Sentence Patterns: Part 4 of 4

by F.

And now, the rest: 16-20. If you’re just joining us, Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here. OK. Ready?

16. Outside on the lawn, the prairie dog took off his sunglasses.

This sentence has a prepositional phrase before the subject and verb. Sometimes you can omit the comma: “After a night of binge drinking he never felt good.” If the prepositional phrase is short, the reader probably doesn’t need a comma.

17. This sort of aggression I cannot abide.

Here we have inversion. The object or complement comes before the subject and the verb. The more natural way to say this sentence would be: “I cannot abide this sort of aggression.” Inverting it gives it special emphasis. It also sounds odd. Like Yoda: “Impatient you are, young Skywalker.” It sounded sort of funny in Empire Strikes Back (which was the intended effect), and it sounds no less funny in most writing. This sort of sentence I do not like.

18. Just as Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi Tree, so too did my cat become enlightened while meditating under an arboreal canopy.

This is a paired construction. These come in various flavors: “Not only…, but also,” “The former…, the latter,” “If not…, at least,” and others, too.

19. Why the prairie dog sat under the tree and meditated I’ll never know.

This is a dependent clause as subject or object or complement. In other words, it’s a dependent clause playing another role. The dependent clause above is “Why the prairie dog sat under the tree.” This clause is the object of “know:” I’ll never know why the prairie dog sat under the tree and meditated. You can also have the dependent clause play the role of subject, as in: “Who shot Frank the prairie dog remains a mystery.” The dependent clause is the subject of the verb “remains.” Dependent clauses in these sorts of sentences begin with words like who, whom, which, that, what, why, where, when, and how.

20. The prairie dog, having tired of evangelical Christianity, turned to Buddhism for consolation.

This sentence has an absolute construction in the middle of it. It’s a little like a deer that that has been swallowed by a python: it sits there like a lump in the middle of the sentence. Now, it doesn’t have to sit in the middle: “Having tired of evangelical Christianity, the prairie dog…” Or it could go at the end: “The prairie dog turned to Buddhism for consolation, having tired of evangelical Christianity.” What is “absolute” here? Well, the idea is that the absolute construction (“…having tired of…”) has no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence. It stands alone. It is connected by meaning, but not by grammar (subject, verb, object, complement—stuff like that).

And that’s 20. However, now I must reveal a secret. I departed from The Art of Styling Sentences a little and, because of that, left one type off my list: the short sentence, including the fragment. Here are some examples:

  • We talked.
  • Shit. Not again.
  • Why now?

The first example is a complete sentence, with subject and verb. The others aren’t. But they can work. Nicely. Not for formal writing, these sentences. But they can work in conversational prose. Don’t you think?