The Write Smart

Grammar Puzzles

Train your brain by treating sentences as word puzzles

and understanding how to put the pieces together.

 

Have Some Fun with the Fundamentals —

new puzzles on Monday and Wednesday,

solutions on Tuesday and Thursday.

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The Grammar Puzzles have been replaced by the Game of GrammaText. These are word games based on the techniques presented in the Write Smart eBook (INTRO 2 on www.writesmart.org).

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Grammar Puzzle 4

The main verb in an English sentence will normally be an action verb, a linking verb, or a passive verb. From the examples below, can you identify the sentence with a linking verb? 

    1. The defendant looked nervous on the first day of the trial.

    2. My neighbor is writing a book about schools in Finland.

    3. Most of the questions were answered correctly.

If you think that you know, please answer the question. (Comment — 1, 2, or 3 at the bottom of the page.) If you are not sure, check back tomorrow for the solution.

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Solution to Puzzle 4

Question — The main verb in an English sentence will normally be an action verb, a linking verb, or a passive verb. From the examples below, can you identify the sentence with a linking verb?

    1. The defendant looked nervous on the first day of the trial.

    2. My neighbor is writing a book about schools in Finland.

    3. Most of the questions were answered correctly.

Solution —  1. The defendant looked nervous on the first day of the trial.

Understanding how the English writing system works is a lot easier — and a lot more fun — if you learn how to play games with fundamental language patterns. In Puzzle 3, we looked at a sentence with two subject-verb clauses. In each clause, a word completed the action verb and acted as a verb complement (or, if you prefer, the object of the verb).

     After he ate a pizza for dinner, my cousin watched a movie on television.

The subject-action verb relationship leads to a complement (or object). The subject is one thing, the complement another. (See the Write Smart eBook, pages 2-19.)

But in English, we also have verbs called linking verbs. For the most part, these are forms of the verb to be:

                           am   are   is   was   were   be   being   been 

Many people make the mistake of assuming that these are simple words. Because they play so many different roles, these are the most complicated words in the English language. Forms of the verb to be can act as the main verb in a sentence.

                           The pizza was good.

                           My cousin is a lawyer.

Now, instead of acting, the verb is connecting — or linking — the subject and the complement. The complement is not an extension of the verb; the complement is an extension of the subject. 

      good is a subject complement (an adjective referring back to the subject pizza)

      lawyer is a subject complement (a noun referring back to the subject lawyer )

In other words, a complement that comes after a linking verb will define or restate the subject. In traditional grammar books, these relatively simple forms are referred to as “predicate adjectives” and “predicate nominatives” — Latin-based terms that have confused generations of students in school and made the understanding of a fundamental writing principle needlessly complicated. (See the Write Smart eBook, pages 29-30.)

But forms of the verb to be are not the only verbs that can link a subject and a complement. Certain words that express a physical condition —  words that we normally think of as action verbs — can also function as linking verbs. For example:

         sound    taste    look    grow

         feel        smell   stay    appear

We can say:

      The pizza was good.    –– or ––     The pizza tasted good.

We can say:

  The defendant was nervous on the first day of the trial.

                                    — or —

   The defendant looked nervous on the first day of the trial.

Although these two linking-verb sentences may convey slightly different meanings, the grammatical relationships are the same. (See the Write Smart eBook, pages 31-32.)

BUT — am, are, is, was, were, be, being, and been can play other roles as well.  (See the Write Smart eBook, pages 20-22.)

Forms of the verb to be may also play supporting roles when combined with a present participle (ending in ing) or a past participle (regular verbs end in ed; irregular verbs may have n, t , or other endings).

A form of the verb to be may combine with a present participle to create an action verb.

   My neighbor is writing a book about schools in Finland.

And a form of the verb to be may combine with a past participle to create a passive verb.

   Most of the questions were answered correctly.

We may consider these sentence patterns further in future puzzles.

If you are interested in learning more about playing games with the English language (and becoming a smarter writer in the process), you can visit www.writesmart.org and access a Free Video — or click on Intro 2 to order the Write Smart eBook (just 99¢), which includes links to the more challenging Game of GrammaText.

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Grammar Puzzle 3

Traditional English grammar is confusing to most people because it is largely based on a foreign language — Latin.

Consider, for example, the term “direct” object. In the following sentence, can you identify the word (or words) directly affected by a verb?

     After he ate a pizza for dinner, my cousin watched a movie on television.

If you think that you know, please answer the question on Facebook (comment). If you are not sure, check back tomorrow for the solution.

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Solution to Puzzle 3

Traditional English grammar is confusing to most people because it is largely based on a foreign language — Latin. Consider, for example, the term “direct” object.

Question — In the following sentence, can you identify the word (or words) directly affected by a verb?

     After he ate a pizza for dinner, my cousin watched a movie on television.

Solutionpizza  (but not movie)

Historical note: No English grammar books were published between 1100 and 1580. For centuries, the study of English grammar relied on rules and terms borrowed from Latin, even though in many respects, the two languages have little in common with one another.  One of those terms — the accusative case — refers to the “object of a transitive verb.” After 1600, as more English grammar books were published, the Latin term accusative was replaced by the term we are familiar with today: direct object.

Our traditional grammar books have generally used direct object to refer to a word or group of words “directly affected” by an action verb. That definition may work for some sentences: for example, I wrote the report. The report is explicitly a product (or “direct effect” ) of what I wrote.

But that definition does not apply to sentences like I read a magazine article. Was the article “directly affected” because I read it? To apply the underlying principle of this sentence pattern consistently, we need to recognize that the article was not “directly” affected (or “indirectly” affected) by the fact that I read it; article simply completes the action of read.

Here’s another example: We watched the sunset. We watched is clearly a subject-verb relationship, and sunset completes the action of watched. But was the sunset “directly” affected because we watched it — or would the sun have set even if we had been at home playing video games?

Skilled professional writers and editors rely on action verbs most of the time because action verbs keep things moving and keep the reader involved. The action verb fits into a pattern that you may have learned in elementary school. Most English sentences — though not all — have a subject-verb relationship that express a complete thought. In other words, good sentences are subject-verb relationships that make sense. (Note that the words “sentence” and “sense” share the same root.)

The problem is that, although thoughts may seem “complete” while they are abstractions in the mind, translating good ideas into good sentences can be a complicated and often frustrating process. Establishing a strong subject-action verb relationship is important, but we have to  go somewhere with that relationship. To express a complete thought, we need another key element: a word or a group of words that will complete the subject-verb relationship. Most good sentences include another key element — the complement. As we have seen, the complement is a word (or group of words) that completes the subject-verb relationship.

Notice that the word is not “compliment” with an “i” (as in You look very nice today). This is “complement” with an “e” (meaning “something that completes”).

For most people, the organization of English is easier to understand if we recognize the patterns that our sentences follow, rather than relying on outdated, and often misleading, terminology. If we think of a word (or a group of words) that completes the action of a verb as a verb complement — or simply the object of a verb — we will see that we can apply this concept to virtually all action-verb sentences.

      After he ate a pizza for dinner, my cousin watched a movie on television.

Was the pizza “directly affected” because he ate it? Definitely — the pizza went from the delivery box to his mouth to his stomach. But was the movie “directly affected” because my cousin watched it?  I hope you see the distinction.

In both clauses, though, we can observe a consistent pattern:

        pizza completes he ate     –––––––    movie completes my cousin watched

 Only one of these words is “directly affected” by the action verb, but both pizza and movie act as verb complements (or, if you prefer, objects of a verb).

If you are interested in learning more about playing games with the English language (and becoming a smarter writer in the process), you can visit www.writesmart.org and access a Free Video — or click on Intro 2 to order the Write Smart eBook (just 99¢), which includes links to the more challenging Game of GrammaText.

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Grammar Puzzle 2

There are two clauses in the following sentence. Can you identify the object of the verb (direct object?) in the first clause?

Your honor, the president of the publishing company told Ms. Jones that she would receive an advance of $50,000 for her book.

If you think that you know, please answer the question on Facebook (comment). If you are not sure, check back tomorrow for the solution.

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Solution to Puzzle 2

There are two clauses in the following sentence. Can you identify the object of the verb (direct object?) in the first clause?

Your honor, the president of the publishing company told Ms. Jones that she would receive an advance of $50,000 for her book.

Verb / first clause = told

Object of the verb (direct object?) = that she would receive an advance of $50,000 for her book.

In this sentence, Ms. Jones is what the traditional grammar books (the books most of us had in school) refer to as an indirect object. This term is misleading, and as a result, almost everyone finds this concept confusing. The definition generally given for an “indirect” object is that it is a word “indirectly” affected by the verb. But Ms. Jones would obviously be directly affected by the promise of “an advance of $50,00 for her book.” (To understand exactly how this fundamental element works, see intermediate object in the Write Smart eBook, pages 36-37.)

The object of the verb told (the direct object?) is a noun clausethat she would receive an advance of $50,000 for her book. (See the Write Smart eBook, pages 69-72.) The term “direct” object is also misleading (see the WS eBook, pages 1-6); and although the noun clause is a perfectly normal and natural element in the English language, traditional grammar books do a poor job of explaining it.

If you are interested in learning more about playing games with the English language (and becoming a smarter writer in the process), you can visit www.writesmart.org and access a Free Video — or click on Intro 2 to order the Write Smart eBook (just 99¢), which includes links to the more challenging Game of GrammaText.

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Grammar Puzzle 1

Can you identify the subject and the verb in the following sentence?

            All of the trains running between Washington and New York were behind schedule.

If you think that you know, please answer the question on Facebook (comment). If you are not sure, check back tomorrow for the solution.

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Solution to Puzzle 1

Can you identify the subject and the verb in the following sentence?

           All of the trains running between Washington and New York were behind schedule.

Subject  =  All

Verb  =  were

To understand why trains cannot be the subject and running cannot be the verb, we need to be familiar with the patterns (not the rules!) of English sentences. In school, you may have been taught that a sentence will normally have a subject-verb relationship that expresses a complete thought — or words to that effect. Most sentences will also include descriptive language.

In this sentence, the noun trains is the object of a preposition (of the trains); the object of a preposition will never act as the subject of a sentence. (See the Write Smart eBook, pages 34 and 43-46.)

The present participle running acts as an adjective that describes trains. Present participles (verbal forms that end in -ing) can act as verbs when an auxiliary (helping verb?) is present: are running / were running, etc. But when these forms stand alone, they do not act as verbs; they will act as either adjectives (see the Write Smart eBook, pages 21-24) or nouns.

Most of the language in this sentence is descriptive: we have the participle running and three prepositional phrases: of the trains … between Washington and New York … behind schedule.

                All  [of the trains]  [running]  [between Washington and New York]  were  [behind schedule].

If we take the descriptive elements out of the sentence, only two words remain: All … were — the subject and the verb.

But  All … were does not express a complete thought. When we were in school, traditional grammar books used terms like terms like “direct object” / “indirect object” / “predicate nominative” / “predicate adjective” to refer to words or groups of word that complete the subject-verb relationship. Because almost everyone forgets exactly what these terms mean, many linguists encourage using the term “complement” — a word or group of words that completes the subject-verb relationship. (See the Write Smart eBook, pages 2-7 and pages 34-36.)

In this sentence, the prepositional phrase behind schedule completes the subject-verb relationship, so the core sentence pattern is —

                                      All … were … behind schedule.

If you are interested in learning more about playing games with the English language (and becoming a smarter writer in the process), you can visit www.writesmart.org and access a Free Video — or click on Intro 2 to order the Write Smart eBook (just 99¢), which includes links to the more challenging Game of GrammaText.

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