Building Blocks of English: Part I

I used to start grammar lessons by asking students, "What’s the basic building block of English?"  After getting answers like "the alphabet" and "words," I quickly changed the question.  I was looking for someone to say, "The sentence is the basic building block of English," but I never did.

Anyway, whatever you consider the first component of English to be, my point is that the sentence that does the work of communicating for us.  The question I begin teaching grammar with now is, "What are the three components of an English sentence?"

After some brainstorming and shouting answers out loud, the class will finally pinpoint the first two elements–the subject and the verb.  Then it gets wild with guesses like "adjectives," "adverbs," and "pronouns," which continues even after I announce that the third element is not a part of speech.

So what is the third element comprising an English sentence?

You have to have a subject and verb, but they have to be used in a way that makes sense.  The final element is that–the grouping of words has to convey meaning.

Seems logical enough, right?  You can’t just put any old subject, say prison, with any old verb, say rains, and make a complete English sentence.  "The prison rains" doesn’t convey meaning.

To repeat, then, the three necessary elements of an English sentence are having a subject, having a verb, and having meaning (making sense).

From time to time, I’ll return to my Building Blocks of English series.  Next time I’ll discuss how to join and how to separate sentences correctly.

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