoided at all costs. For example:
ACCEPTABLE: Who are you calling?
CORRECT Whom are you calling?
INCORRECT: Whom is coming with us to the lodge?
CORRECT Who is coming with us to the lodge?
Standard forms of this pronoun are: this, that, these, those. These pronouns are used to stand for a noun and separate it from other entities. For example:
Is this the one you wanted? land me those.
NOTE: Generally speaking, use this and these to indicate items near the speaker, and that and those for items farther away. Notice that demonstrative pronouns replace the noun. The same words – this, that, these, and those – are also used as “demonstrative determiners” or demonstrative adjectives.” For example: This woods is dark. (Here “this” is specifying the noun “woods,” telling us which woods.)
The relative pronouns are that, who, whom, which, where, when, and why. Like other pronouns, the relative pronoun replaces a noun. Like a conjunction, it serves as a joining word
between clauses. For example:
That’s the man who shot my deer.
The word “who” is a relative pronoun. It stands for “man” and it (inks the main clause “That’s the man” to the dependent clause “who shot my deer.”