Sequential Phrase Grammar


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Thread: Sequential Phrase Grammar

  1. #1

    Sequential Phrase Grammar

    There's a primitive grammar of sequences of phrases. I don't know how to discuss it, but . . .

    If a writer writes a sequence of phrases, where the commas divide the sentence up into phrases, the reader can read the first phrase, then the second, then the third, and the reader might not understand the underlying grammar, and there doesn't even have to be a correct underlying grammar, and most readers won't notice or mind the lack of grammar, readers will just understand the sequence of phrases.

    I started out realizing that's what happens in the long sentences by Dickens. Then I realized it explained the writing of authors like Rollins and Brown (and many others). I mean, I spent more than a month trying to understand the rules they were following for their commas, then had the aha moment that they simple weren't doing any complicated grammar at all.
    His lips moved, his tongue thick. (Crichton)
    Francisco grabbed the bole of a jungle sapling, struggling not to fall. (Rollins)
    I stopped looking down on this style when I found sentences like that in my action scenes. And my favorite book used sequential phrases for a long sentence. I discovered that if writing annoyed me, I could turn off my grammar judge and enjoy the content.

    And there's more, but I'm talking to myself. If you already knew this, I'm impressed. If you think this is crazy, I'm sympathetic, but it makes sense of a lot of things.
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  2. #2
    Yeah, it took me a little while to locate and analyse what was going on with these two sentences.

    Definitely for the second one, I would say the link is in line with it and my current understanding. With the first one, perhaps you could view it as being equivalent to something like 'his lips moved, his tongue being concurrently in a state of thickness' or even 'possessing a thick tongue, his lips moved'. If you were to do that, I'd say the first sentence is also in line with the link.

    http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/participlephrase.htm

    I'm not sure. I'd be interested to see what you or others think.

  3. #3
    Francisco grabbed the bole of a jungle sapling, struggling not to fall.
    I don't have an issue with this. Participle phrases are great. There's a lot of discussion about making sure the ongoing action (participle phrase, e.g. struggling not to fall) is something that can't conflict with the main tense of the clause (e.g., grabbed). So no going:

    Running, he stopped by the door. (He can't run and stop at the same time).

    Participle phrase are infinitive, so express ongoing actions; it's nothing to do with tense. It just shows an action that's ongoing with the tense/action in the main clause.

    But you can use:

    Thinking quick, he grabbed the sapling. (mental process v material (action) e.g., you can think and grab something)

    However, people stand two sides of the fence here. Some publishers don't like the "Running, he stopped" usage. Some linguists say readers process the information without you having to be so explicit with detail. E.g., you don't have to write: Running, he [then] stopped...

    I love the latter argument, as readers process the 'and then' without being guided by the authors. They don't need to be spoon fed. The same can be said with:
    His lips moved, his tongue thick.
    Readers make the connection without the added function words, etc. being inserted.

    But you'll always get fevered arguments, for and against. I'd like to think readers are smart, and they can interact and fill in the action sequences. On the flip side, I don't like relying on participle phrases too much. Like with everything else, too much, and it dilutes the story and forces the reader to focus on the words.
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  4. #4
    WF Veteran Riis Marshall's Avatar
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    Hello Emma

    Your examples from Crichton and Rollins make perfect sense to me, I use them all the time.

    And, no, I've never thought through the formal grammar for these, they just seem to work.

    This is a great thread that speaks to our individual styles and how to establish a mood and a rhythm for a particular scene. Let's keep it going.

    All the best with your writing.

    Warmest regards
    Riis
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Aquilo View Post
    I don't have an issue with this. Participle phrases are great. There's a lot of discussion about making sure the ongoing action (participle phrase, e.g. struggling not to fall) is something that can't conflict with the main tense of the clause (e.g., grabbed). So no going:

    Running, he stopped by the door. (He can't run and stop at the same time).

    Participle phrase are infinitive, so express ongoing actions; it's nothing to do with tense. It just shows an action that's ongoing with the tense/action in the main clause.

    But you can use:

    Thinking quick, he grabbed the sapling. (mental process v material (action) e.g., you can think and grab something)

    However, people stand two sides of the fence here. Some publishers don't like the "Running, he stopped" usage. Some linguists say readers process the information without you having to be so explicit with detail. E.g., you don't have to write: Running, he [then] stopped...

    I love the latter argument, as readers process the 'and then' without being guided by the authors. They don't need to be spoon fed. The same can be said with:


    Readers make the connection without the added function words, etc. being inserted.

    But you'll always get fevered arguments, for and against. I'd like to think readers are smart, and they can interact and fill in the action sequences. On the flip side, I don't like relying on participle phrases too much. Like with everything else, too much, and it dilutes the story and forces the reader to focus on the words.
    Thanks, Aquilo. It is refreshing to see someone discuss an 'Advanced Writing' topic and actually use the proper terminology. Too often in these discussions posters tend to invent terminology for grammatical structures and concept that already exist.

    There are common 'rules' for comma usage, but those rules exist only to help make the written language more clear. What it all really comes down to is the need for that clarity -- a comma is nothing more than a pause and exists to allow the writer to insert pauses where he/she chooses to make the words flow in the manner the author had in mind. They are a powerful tool to help our writing 'sound' the way we want it to. In the examples given, the authors clearly had pace and flow in mind when they wrote them the way they did. There is no wrong or right way to do that -- there is only effective and ineffective.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Aquilo View Post
    I don't have an issue with this. Participle phrases are great. There's a lot of discussion about making sure the ongoing action (participle phrase, e.g. struggling not to fall) is something that can't conflict with the main tense of the clause (e.g., grabbed). So no going:

    Running, he stopped by the door. (He can't run and stop at the same time).

    Participle phrase are infinitive, so express ongoing actions; it's nothing to do with tense. It just shows an action that's ongoing with the tense/action in the main clause.

    But you can use:

    Thinking quick, he grabbed the sapling. (mental process v material (action) e.g., you can think and grab something)

    However, people stand two sides of the fence here. Some publishers don't like the "Running, he stopped" usage. Some linguists say readers process the information without you having to be so explicit with detail. E.g., you don't have to write: Running, he [then] stopped...

    I love the latter argument, as readers process the 'and then' without being guided by the authors. They don't need to be spoon fed. The same can be said with:


    Readers make the connection without the added function words, etc. being inserted.

    But you'll always get fevered arguments, for and against. I'd like to think readers are smart, and they can interact and fill in the action sequences. On the flip side, I don't like relying on participle phrases too much. Like with everything else, too much, and it dilutes the story and forces the reader to focus on the words.

    Staggering to his feet, he pictured his three murdered brethren.
    Perhaps he could be staggering to his feet as he pictured them. But I think Brown didn't mean that. I think he meant that the MC staggered to his feet and then pictured his murdered brethren. The exact same for Rollins'

    Panting, Francisco leaned his hands on his scraped knees.
    You can call those introductory phrases, but that isn't how they were meant. You can call them adverbially phrases, but they aren't modifying the verb.

    Of course they're okay to write, because we all understand sequences of phrases. If you think of these writers as writing sequences of phrases, it all makes easy sense. That's one of the things I'm trying to say.

    And if you want to try to be grammatical about these authors, the difficulties just will not stop.

    In the sand, some of the three-toed bird tracks were small, and so faint they could hardly be seen. (Crichton)


    He had his slippers on, and a loose bedgown, and his throat was bare for his greater ease. (Dickens)
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    There are common 'rules' for comma usage, but those rules exist only to help make the written language more clear. What it all really comes down to is the need for that clarity -- a comma is nothing more than a pause and exists to allow the writer to insert pauses where he/she chooses to make the words flow in the manner the author had in mind. They are a powerful tool to help our writing 'sound' the way we want it to. In the examples given, the authors clearly had pace and flow in mind when they wrote them the way they did. There is no wrong or right way to do that -- there is only effective and ineffective.
    Sometimes. We use a comma to separate items of a list, closely related adjectives, two independent clauses, appositives, and introductory phrases. If these commas looked different, they would help us organize complicated sentences. But they don't look different.

    And when there's too many of them, or in too many roles, they "degenerate" into just what you said -- breaking up a sentence into parts. And when all they do is break a sentence into parts, all you have for grammar is a sequence of phrases.

    My example from Dickens is below. Yes, we writers can figure out the grammar, perhaps with some study, and even work out the function of each comma. The casual reader will not perceive the underlying grammar of this sentence. Yet they can understand it as a sequence of phrases, broken up by commas.

    He had that rather wild, strained, seared marking about the eyes, which may be observed in all free livers of his class, from the portrait of Jeffries downward, and which can be traced, under various disguises of Art, through the portraits of every Drinking Age.
    English is a good language for people who like to be creative and expressive, not for people who want words to fit into boxes and stay there.

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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post

    Staggering to his feet, he pictured his three murdered brethren.
    Perhaps he could be staggering to his feet as he pictured them. But I think Brown didn't mean that. I think he meant that the MC staggered to his feet and then pictured his murdered brethren. The exact same for Rollins'
    Which is the linguist argument on processing sequence. But from a grammar point of view, there's no escaping that 'staggering to his feet' is ongoing action, so he's doing one whilst thinking of the other. Compare: staggering to his, he pictured... v 'After he staggered to his feet, he pictured...' But the confusion can come in with: Staggering to his feet, he walked over to... (two actions).

    You can call those introductory phrases, but that isn't how they were meant. You can call them adverbially phrases, but they aren't modifying the verb.
    They're participle phrases because they're showing ongoing action that's loosely tied to the main tense found in the main clause. The comma shows that loose tie. The gerund gives a participle noun status: smoking is one of he main killers. Yet if you look at past progressive aspect, "he was walking along", both the past tense and participle usage show a similar relationship between the the participle phrase and tense found in the main clause: Walking to the shops, he thought... (past tense, but an ongoing action)

    Change tense, the participle stays the same:

    Walking to the shops, he thinks
    Walking to the shops, he thought

    And the same with progressive aspect:

    He was walking
    He is walking

    So it becomes termed a 'participle infinitive phrase' because it uses 1) a participle, 2) it shows infinitive action, 3) it has other elements (objects, compliments etc that make up a phrase). Introductory phrases themselves cover an umbrella of phrases:

    Appositive phrase: The children screaming and running, the woman hid under the covers.
    Prepositional: In the back yard, they
    Participle infinitive phrase: hopping along, they
    Participle phrase: A renowned woman, Jessy would often

    But they all do they same thing, which is mostly add supplementary material to the main clause that sets or introduces the scene.

    Of course they're okay to write, because we all understand sequences of phrases. If you think of these writers as writing sequences of phrases, it all makes easy sense. That's one of the things I'm trying to say.
    No, I was saying how some grammarians and some publishers don't allow the 'Running, he stopped' participle usage, so some aren't okay to use by them. That sometimes grammar is taken literally by some (he can't run and stop together), when, most times, like yourself, the sequencing can be worked out by the reader.

    And if you want to try to be grammatical about these authors, the difficulties just will not stop.
    Agreed. Yet to look at why sentences like the above work, it needs to be broken down into grammatical terms to find out what exactly each word is doing and how it relates to the words that follow (form and function).
    Last edited by Aquilo; February 16th, 2016 at 11:35 PM.
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  9. #9
    I think we are agreeing? All of the sentences above, and the one below are clear and easy to read. That's one of my points.

    The second bullet CRACKLES off the wall to my right, shocking me, I trip and almost fall, bouncing clumsily against the left wall.
    To grammatically analyze "His lips moved, his tongue thick." misses the point that it doesn't matter -- no one objected to this sentence.

    I thought, and think, that a long sentence has to be grammatically simple. What happens if you write a long sentence that is sequential phrases and perhaps a very difficult grammar? No problem? What happens if you write a long sentence that is grammatically flawless but violates sequential grammar. The one below has problems, even though I find it easier to discern the grammar of the second sentence.

    But I woke up a bit when my parents came in, crying and kissing my face repeatedly, and I reached up for them and tried to squeeze, but my everything hurt when I squeezed, and Mom and Dad told me that I did not have a brain tumor, but that my headache was caused by poor oxygenation, which was caused by my lungs swimming in fluid, a liter and half (!!!!) of which had been successfully drained from my chest, which was why I might feel a slight discomfort in my side, where there was, hey look at that, a tube that went from my chest into a plastic bladder half full of liquid that for all the world resembled my dad's favorite amber ale.
    A single microscopic bacterium, too small to see with the naked eye, but containing the genes for a heart-attack enzyme, streptokinase, or for "ice minus," which prevented frost damage to crops, might be worth five billion dollars to the right buyer.
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  10. #10
    While I don't want to get hung up on participles, they are interesting. Using 9 of them in their first two pages, Brown and Rollins like them. (But apparently not in dialogue -- no one talks that way?) Evanovich is very concerned with readers understanding the underlying grammar so she contrasts nicely to Rollins and Brown. She has two participial phrases on her first page but the next one I could find was page 22.

    Aquilo, my understanding is that some people object, for grammatical reasons, to:

    Arriving at the gate, he slid under, exited the Grand Gallery, and ....
    Pushing Sophie from his mind, Fauche started for a moment at the miniature knight on Sauniere's desk.
    Shoving off the tree, Francisco set off once again down the trail, stumbling and weaving.
    But once you call the participial phrase an adjective, is the problem gone?

    What about when the participial phrase is as the end of the sentence and modifies the subject?

    The curator lay for a moment, gasping for breath, taking stock.
    "I told you already" the curator stammered, kneeling defenseless on the floor of the gallery.
    English is a good language for people who like to be creative and expressive, not for people who want words to fit into boxes and stay there.

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