ARRANGEMENT OF WORDS IN A SENTENCE
Different Kinds Arrangement of Words - Paragraph
Of course in simple sentences the natural order of arrangement is
subject--verb--object. In many cases no other form is possible. Thus in
the sentence "The cat has caught a mouse," we cannot reverse it and say
"The mouse has caught a cat" without destroying the meaning, and in any
other form of arrangement, such as "A mouse, the cat has caught," we feel
that while it is intelligible, it is a poor way of expressing the fact
and one which jars upon us more or less.
In longer sentences, however, when there are more words than what are
barely necessary for subject, verb and object, we have greater freedom of
arrangement and can so place the words as to give the best effect. The
proper placing of words depends upon perspicuity and precision. These two
combined give style to the structure.
Most people are familiar with Gray's line in the immortal Elegy--"The
ploughman homeward plods his weary way." This line can be paraphrased to
read 18 different ways. Here are a few variations:
Homeward the ploughman plods his weary way.
The ploughman plods his weary way homeward.
Plods homeward the ploughman his weary way.
His weary way the ploughman homeward plods.
Homeward his weary way plods the ploughman.
Plods the ploughman his weary way homeward.
His weary way the ploughman plods homeward.
His weary way homeward the ploughman plods.
The ploughman plods homeward his weary way.
The ploughman his weary way plods homeward.
and so on. It is doubtful if any of the other forms are superior to the
one used by the poet. Of course his arrangement was made to comply with
the rhythm and rhyme of the verse. Most of the variations depend upon the
emphasis we wish to place upon the different words.
In arranging the words in an ordinary sentence we should not lose sight
of the fact that the beginning and end are the important places for
catching the attention of the reader. Words in these places have greater
emphasis than elsewhere.
In Gray's line the general meaning conveyed is that a weary ploughman is
plodding his way homeward, but according to the arrangement a very slight
difference is effected in the idea. Some of the variations make us think
more of the ploughman, others more of the plodding, and still others more
of the weariness.
As the beginning and end of a sentence are the most important places, it
naturally follows that small or insignificant words should be kept from
these positions. Of the two places the end one is the more important,
therefore, it really calls for the most important word in the sentence.
Never commence a sentence with And, But, Since, Because, and
other similar weak words and never end it with prepositions, small, weak
adverbs or pronouns.
The parts of a sentence which are most closely connected with one another
in meaning should be closely connected in order also. By ignoring this
principle many sentences are made, if not nonsensical, really ridiculous
and ludicrous. For instance: "Ten dollars reward is offered for
information of any person injuring this property by order of the owner."
"This monument was erected to the memory of John Jones, who was shot by
his affectionate brother."
In the construction of all sentences the grammatical rules must be
inviolably observed. The laws of concord, that is, the agreement of
certain words, must be obeyed.
(1) The verb agrees with its subject in person and number. "I have,"
"Thou hast," (the pronoun thou is here used to illustrate the verb
form, though it is almost obsolete), "He has," show the variation of the
verb to agree with the subject. A singular subject calls for a singular
verb, a plural subject demands a verb in the plural; as," The boy
writes," "The boys write."
The agreement of a verb and its subject is often destroyed by confusing
(1) collective and common nouns; (2) foreign and English nouns; (3)
compound and simple subjects; (4) real and apparent subjects.
(1) A collective noun is a number of individuals or things
regarded as a whole; as, class regiment. When the individuals
or things are prominently brought forward, use a plural verb;
as The class were distinguished for ability. When the idea of
the whole as a unit is under consideration employ a singular
verb; as The regiment was in camp. (2) It is sometimes hard
for the ordinary individual to distinguish the plural from the
singular in foreign nouns, therefore, he should be careful in
the selection of the verb. He should look up the word and be
guided accordingly. "He was an alumnus of Harvard." "They
were alumni of Harvard." (3) When a sentence with one verb
has two or more subjects denoting different things, connected
by and, the verb should be plural; as, "Snow and rain are
disagreeable." When the subjects denote the same thing and are
connected by or the verb should be singular; as, "The man or
the woman is to blame." (4) When the same verb has more than
one subject of different persons or numbers, it agrees with the
most prominent in thought; as, "He, and not you, is wrong."
"Whether he or I am to be blamed."
(2) Never use the past participle for the past tense nor vice versa.
This mistake is a very common one. At every turn we hear "He done it" for
"He did it." "The jar was broke" instead of broken. "He would have went"
for "He would have gone," etc.
(3) The use of the verbs shall and will is a rock upon which even
the best speakers come to wreck. They are interchanged recklessly.
Their significance changes according as they are used with the first,
second or third person. With the first person shall is used in direct
statement to express a simple future action; as, "I shall go to the
city to-morrow." With the second and third persons shall is used to
express a determination; as, "You shall go to the city to-morrow,"
"He shall go to the city to-morrow."
With the first person will is used in direct statement to express
determination, as, "I will go to the city to-morrow." With the second and
third persons will is used to express simple future action; as, "You
will go to the city to-morrow," "He will go to the city to-morrow."
A very old rule regarding the uses of shall and will is thus
expressed in rhyme:
In the first person simply shall foretells,
In will a threat or else a promise dwells.
Shall in the second and third does threat,
Will simply then foretells the future feat.
(4) Take special care to distinguish between the nominative and objective
case. The pronouns are the only words which retain the ancient distinctive
case ending for the objective. Remember that the objective case follows
transitive verbs and prepositions. Don't say "The boy who I sent to see
you," but "The boy whom I sent to see you." Whom is here the object of
the transitive verb sent. Don't say "She bowed to him and I" but "She
bowed to him and me" since me is the objective case following the
preposition to understood. "Between you and I" is a very common
expression. It should be "Between you and me" since between is a
preposition calling for the objective case.
(5) Be careful in the use of the relative pronouns who, which and
that. Who refers only to persons; which only to things; as, "The boy
who was drowned," "The umbrella which I lost." The relative that may
refer to both persons and things; as, "The man that I saw." "The hat
that I bought."
(6) Don't use the superlative degree of the adjective for the comparative;
as "He is the richest of the two" for "He is the richer of the two."
Other mistakes often made in this connection are (1) Using the double
comparative and superlative; as, "These apples are much more preferable."
"The most universal motive to business is gain." (2) Comparing objects
which belong to dissimilar classes; as "There is no nicer life than a
teacher." (3) Including objects in class to which they do not belong;
as, "The fairest of her daughters, Eve." (4) Excluding an object from a
class to which it does belong; as, "Caesar was braver than any ancient
(7) Don't use an adjective for an adverb or an adverb for an adjective.
Don't say, "He acted nice towards me" but "He acted nicely toward me,"
and instead of saying "She looked beautifully" say "She looked
(8) Place the adverb as near as possible to the word it modifies. Instead
of saying, "He walked to the door quickly," say "He walked quickly to the
(9) Not alone be careful to distinguish between the nominative and
objective cases of the pronouns, but try to avoid ambiguity in their use.
The amusing effect of disregarding the reference of pronouns is well
illustrated by Burton in the following story of Billy Williams, a comic
actor who thus narrates his experience in riding a horse owned by
Hamblin, the manager:
"So down I goes to the stable with Tom Flynn, and told the man to put
the saddle on him."
"On Tom Flynn?"
"No, on the horse. So after talking with Tom Flynn awhile I mounted
"What! mounted Tom Flynn?"
"No, the horse; and then I shook hands with him and rode off."
"Shook hands with the horse, Billy?"
"No, with Tom Flynn; and then I rode off up the Bowery, and who should
I meet but Tom Hamblin; so I got off and told the boy to hold him by
"What! hold Hamblin by the head?"
"No, the horse; and then we went and had a drink together."
"What! you and the horse?"
"No, me and Hamblin; and after that I mounted him again and went out
"What! mounted Hamblin again?"
"No, the horse; and when I got to Burnham, who should be there but Tom
Flynn,--he'd taken another horse and rode out ahead of me; so I told
the hostler to tie him up."
"Tie Tom Flynn up?"
"No, the horse; and we had a drink there."
"What! you and the horse?"
"No, me and Tom Flynn."
Finding his auditors by this time in a horse laugh, Billy wound up
with: "Now, look here,--every time I say horse, you say Hamblin, and
every time I say Hamblin you say horse: I'll be hanged if I tell you
any more about it."
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