Chapter 16: KISS Level Five: Add Eight Additional Constructions


        To be able to explain how any word chunks to another, eventually chunking back to a main subject, finite verb, or complement, students need seven additional constructions. (The eighth is a short-cut.) Most of these are discussed in traditional grammars, but in some cases the traditional definitions need to be slightly modified.

1 Interjections

        "Interjection" comes from the Latin words for "throw" ("ject") and "among" ("inter"). An interjection is thus a word or construction that is "thrown among" the words in a sentence. Unlike all the other words, interjections DO NOT chunk to the rest of the sentence. (That's why they are considered to be "thrown among" the other words.) Instead, they usually indicate an attitude about the entire sentence. (Modern grammars thus often refer to them as "Sentence Modifiers.") In speech, short interjections are common:

Golly, I didn't know that!
Uhm, do you think they will let us go?
Interjections such as those above are not considered proper in formal writing, but the following, which consist of phrases, are common to both writing and speech:
In fact, everyone came.
He was, in my opinion, a bit slow.
"In fact" here simply emphasizes the writerís belief that the sentence is factual, whereas "in my opinion" suggests that the sentence may not be.

               Subordinate Clauses as Interjections

The clauses in the following can be considered as interjections:

It was, I think, a big mistake.
Mrs. Robinson was going, he said, to kill a rabbit.
There are four reasons for doing this, one practical, the other three theoretical. In practice, it is much easier simply to put brackets around them:
It was, [I think], a big mistake.
Mrs. Robinson was going, [he said,] to kill a rabbit.
We could, of course, analyze these two sentences as meaning:
I think [it was a big mistake.]
He said [Mrs. Robinson was going to kill a rabbit.]
To do so, students would have to rewrite the sentence. (Remember that KISS analytical notation, unlike sentence diagramming, simply consists of underlining and notating a double-spaced text. It does not require rewriting sentences.) Nor do we want to put brackets around each part of the clauses:
[It was,] I think, [a big mistake.]
To do that makes it appear that there are two subordinate clauses, when there are not.
        Theoretically, my preference can be justified by our model of how the mind processes language. Having dumped a main clause to long-term memory, short-term memory is cleared and the brain will take whatever it finds that can be a main S/V pattern as a main S/V pattern. (which is why subordinate clauses at the beginning of a sentence must have a subordinate conjunction). In our example, the brain would take "It was" as a main S/V pattern. It must then handle the "I think" (or "he said") as a subordinate clause.
        Another theoretical reason is that such clauses fit the definition of an interjection: they indicate the speaker/writer's attitude or comment about the sentence as a whole. My final theoretical reason is based on a hypothesis, a hypothesis that can be confirmed by more statistical research. The hypothesis is that written interjections appear late in natural syntactic development. A seventh grader is likely to write, "I think it was a big mistake." A college graduate is more likely to write "It was, I think, a big mistake." If, in analyzing and marking sentences, we count them both as "I think [it was a big mistake], we would blur the distinction between the writing of fourth graders and that of adults.
        When clauses are used as interjections, they are often set off either by dashes or parentheses:
That island -- wherever it is -- is a tropical paradise.
He had worked too hard (No one knew how hard.) to make their marriage work.
The only construction that probably cannot be used as an interjection is the gerundive, since in a sentence such as
Telling the truth, the fish was only six inches long,
"telling" will be interpreted as modifying "fish." "To tell the truth" would make an interjection.

2. Direct Address

        Direct address is similar to an interjection except that it indicates the intended audience, rather than a speakerís comment:  "Mary, Jane called."

3. Nouns Used as Adverbs

         Some nouns function as adverbs, usually to indicate a spatial or temporal orientation: "The plane crashed five miles from here." The construction is close to the prepositional phrase:

They drove six miles. They drove for six miles.
but, as in our first example {"The plane crashed five miles from here."), there frequently is no preposition that fits such that we could say that it is ellipsed. Thus the construction needs to be included in the theory. And it proves useful. For example, it provides a simple explanation for "fishing" in:
They went fishing.
In traditional grammar texts, such verbals create problems, if they are not ignored, but why can it not simply be considered as a gerund, i.e., a verbal noun, here functioning as an adverb, comparable to "They went north"? It does not indicate spatial or temporal orientation, but it certainly functions as an adverb, indicating the purpose of their going.

4. Appositives

         Most definitions of "appositive" limit the concept to nouns, i.e., two nouns joined by their referring to the same thing with no preposition or conjunction joining them.

They are in Williamsport, a city in Pennsylvania.
Mary, a biologist, studies plants.
In analyzing texts, however (instead of studying the grammar textbooks), one will soon realize that other parts of speech can also function as appositives:
She struggled, kicked and bit, until her attacker let her go.
The three finite verbs do not denote three distinct acts: "struggled" denotes a general concept that is made more specific in "kicked" and "bit." Can we not then say that the last two finite verbs function in apposition? A sentence from an essay by George Orwell illustrates how constructions, in this case, prepositional phrases, can also function appositionally:
In Gandhiís case the questions one feels inclined to ask are: to what extent was Gandhi moved by vanity--by the consciousness of himself as a humble, naked old man, sitting on a praying mat and shaking empires by sheer spiritual power--and to what extent did he compromise his own principles by entering politics, which of their nature are inseparable from coercion and fraud?
Is there a better, simpler way of explaining "by the consciousness" and the phrases dependent on it than to say that the phrase is an appositive to "by vanity"?
        The concept of the appositive grows still more once we realize that not all appositives have to be composed of identical parts of speech, i.e., noun and noun, verb and verb. etc. The following sentence was written by a mother who had returned to college:
Heavy feet followed me on up the attic stairs -- treasure-filled attic, hiding place for Motherís Day cards, carefully printed on pasty colored paper, yellowed packets of letters, saved since World War II.
The identity here is not of meaning, but of the word itself: the adjective "attic" turns into the noun. But is there an easier way of explaining this than as an appositive? In the following sentence, also written by a student, the apposition is between a quoted infinitive phrase and a noun:
Left alone, and needled by that nagging sense of guilt, she busies herself cleaning house and lets the "coffee pot boil over," an effective image to describe her anger, which is short lived, as night softens her memory of the harsh morning light and she falls prey to her lust again.

5. Retained Complements (of Passive Verbs)

         Students do not need to be able to recognize passive verbs in order to explain how every word in every sentence chunks to a main pattern, but we should probably do a better job of teaching the recognition of passives than we currently do. I have heard, from very reliable students, of college instructors who tell their students "Never use passive voice." In effect, this dictate is usually meaningless because most students cannot recognize passive voice in the first place.  It would make much more sense if we taught students how to recognize passive voice, gave them some of the arguments for and against using it, and then let the students decide for themselves.
        According to many grammar books, the complements that appear after passive verbs, whether finite or verbals are considered "retained":

Bill was given a dollar.
Most textbooks limit this construction to retained objects and objective complements. But expanding the concept to include predicate nouns and predicate adjectives simplifies explanations:
a.) Murray was considered foolish.
b.) Terri was made queen for a day.
These two examples are identical except that the first ends with a retained predicate adjective, the second with a retained predicate noun. If we exclude the concept of retained predicate adjectives and nouns, then (a) requires the following explanation:
"Murray was considered foolish" is the passive form of the active: "Someone considered Murray foolish." "Murray" is the subject, and "foolish" is the predicate adjective of the ellipsed infinitive "to be," which functions as the direct object of "considered." In the passive version, the ellipsed infinitive is the retained object and "foolish" is a predicate adjective after it.
Rather than force students to go through this cumbersome technical explanation, I simply accept "retained predicate adjective" or "retained predicate noun."

6. Noun Absolutes

        Most texts define the noun absolute as a noun plus gerundive construction that usually functions as an adverb but which may function as a noun:

Supper having been finished, the family went to the ballgame.
What these texts leave out is that the gerundive is often ellipsed:
Hands *being* behind his back, dad watched as Fred rode his bike down the street.
Interestingly, punctuation can make the difference between a compound sentence and a noun absolute:
a.) The plane stood upright; its tail pointed back at the sky.
b.) The plane stood upright, its tail pointed back at the sky.
The semicolon, a signal of a dump to long-term memory, makes "pointed" in (a) an active, finite verb. But the comma in (b) allows us to read "pointed" as a passive participle ("*having been* pointed"), thereby changing the construction into a noun absolute.
        A similar phenomenon occurs in the following sentence, written by a student:
The car was smashed. It lay sideways in the road like a dying dragon, its hood reared skyward, a pool of shimmering glass scales around it, weak puffs of smoke rising from its broken front grille into the crisp night air.
At the risk of being repetitious, perhaps I should describe how students should go about identifying noun absolutes. This example is interesting because it is particularly difficult. By the time students get to noun absolutes, they will have been analyzing prepositional phrases, clauses, and even verbals for some time. When they first meet this sentence, therefore, their first task is to analyze everything they can. They might want to underline "reared" as a finite, active verb, but if they do so, they then must note that it is preceded by a comma-splice. Even if they do this, they are still left with three unanalyzed words: "pool," "puffs," and "rising." Their task is to shift through their list of "other constructions" to see if they can use one to explain these words. "Puffs ... rising" is then fairly easily identified as a noun absolute. If they are intelligent, and they are, they should also see that "hood reared" is one likewise. This leaves "pool." How can they explain this noun construction sitting between two noun absolutes? If they use their brain, the pattern is simple: itís a noun absolute: "a pool of shimmering glass scales *being* around it."
        Most students do not need to be able to make the preceding analysis. The student who wrote the sentence, for example, has an excellent command of syntax -- and a vivid imagination, and most students who use these "other constructions" make few errors with them. I would argue, however, that every teacher of English from seventh grade onward should be able to make the explanation; otherwise s/he might mark the sentence as a comma-splice. The worst thing that we can do as teachers is to "correct" something that is perfectly acceptable.
        As a general rule, the noun in a noun absolute comes first, but in some cases, especially with clauses, the gerundive does:
Given [that heís willing to play,] will the referees let him?
Some teachers will mark this as a dangling modifier, but I canít see why it should be so considered. Does it not mean:
[That heís willing to play] *having been* given, ... ?
or, in other words, is it not simply a noun plus gerundive construction?

        Noun Absolutes that Function as Nouns

        It was a student who first made me pay attention to the noun function of noun absolutes. The class was discussing the sentence:

They watched the windmill spinning against the sky.
Someone had already analyzed "windmill" as the direct object of "watched" and "spinning" as a gerundive modifying it, but one student wasnít satisfied. The sentence, she insisted, doesnít really mean "We watched the windmill"; it means we watched the "windmill spinning": the noun absolute functions as the direct object. Having read Jespersen on nexus, I wasnít about to tell her that she was wrong. She wasnít. Note also how close the construction is to the gerund plus subject--"windmillís spinning." The noun absolute allows us to see the connection between "windmill" and "spinning" as primary, and then to take the entire construction as the direct object of "watched."
        As adverbs, noun absolutes appear rarely. My research, indicates that Edmund Wilson uses one for every fifty main clauses, E.B. White uses one for every hundred, and Max Beerbohm, E.M Forster, and James Baldwin use less than one in every fifty. But if we turn to their use as nouns, they are more common. Their noun function is obscured, however, because, as noted above, the words can usually be explained in another way. The following sentence is from Max Beerbohmís "The Top Hat":
He wears a top hat in that fine portrait of him sitting in his garden, immensely corpulent, but still full of energy and animation, of benignity and genius.
You could, of course, explain "him" as the object of the preposition "of" and "sitting" as a gerundive modifying it. But such an explanation, although allowable, deflates the nexal connection of "him" and "sitting," a connection that can be seen if we rephrase it to be "portrait in which he is sitting." Some students, in other words, may prefer to chunk  "Him" and "sitting" together first, and then explain the noun absolute as the object of the preposition.

7. Delayed (or Postponed) Subjects

        The traditional focus on individual words has almost totally obscured what I call the "delayed subject." I took the liberty of naming it because I couldnít find it in the grammar books. Having named it and prepared materials about it for my students, I found it in Christensen: he calls it a "postponed subject." It is a modification of the basic sentence pattern in which the subject position is filled by an anticipatory "it" and the true, delayed subject appears later in the sentence:

It is easy to fall in love.
It is true that syntax is simple.
Although the construction usually appears with a noun clause or infinitive, other constructions or even nouns themselves may act as delayed subjects:
Gerund: It is difficult, waiting for your wife to have a baby.
Noun Absolute: It was foolish, people of their age trying to climb a mountain.
Noun: It was fortunate, the trip he took.
In delayed subjects, the idea to which the pronoun refers comes after the pronoun. If that idea is not supplied, the pronoun remains meaningless. As with all the constructions, delayed subjects can be embedded in other subordinate constructions. The following sentence was written by a seventh grade student:
The old man thought it funny that the trees, now strong and stable as he once was, still grew and became mightier, while he grew weaker and less sure-footed, swaying in the wind.
The sentence is remarkable for the level of its embeddings, and especially for the reduction of "*which were* now strong and stable" to the simpler "now strong and stable." Everything after the "that" is easily analyzed in terms of clauses and the single gerundive "swaying," but what is the function of the "that" clause? It is a delayed subject to "it" in the infinitive construction "it *to be* funny," "funny" thus functioning as a predicate adjective after the ellipsed infinitive, and the infinitive, with, of course, everything that "goes to" it, functioning as the direct object of "thought." (I explain the ellipsed word as the infinitive "to be" by analogy with the "They made him captain" construction. You could justifiably say that the ellipsed word is "was.")
        Although "it" is the pronoun most commonly found in the delayed subject construction, the following passage, written by a seventh grader, indicates that "that" is also possible:
There wasn't any woods to go in when I got hot, no places to go sleigh riding, and that is boring not to be able to do any of these things.
Modern grammars often refer to this construction as "cleft" sentences, but for students, "dealyed" or "postponed" subject is probably a better term since it helps students remember the relationship in meaning between the postponed element and the subject.

8. "Post-Positioned Adjectives" (The Short-Cut)

        The Post-Positioned Adjective is not a category that is required in order to explain how every word in every sentence relates to the main S/V/C pattern, but it can save time and explanation. Suppose, for example, that we were analyzing the sentence:

He was watching his son, soundly asleep, quiet and peaceful after a hard day of play.
Within the rules of KISS Grammar, we could expand this to:
He was watching his son, [*who was* soundly asleep,
quiet and peaceful after a hard day of play.]
And we could explain "asleep, quiet, and peaceful" as: "predicate adjectives to the ellipsed "who was." The "*who*" through "play" is an adjectival clause that modifies "son." To avoid the lengthy explanation, it is easier simply to consider such words as "post-positioned adjectives."
        In effect, the post-positioned adjective results from the reduction of an adjectival clause that has a S/V/PA pattern, just as an appositive is the reduction of an adjectival clause that has a S/V/PN pattern:
She was watching her son, the fullback on the high school team.
She was watching her son, [*who was* the fullback on the high school team.]
Although the PPA is not necessary for an explanation, theoretically -- and from what I have seen so far -- it, like the appositive is a "late-blooming" construction. If one is interested in statistical analysis of natural syntactic development, identifying them as PPA's enables one to count them and thus study this question.


        Of the eight additional constructions (including the short-cut), six of them have been discussed as possibly being taught earlier in an ideal KISS sequence. Simple interjections, direct address, and nouns used as adverbs could all be introduced as early as third grade without causing much confusion. Students who spend grades four five, and six studying S/V/C patterns could certainly learn to recognize retained complements and some delayed subjects. If they are then give three additional years to master clauses, they could expand their concept of delayed subjects and add post-positioned adjectives.
        This would leave only two constructions noun absolutes and appositives. Because noun absolutes consist of a noun plus a gerundive, they are certainly best left until after students have mastered gerundives. Theoretically, appositives are reductions of clauses, which suggests that they could be taught simultaneously with verbals. The research, however, suggests that they are later blooming constructions, and there is no need to rush. Noun absolutes and appositives are the last constructions that students need to learn in order to be able to explain how every word in any sentence chunks to a main S/V/C pattern. No matter how often we poke a caterpillar in attempting to rush its change into a butterfly, we will not succeed. On the other hand, we may kill it.

Required Objective

        Here we need to make another distinction. Although the constructions in Level Five do have an effect on style, they cause few, if any, errors in students' writing (unlike the subordinate clause and the gerundive).  In essence, Level Five is a "mop-up" level which provides the means to fulfill the promise to students that they will be able to explain every word in every sentence. I'm not totally convinced that most students are worried about that. We might, therefore, say that there is no required objective at Level Five -- for students. But for student teachers, the situation is different.
        In what is sure to be a controversial EJ article, Janet McClaskey mentions two of her colleagues who believed that "because" is a coordinating, not a subordinating, conjunction. "That evening, one of those colleagues searched out because and discovered to her horror that she had been teaching it incorrectly these past twenty years." (89) Shortly thereafter, McClaskey notes that ". . . all three of us in that because discussion have been adequately schooled in grammar . . . ." (90) Although I find much to admire in the article, I have to ask if teachers who considered "because" to be a coordinating conjunction were "adequately schooled in grammar." (And note that at least one of these teachers mistaught her students for twenty years!) I do not, however, blame the teachers; I disagree, on this point, with McClaskey. These teachers were not "adequately schooled." The fault lies with the profession as a whole, not with the teachers. "Teaching" someone that "because" is a subordinate conjunction does not mean that the student will remember it, or be able to use and apply what was learned. If those teachers had had to analyze a few dozen short real texts over the course of their education, always putting an opening bracket before "because," they would not have thought that it is a coordinating conjunction.
        The point, as I have stated often before, is that good instruction in grammar should be focused around a limited number of concepts with students studying those same concepts in a variety of texts and, ideally, from a variety of perspectives (errors, style, logic). The concepts should become tools which teachers and students can occasionally use to discuss a particularly interesting sentence from a story, a poem, or from the students' own writing. It would also be nice, of course, if we had a standard approach to analysis, such that a tenth-grade teacher could put a sentence on an overhead and have the students analyze it without, for example, having to explain why and how brackets are used to indicate subordinate clauses. If this were our method of teaching grammar, rare would be the teacher who did not know that "because" functions as a subordinate conjunction. (In some linguistic grammars, by the way, it does not.)
        In addition to clauses, however, teachers should be able to recognize all the constructions of KISS Level Five. Simple interjections, direct address, and nouns used as adverbs are very common in the writing of fourth graders. And, as noted above, teachers may mistake noun absolutes for comma-splices. It was, in fact, two teachers who were taking a grammar course with me who noted that they had been doing so, and who pushed me to publish information about the KISS Approach. As for the other constructions at Level Five, once a person masters verbals at Level Four, it takes very little practice to master the remaining constructions. Having done so will both add to teachers' confidence and enable teachers to refer to and, explain them to students who ask.
        Although many schools will probably decide to move many of these constructions into earlier grade levels, the following notes are for those situations in which they are all left for Level Five, as they might be in a grammar course for future teachers.

Memorization Required:

        None. Students will need to study the relevant instructional material (given above), but they need not memorize it.

Suggested Approaches to Instruction:

        The typical KISS Approach of using randomly selected short passages does not work very well because many of these constructions are not used that frequently. For exercises, therefore, teachers will probably want to use specifically selected sentences.


        Short quizzes will do, but for most students, I'm not sure that any assessment is needed. Rarely, if ever, are any of these constructions used incorrectly, and, although they have an affect on style, their affect is much less than that of clauses and verbals. We don't need to test everything.

Class Time Required:

        This would depend on the approach taken and the number of constructions that had been studied previously.

Desired Objectives


         Teachers may want to have students do a few sentence-combining exercises, preferably like those in the two preceding chapters, to increase their control of appositives and noun absolutes. The same objective, of course, can be met simply by asking students to compose such sentences.


         The final level of the KISS Approach enables students to understand how any word in any sentence "fits." As a result, they can evaluate the syntax of their own writing without having to rely on the often subjective judgments of others. No one can convince them that their writing is flawed because "The plane crashed two miles from here, its tail pointed toward the sky" contains a comma-splice

Instructional Handouts

        The definitions given at the beginning of this chapter are my instructional handouts. (They should be easy to adapt, probably by adding a few more examples, by teachers who want to introduce some of the constructions at earlier grade levels.) When I taught a grammar course for teachers, I would hand them out in about the thirteenth week of the semester. The really strong students easily mastered these constructions before the end of the semester. Weaker students, however, were still struggling with verbals, and a few were still trying to get clauses. Because sentences were always analyzed in class in the same way, beginning with prepositional phrases and working through each level, the students who were having problems were, in essence, getting more help on their own problems, but they were overwhelmed. One semester, even one year, is not enough time for students to gain a conscious understanding of grammatical concepts that will enable them to explain any word in any sentence.