By Expert Author Request: Keep an Eye Out for Your Subject and Predicate!
Syntax (in language) is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed, structurally rich sentences. Poor syntax is one of the most unnerving errors for any writer and it can cause a chain reaction of misdirecting confusion.
Here’s an example of poor syntax one Expert Author gave:
There is a bottle of milk on the table that belongs in the refrigerator.
In this sentence, the table evidently belongs in the refrigerator. Here’s the sentence again with clearer syntax:
On the table, there is a bottle of milk that belongs in the refrigerator.
Depending on the placement (and even word choice), the meaning can completely change, which can wreak havoc on your intention. Sometimes it’s best to take a step back and simplify the sentence: Know the subject (or subjects) and the predicate.
The subject is the person, place, thing, or idea that the sentence is about. The predicate tells the reader about the subject (what the subject is doing, etc.).
Fred and his pet badger run on the trail every afternoon.
To identify the subject or subjects, we find the verb of the sentence. In this example, the verb is “run.” Who ran? Fred and the badger (our subjects) ran. Therefore the predicate is “run on the trail every afternoon.”
Next time you’re proofreading, watch out for lumbering syntax errors that don’t clearly identify the subject like the examples below.
Walter Cotton is the proud possessor of a brand-new convertible car and also a new wife, having traded the old one for a liberal allowance.
Traded in his wife?! What he meant to say …
Having traded his old car for a liberal allowance, Walter Cotton and his new wife are the proud possessors of a brand-new convertible car.
Don’t Mind If I Do …
Children should have their parents look at their Halloween treats before eating them.
Somewhere, a child sobbed as they watched their parents eat all of their Halloween treats. Or it was much worse – the child ate their parents! This might clear things up:
Parents should inspect all Halloween candy before allowing their children to eat the treats.
Is That Legal?
I have a wife and three kids, all under the age of 12.
Legalities aside, the reproductive biology of the above statement isn’t quite logically sound. What the speaker intended to say …
My wife and I have three kids who are under the age of 12.
As you can see in the above examples, lack of clarity and perception of the information can often wreak havoc on the author or speaker’s intention. Next time you’re proofreading your articles, make sure every sentence clearly identifies your subject (of course exclamations and commands are excused) and your predicate clearly shows what is happening in relation to the subject.