Thursday, September 18, 2014

Old School 101: Ever See A 100-Word Sentence?

An article posted on Deadspin the other day included this doozy of a sentence:

The more that stooges like [Peter] King beg for Roger Goodell to lead them, the more that players like Dominic Raiola demand that he use a stronger hand against accused criminals, and the more ordinary people look to the NFL to instruct them and their fellow citizens in the difference between right and wrong, the more support they lend to the batshit idea that the NFL is anything but a fundamentally amoral entertainment concern in the business of earning profits for a collection of scumbags and scam artists through the promotion of a corrosive but crowd-pleasing form of sanctioned violence.

This linguistic smorgasbord contains exactly one possessive pronoun, one gerund, one linking verb and one indefinite pronoun (also the lone Predicate Nominative). It additionally utilizes the common conjunction “but” as a preposition one time. Another singularity to be noted in this little gem is the one (and only one) subordinate clause that is used as a noun (specificially, as a direct object).

On the other end of the spectrum, this adventure in grammatical connectivity sports 16 (count ‘em!) prepositional phrases and two infinitive phrases, both used as adverbs and one featuring a compound complement.

Word-count notwithstanding, this is NOT a compound sentence – and no, wise guy, it’s not a run-on either. It’s technically a complex sentence, which by definition is comprised of exactly one independent clause and at least one subordinate clause. The clause that’s independent occupies less than ten percent of the words in the sentence, though there is something a little out of the ordinary about the basic components of this word group.

While the sentence itself is not compound, it does contain four conjunctions and thus has four compound components. A useful but often overlooked convention/requirement for conjunctions is that they always connect similar words or groups of words that are doing the same “job” in the structure of the sentence. The first “and” here joins the three introductory ideas (“the more…”); the next combines a pronoun with a noun, the direct objects of the same verb; the other two conjunctions are found in prepositional phrases, connecting (a) two abstract nouns as objects of the same preposition and (b) two (somewhat contradictory) adjectives describing the object of that preposition.

For all that is to be found in this meandering monstrosity, it completely lacks one of our most common grammatical tools – you’ll find nary a trace of a helping verb in this sentence. Each of the six clauses uses a verb in its present form as a single-word verb phrase. The author does make use of six verbals (participles, gerunds and infinitives), which are verb forms that perform the function of either a noun or a describer in a sentence.

(What makes verbals a little troublesome and a lot useful is that, while they do not require a subject, they retain certain “verb” characteristics. For example, the idea expressed in the infinitive phrase “to instruct them and their fellow citizens in the difference between right and wrong” could be simplified to “for moral instruction.” Of course, the infinitive, its compound complement and pair of prepositional phrases provide a better forum for the tone of this diatribe.)

The organizational logic utilized here is relatively simple cause-and-effect – when thus-and-so show an increase, there will be a consequence, even if the consequence is the sustenance of a “batshit” status quo. Clever parallel construction deftly presents the three-part cause. The short independent clause makes a very direct statement. And the sordid details of this status quo are supplied to us in a 38-word (33 of which live within the confines of a prepositional phrase) subordinate clause describing the noun that is likewise described by that afore-mentioned, semi-profane adjective.

Here’s a little challenge for your grammatical aptitude. Your task is to identify the part of speech for each of these words as they are used in the above sentence. You may use each answer choice only once. Good luck!

__ 1. entertainment  --  (a) noun
__ 2. fundamentally  --  (b) verb
__ 3. like –  © adjective
__ 4. look --  (d) adverb
__ 5. support  --  (e) preposition