Out of the Mouths of Babes

I spend a fair amount of time with my children’s school helping out when I can. I was recently asked to talk to my son’s class as part of a “bring your parent in so the little brats darlings can grill them” exercise.

“What job do you do?” was one of several eager questions thrown at me to which I foolishly replied “I write for a living.” Immediately, there were moans and groans, the spotty oik with the earring exclaimed “BORING!” and Ms F, the young school teacher with the ink not quite dry on her PGCE, suddenly took a closer interest in me which was not a bad thing.

My son looked like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him having fed his school chums on stories of Dad jumping out of planes, landing in a greenhouse in Holland and shooting a monkey with a grenade launcher while liberating the Falklands single handed. Right now I was blowing these myths out of the water and ruining his promo work by telling his mates I was something really boring like a “writer”?

“Better think of something quick sunshine,” I thought to myself, “the natives are distinctly restless!”

In a flash I asked the question:

“Who can tell me what makes a sentence ?”

Nothing but very blank looks including from teacher who was wrapped up in “Units of Sense” methodology for brainwashing educating the little darlings.

I suddenly remembered the Darth Vader line when Luke Skywalker is on his bombing run attacking the Death Star in Star Wars – “I have you now!”

Of course I know what a sentence is !

I’m a professional writer and in any event, I’d looked it up the Friday before while waiting the mandatory hour with others, variously bored and wonder eyed parents as my eldest daughter attended gymnastics class.

Ask yourself if you know what constitutes a sentence?

If you have arrived at the “It starts with a capital and ends with a full stop” stage, congratulations, me too!

Take this example:

“Walk don’t run.”

A phrase we have all heard at some point from school or seen at the swimming pool, but the question is does this constitute a sentence?

The answer to my surprise is, “No!”

Without looking it up ask yourself what a sentence must include to be considered a sentence?

My understanding is there must be three elements for a string of words to be considered a sentence:

  1. a subject;
  2. a finite verb; and
  3. make complete sense.

Fail one of these requirements and you do not have a sentence.

A subject is easy, it is a “thing” or the object upon which the sentence will pivot so for instance:

ERH is a great provider of written content.”

“The table is strong.”

“Your car is very shiny.”

“My house is very cosy and quiet.”

The words in bold are the subjects.

The verbs are fairly simple to pick up on – the “doing words”.

Taking our initial example of “Walk don’t run.” we have a capital first letter, a full stop and a verb however we have no subject and on it’s own, this string of words does not make any sense. It is not a sentence.

This week my son and his school year are taking mock SATS and it’s great to see that the educational grinder is churning out well balanced, comprehensively educated native English speakers and writers, who just like me, will have no idea what actually contitutes a sentence in the English language. That is, unless they are bored beyond belief as their eldest daughter cartwheels and somersaults around the gym.

Before we rush to blame the teachers though, ask yourself if you knew what constituted a sentence beyond the capital and full stop?