The explanation of nexus in Chapter Five already suggested that the fundamental KISS sentence pattern is tripartite -- subject / finite verb / complement. This tripartite division differs from both traditional grammars ("subject" and "predicate") and of most new linguistic grammars. In itself, Jespersen's theory of "nexus" will not convince traditional grammarians and modern linguists that, from a pedagogical perspective, a tripartite division is better than their bipartite. Before we look at additional justification, however, we need to consider the four possible variations of the basic pattern. It should go without saying that any slot in the basic pattern can be compounded. The four variations, therefore, result from differences in the complement.
The Zero Complement (S / V)
Some sentences have no complement. In "She runs every day," no one would ask "Runs what?"
The Predicate Noun (S / V / PN)
In some sentences, the verb indicates an identity between the subject and the complement. ("Bush is president?" "Sleeping children resemble angels.") In such cases, the complement is called a "Predicate Noun."
Predicate Adjectives (S / V / PA)
Some complements consist of adjectives that describe the subject -- "Tom is sleepy."
Direct and Indirect Objects (S / V / (IO) DO)
Some complements do not fit any of the preceding conditions. Traditional grammar labels them as direct and indirect objects -- "Sue gave Sarah (IO) a dollar (DO)."
These four variations differ significantly from the ten or twenty sentence
"types" offered in many grammar texts. For one thing, the four variations
are all-inclusive -- every complement in any sentence can be identified
as one of these four variations.
One of the advantages of the tripartite division is that it eliminates the need for "transitive," "intransitive," and "linking" verbs. These categories simply make grammar a difficult and confusing subject for students. I already referred to the teacher who claimed that we should teach "transient" and "intransient" verbs. If the categories don't make much sense to some teachers, why do we expect students to master them, especially when there is no need for them. Consider the following sentences:
Is "grew" transitive, intransitive, or linking? The only way to tell is to look at the pattern. If the pattern is S/V, the verb is intransitive; if the pattern is S/V/PA, the verb is linking; if it is S/V/DO, the pattern is transitive. Students must, in other words, know the patterns in order to determine which "type" the verb is. But if that is the case, does knowing the "type" give students any additional helpful information? The answer to that question is "No." Then why do we need the "types"? They are simply hold-overs from the traditional, word-based, and word-categorizing view of grammar.Sally grew fast.
Sally grew tall.
Sally grew tomatoes.
The research suggests
that the ideal time in which to give students a conscious mastery of the
S/V/C pattern is in grades four through six. Three years is a long time
to focus on the S/V/C pattern, but if we do so, every student will
be able to assimilate a conscious understanding of it and it will not take
a significant amount of time during any single year. In fourth grade, a
school might focus simply on recognition. As Paul Roberts once noted, teaching
students to recognize finite verbs is probably the most difficult part
of teaching grammar. This is true because the Aristotelian definitions
of verbs are so weak. Wittgenstein's ostensive definition is much more
helpful, but it requires pointing to numerous examples, i.e., numerous
"identification" exercises. This definition by pointing works because students
already have an unconscious understanding of finite verbs -- they have
been using them, usually correctly, for years. Fourth graders will also
find identification of verbs in their own writing significantly easier
than older students will for the simple reasons that they write shorter
sentences and they use fewer verbals (which cause more confusion for older
students). Ideally, instruction should be spread out across the year, perhaps
one short exercise every other week. Doing a "Unit" on subjects and verbs,
and then forgetting them for the rest of the year does not give students
ample opportunity to assimilate the concepts.
In fifth grade, recognition of passive verbs and retained complements could be added. This would leave sixth grade for a review process in which occasional exercises would focus on questions of style -- replacing "to be" with stronger verbs, etc.
If KISS Level Two is spread across three years, schools could introduce some of the "additional" constructions from KISS Level Five. I have already suggested that retained complements (and passive verbs) could be held until (and be the focus of) fifth grade. Retained Complements, Interjections, Nouns Used as Adverbs, Direct Address are four of the eight constructions of KISS Level Five. These concepts could be introduced as early as third grade, but there is no reason to rush. But once students learn to recognize S/V/C patterns, the addition of these constructions will actually enable students to explain all the words in over half of their own sentences. Once students begin to realize that they can understand it all, they become much more motivated.
In addition to prepositional phrases, students should be able to identify all the "simple" subject / verb / complement patterns in any passage that they read or write. ("Simple" includes all compounds, but excludes, for example, subordinate clauses that function as subjects or complements.)
At KISS Level Two, I do not require any memorization. My students are given the three-page handout at the end of this chapter. We go over it in class, and I tell them to study and use it as they analyze sentences in homework exercises. I do suggest that students will save time if they remember that "am," "are," "is," "was" and "were" are always finite verbs and therefore should automatically be underlined twice. I also suggest that they will save time if they remember the sequence for distinguishing complements. (If there isn't one, then there isn't one. If the verb indicates that the subject and complement are in some way equal, then the complement is a predicate noun. If the complement describes the subject, then it is a predicate adjective. Otherwise, it has to be an indirect or direct object.) Some students more or less memorize the handout. Others learn what they need from it by using it, sentence-by-sentence, as they do the homework. Then, of course, there are those who don't study. They pick it up as we review homework in class. Some teachers may want to require more memorization than I do, but the important thing is that the students be able to recognize the subjects, finite verbs, and complements in real texts.
Suggested Approaches to Instruction:
The variables here are so
complex that it is impossible to discuss all the possible individual cases.
In some schools, for example, attempts are being made to teach students
to recognize "verbs" as early as kindergarten. Although I personally think
that this is too early, clearly these students will find it easier to recognize
finite verbs. The ability to identify finite verbs is, obviously, the key
to this level. Once the students can locate the finite verbs, they can
use the rules (above) to find their subjects and complements.
Depending on their circumstances and preferences, teachers may want to give students any of the customary "aids" -- the traditional definition of a verb as a word showing action or state of being; or the structural/slot approach -- a verb is a word that fits in the blank in "Sheila _____ (it)." The problem with all of these "tips" is that they identify words that can function as verbs, but that does not mean that the word the student is looking at actually does so. Condemning these "tips," however, as some people do, shows a blindness to the fact that many students and teachers find them helpful. As long as they are used as a means to an objective, and not as an end in themselves, teachers should feel free to use any tips, techniques, etc. that they find helpful.
The objective should be to enable students to identify "all" the S/V/C patterns in anything that they read or write (and not just in the twenty sentences in a textbook exercise). Here again, the best approach is probably the same as that used with prepositional phrases. If the students are totally unfamiliar with finite verbs, teachers may want to give one or two short passages in which the students are expected to identify only the finite verbs, but as soon as possible, the exercises should be extended to include subjects and complements. We need to realize that students already have an unconscious mastery of S/V/C patterns -- they use them (almost always correctly) every waking hour of every day. Our objective is to make this unconscious knowledge conscious.
However teachers choose to begin instruction at Level Two, it should end in the same manner as that in Level One -- the analysis of several short, randomly selected passages, the review of those passages in class, and short assessment quizzes. Students should be instructed to analyze the text, one sentence at a time, first putting all the prepositional phrases in parentheses, and then finding a finite verb, its subject(s), and its complement(s). Continue until all the S/V/C patterns in the sentence have been found, and then move on to the next sentence.
Students' conscious mastery
can be assessed in the same way as with prepositional phrases -- a short
passage of three or four sentences. If instruction is spread over grades
four, five, and six, every student could be expected to be able
to identify "all" the S/V/C patterns in sentences written by average
sixth graders. This is certainly not an unreasonable expectation, since
students would have three years to make the connection between their unconscious
and conscious knowledge.
The situation, of course, is substantially different for a seventh grade teacher who has to start at Level One and who wants to get students well into clauses (Level Three). Some students will pick up the connection very quickly, whereas others will take much longer. Some students will want extra help; others won't do the assignments. Teachers clearly have to make a judgment call. If they move on to clauses too quickly, they may overwhelm most students; if they spend too much time at Level Two, they will have less time for clauses. Assessment quizzes and the in-class reviews easily enable teachers to determine which students have or have not mastered the material (especially if the KISS Grammar Game is used for the reviews). As teachers, we can also almost always tell which students are trying, and which are not.
Experience suggests two important considerations regarding when to move to Level Three. First, the approach is cumulative. In working at Level Three, students will, sentence by sentence, first find the prepositional phrases, then the S/V/C patterns, and then the clauses. Thus there is automatic review for the students who have not mastered Level Two. On the other side of the coin (and in some cases it does come down to a coin-flip), moving ahead too soon will defeat instruction, specifically by undercutting students' motivation. Perhaps the strongest motivating factor of the KISS Approach is that students see most of the other students "getting it." As more students "get it," the students who do not "get it" begin to feel isolated, and they therefore have a tendency to pay attention and work at it. If, for example, I were teaching seventh graders, I would try to have at least two-thirds of the class very comfortable at Level Two before moving on to clauses.
Clearly what a teacher can and cannot do here is affected by the students and by the administration and parents. For teachers who want to use the KISS Approach, however, the choices are clear, and the argument is easily made. As teachers, most of us are more than willing to give extra help to students who are trying. As a result, almost all of these students will end up in the "comfortable" group. On the other side, we can easily record the failure of students to do homework and/or pay attention in class. Given that, should we deny further instruction (in this case Level Three) to those students who have earned it? If at least two-thirds of the class has earned it, perhaps it is time to move to Level Three.
Class Time Required:
The amount of class time
required for Level Two depends primarily on two things -- how quickly the
students can learn to recognize finite verbs, and how quickly they can
learn to work systematically. As noted above, definitions and "tips" may
help, but ultimately the concept of "finite verb" is learned "ostensively"
-- through examples. At the college level, almost all of my students get
it after three 50-minute class periods of reviewing sentences in short
essays. (As explained below, these class periods are also devoted to clauses.)
I prefer to use the KISS Grammar game for review because it also teaches
students to work systematically.
In his excellent Blueprint for Educational Change, Arthur Whimbey and his colleagues explain that a major difference between "strong" and "weak" students is that strong students work systematically, breaking a problem down into parts and working through it one step at a time. Our "weak" students, in other words, need instruction, not only in grammar, but also in working systematically. Using the KISS Grammar Game teaches students to do this. As they work through a sentence, the student who identifies the last prepositional phrase in a sentence can get a bonus point for noting that it is the last of such phrases in the sentence. This is the signal to the students to start looking for a finite verb. When we first start playing the game, "weak" students usually identify themselves by asking "What am I supposed to be looking for?" But that question should not be answered. Failure to know results in a loss of turn for the team. As we continue to play, most students learn fairly quickly that the analytical process is as, if not more, important than just knowing the right answer. This means, however, that the game must be played a few times for most students to catch on -- and that means that at least three or four short passages, with all the students working on the same text, may need to be assigned and analyzed in class.
I cannot, of course, predict exactly how much time will be required for any teacher in any classroom to reach the objective. Perhaps a good estimate, for the average classroom, is between four and five 50-minute periods, or between 200 and 250 minutes. In the first period, the teacher would distribute the instructional material and demonstrate what students are expected to do. Reviewing the short homework assignments will take longer than in Level One because the students will be identifying the prepositional phrases and the words in the S/V/C patterns.
Teachers should probably spread the instruction over at least two or three months. This will give students who want help a chance to get it. Since, for example, most current seventh graders have already had some instruction in recognizing verbs, teachers will probably find that most students can master the ability after three or four class periods devoted to reviewing homework. Rather than devoting entire (or large parts of) a class period to such review, some teachers may prefer to assign a short passage and then have the students review one sentence from it at the beginning of each class. (This can also be done by having the passage on an overhead and assigning a student to use the washable ink pen to mark the responses of the class while the teacher, for example, takes attendance.)
Throughout this discussion, I have been using a seventh grade class as my example. I suggested that the equivalent of four or five classes might be needed for prepositional phrases, and a roughly equal amount for S/V/C patterns. This is, it is true, a lot of class time, but if it is needed, it is so because the teacher and students have to start at Level One. And seventh grade teachers who wanted to get their students well into clauses should probably try to get them through Level Two during the first half of the year. On the positive side, teachers may find that less time is required if they also try to integrate some of the "Desired Objectives."
Using Stronger Verbs:
Select a short poem
or prose passage and replace all the finite verbs with blanks. Have the
students fill in the blanks and share and discuss their results. This exercise,
of course, can also be used to help students learn to identify verbs.
Collect what I call "Inflated Balloons" from your students' writing. These are wordy sentences, often, but not always, based on a form of "to be." ("If there is a conflict in two doctors' statements, a third doctor is brought in to break the tie.") Have the students identify the S/V/C patterns and then revise the sentence by finding a better verb. (If two doctors' statements conflict, a third doctor breaks the tie.") Three of four such sentences will challenge students to think; more than five will probably tire students or be considered busy work. Class discussion of the results will, as usual, reinforce the results and help the weaker students. A brief review of word families (discussed in Chapter Seven) will help students change nouns, adjectives, etc. into appropriate verbs.
In class, just before they hand in a writing assignment, give students five minutes to see if they can replace any of their verbs with stronger ones.
Subject / Verb Agreement
Teachers will probably find, as I have, that simply helping students to identify the subjects and verbs in their writing will result in the students' automatically correcting most agreement errors. For teachers who have the time, however, Level Two is the natural place for explaining the special rules, such as that for compound subjects joined by "or."
Some Spelling Errors
Some students may have problems with the spelling of "have" ("of"), "it's ("its), and "they're" ("there" or "their") because they have a poorly developed unconscious sense of S/V/C patterns. In effect, they read words, not phrases. Depending on the severity of these problems in their students' writing, teachers may want to select passages for analysis that contain these words. As the students analyze them, they will learn to recognize which words fit into which parts of sentence patterns.
S / V / (PN) Logic
The KISS Approach to
teaching complements is specifically designed to help students consider
the meaning of what they write. Some students don't say what they mean
because they cannot completely control predicate nouns. The problem often
increases as their sentences become longer -- "The taste of a sizzling
foot-long hotdog coated with tangy sauerkraut with mounds of pickle relish
is a typical snack when accompanied by a tall chilled paper cup of Coke."
It is the hotdog, not the taste, that is, of course, the snack, but students
often cannot see the problem in such a sentence unless they can identify
the subjects and verbs.
Many of the logical problems that appear in students' writing center on the predicate noun, but other patterns also can go astray -- "Each department or station of a fast food restaurant has specific skills that enable workers for that time period to fulfill their duties." Departments or stations may "require" skills, but they do not "have" them. Sometimes, of course, students simply don't think about the precise meaning of what they are writing -- "My faith in her spiritual strength is incredible and very admirable, as I observe her day to day." It is highly probable, however, that some students simply don't have the tools with which to make the required critical analysis. Assigning (for revision) or simply discussing with students a few such misaligned sentences will both help students straighten them out and provide further justification for the students' study of grammar.
Although the effectiveness of diagramming continues to be debated, diagrams help at least some students to better understand sentence structure. Some teachers prefer the traditional Reed-Kellogg diagrams (or variations thereof), but some teachers have developed diagramming systems of their own. One of my favorites is described in one of the best articles on teaching grammar that I have ever read. Father Laurence Kriegshauser, O.S.B. described his approach in an article in Syntax in the Schools, and, with his permission, his article has been reproduced on the KISS web site. Although his article is too long to be adequately summarized here, one of the things I like about it is his realization that students do not need to include every word in a sentence in the diagram. As he notes, "I normally do not have students include in the diagram the possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, its, our, their) since they clutter up the simple basic structure of the sentence." Father Kriegshauser, moreover, takes a basic KISS-like approach. His seventh graders begin by analyzing single clause sentences until they are comfortable with them (the first half of the year), and then move to multiple-clause sentences in the second half of the year.
At KISS Level Two, having students do a statistical analysis of their own writing does not provide many openings for discussion of style, but they can still be important motivational tools. Once a year, for example, students could analyze a sample of their own writing (approximately 250 words). Have them count the total number of words, and then the number of words that they can now explain (words in prepositional phrases, adjectives and adverbs, and the words in the subjects, finite verbs, and complements). Most students will find that they can now explain 95% or more of the words in their own writing. And that is an A in anybody's book.
The KISS Psycholinguistic Model
Seventh graders who are studying S/V/C patterns can probably understand the basic principles of the KISS Psycholinguistic Model. (See Chapter Four.) The model on the KISS web site includes a subordinate clause, but teachers can simplify it to a single clause for students working at KISS Level Two. For the students, the most important point is that the model presents how the brain processes language. Words are chunked into phrases until every word is chunked to the basic S/V/C pattern. The ending punctuation mark signals the reader to dump the sentence to long-term memory, thereby clearing short-term (working) memory for the next sentence. Although they will not yet understand all the constructions involved, most seventh graders can probably understand that the model validates the rules that they are studying. My experience has been that this validation increases students' motivation and interest.
Style and Logic
Most of what can be done with style and logic in KISS Level Two has already been discussed in this chapter. Students who can identify the subjects and verbs in their writing can straighten out most of the logical problems in their sentences. (A hotdog, not a taste, is a snack.) They can also understand, and thus apply, the suggestion to use stronger verbs. Teachers might want to think about, and make connections between, Hume's logical categories and the study of literature. A characterization, for example, is based on statements of identity, most of which are stated in S/V/PN and S/V/PA sentence patterns. These topic sentences, as noted in Chapter Nine, are then supported by examples from the story or poem. Questions of setting are clearly related to Hume's category of extension in time and space. Motivation -- Why did Phoenix keep making the trip into town? -- are within Hume's third category, cause/effect.
Level 2. Adding Subjects, Finite Verbs, and Complements
1. Put parentheses ( ) around each prepositional phrase in the text.
2. Underline subjects once, finite verbs twice, and label complements (PN, PA, IO, DO).
As with prepositional phrases, your brain already knows what subjects, verbs, and complements are. It just may not know that it knows. But since you use these patterns correctly most of the time, your brain knows. Your job is to make that knowledge conscious so that you can understand how sentences work, and when and why sometimes yours don't work as well as they should.
First, Find the Verb
Once you have the prepositional phrases in a sentence out of the way, the next step is to find the finite verbs. You may run into either or both of two problems. The first is in recognizing verbs. The old definition that verbs denote action or state-of-being is not very helpful, but it is a start. More helpful, perhaps, are examples. Since verbs are the work-horses of the language, they are a little more complicated than the other parts of speech. Most verbs, for example can appear in a variety of forms:
Finite or Non-Finite?
If they had done a better
job of teaching you grammar when you were younger, you would have found
it easier. The language you use now is much more complex than what you
used when you were in seventh grade. One of the differences is that you
now use a lot of verbs as subjects, as objects, or as adjectives or adverbs.
You must therefore distinguish between finite verbs (which you underline)
and non-finite verbs (which you do not). For our purposes, you do NOT NEED
to know what non-finite verbs do, what kinds they are, etc. All you need
to be able to do is to decide whether or not you should underline a verb
once you find one.
Some common words are always finite verbs, i.e., you should always underline them twice:
Note: "do" and "have" are always finite except when they are preceded by "to." (As with prepositional phrases, "to" causes an exception.)is, are, am, was, were, became, become, has, had,
did, done, shall, should, would, could, ought, must
1. If "to" begins the verb phrase, the phrase is not a finite verb:In (a), "her to be president" is the direct object of "wanted." In (b), "to err" is the subject of "is"; "to forgive" is the subject of an omitted "is." In (c), "to buy" chunks to "went," explaining why they went.
a. They wanted her to be president.
b. To err is human; to forgive, divine.
c. They went to the store to buy candy.
2. Find the subject of the verb (See below.) and then check to see if the subject / verb combination will make an acceptable sentence:In (a), "left" is a verb, but it is not finite. If we ask "Who or what left?" there is not really an answer. "Left" chunks with "book," but it means that "the book WAS left." Since the "was" is not there, "left" is not finite. In (b), the answer to "Who or what was sitting?" is obviously "Tim." But "Tim sitting in his closet" is not a good sentence. Therefore, "sitting" is not finite. Likewise in (c), Bobby is the subject of "yelling and screaming," but "Bobby yelling and screaming" is not an acceptable sentence. Hence "yelling and screaming" do not get underlined.
a. They found the book left in the library.
b. Mom discovered Tim sitting in his closet.
c. Yelling and screaming, Bobby ran down the hill.
Finding the Subject of the Verb
To find the subject of a verb, make a question with "Who or what" in front of the verb. Remember, however, that if the word that answers that question is in a prepositional phrase or is the complement of another verb, then it cannot be the subject: you have to find another word which acts as the subject:
(a) Someone had written (on the cards) that interested her.In (a), if we ask "Who had written?", the answer is "Someone," and "someone" is the subject of "had written." But if we ask "What interested her?", the logical answer is "cards." But since "cards" is in a prepositional phrase, it cannot be the subject. The only choice left is the word "that," and "that" is the subject of "interested her." In fact, the only reason that "that" is in (a) is that our brains need a subject for "interested." Your brain already knows this, because you would never have written "Someone had written on the cards interested her." In (b), the subject of "were" is "which" because "apples" is the direct object of "bought", and in (c), "who" is the subject of "stole" because "men" is the direct object of "found." Note that here again your brain already knows this: you would never write "They bought the apples were ripe." You might write "The police found the men stole your money," but notice that the meaning is different. To say that the police found the men stole your money does not mean that they found the men. In these cases where the logical subject of a verb is in a prepositional phrase or is the complement of another verb, the most frequently used substitute subjects are "that," "who," and "which."
(b) They bought the apples which were ripe.
(c) The police found the men who stole your money.
To find a subject, you ask a question with "Who or what" in front of the verb; to find a complement, you ask a question with "whom or what" after the verb. Because an inaccurate understanding of complements can result in your saying things you do not mean, I want you to be able to distinguish the five different kinds of complement. This is not difficult to do, if you do it in a specific sequence.
(1) The Zero Complement
The "Zero Complement" means
just that: there is no complement. For example,
Bill sleeps all night.
If we ask "sleeps what or whom?", the question does not make any sense. Hence we have a zero complement. Simple, isn't it?
(2) The Predicate Adjective
If the word that answers
the question is an adjective, then we have a predicate adjective:
Bill is lazy.
Since "lazy" is an adjective, this complement is a predicate adjective. Some students may have a problem in identifying adjectives. One simple test is to see if the word will fit in the following blank: "a(n) _______ thing."
(3) The Predicate Noun
If the complement is not
an adjective, then check to see if the S/V/C pattern means that the complement
is, in any way, equal to the subject:
Bill is a man. Sleeping children resemble angels. Mary will be president.
Once again we are back at Sesame Street: same and different. And that is why I want you to be able to distinguish complements. "Man," "angels," and "president" are all predicate nouns, because each, in some way, is the same as its subject, and the S/V/C pattern states the sameness. Notice, for example, that in "He washed himself," "himself" is NOT a predicate noun because "washed" in no way means "equals." People who cannot fully grasp the predicate noun often say the darndest things. One young man told me that his love (a young woman) was a truck; another wrote, "The taste of a hotdog is a good snack."
(4) The Direct Object
For our purposes, you can call any complement that is not a predicate adjective or a predicate noun a direct object. You will be right ninety percent of the time. (See the importance of doing this systematically?) The only other possibility is the Indirect Object.
(5) The Indirect Object
An indirect object is the
person or thing to or for whom something is done:
Tammy gave Bill a dollar.
Danny sang his son a song.
The sunshine gave the church's windows a warm glow.
Our cat killed us a mouse.
Tammy did not give Bill; she gave a dollar to Bill. Likewise, Danny did not sing his son; he sang a song for his son. The sun did not give the windows; it gave a glow to the windows. And, finally, our cat did not kill us; it killed a mouse for us.
Don't forget that any part of the S / V / C pattern can be compounded:
Bill and Sally bought Tammy and Fran a couch and chair and sent
Melinda and John a patio set.
Ellipsis is the omission
of understood words.