The conversation turned to our elementary school days, to the kinds of grammar we had and had not been taught. My companion asked how we learn to know when we’ve written a good sentence. All she had been told was that a sentence must have a noun and a verb. I told her that one of my elementary teachers (I wish I could remember which one now) had taught us that a true sentence has five elements:
- A Capital Letter to start
- A Subject
- A Predicate
- Closing Punctuation and —
- A Complete Thought
The very word, sentence, comes from the Latin sententia, which means “thought, meaning” and harks back to sentire, “feeling or opinion.” It is often that last essential, the complete thought or fully articulated emotion, that gets lost in our haste to catch our thoughts on paper before they fleet away. This tendency can creep upon us even after we think we have left it behind, especially when we are evolving a more complex style or are working with unfamiliar speech patterns.
Sometimes we can re-read the words we poured out and see immediately that a reader will have no clue as to what we were trying to convey. At other times we may sense that something is off but have to sift carefully through our phraseology to locate the lacunae. And sometimes we’ll simply miss the omission and need a reader to get pulled up short in confusion and say, “What?!” before we realize that we have some revising to do. But slowing down and looking at our sentences element by element — capital, subject, predicate, punctuation, thought — can also lead to our recovery of the meaning that wandered while we were distracted by the wealth of our cogitations.