THE GRAMMATICAL ORDER OF OPERATIONS (GOO) February 2012
First, a couple of terms:
VERB: a word for an action. Actions include things like “sleep” and “pause” which may not
seem very active. So I prefer to think of verbs as “doing words.”
NOUN: a word for a person, place, or thing. I prefer to think of nouns as “naming words”
which gets rid of the unhelpful distinction between proper nouns and nouns. “Proper nouns”
simply mean names, e.g. September.
PRONOUN: A word that substitutes for a noun, including collective pronouns like “somebody.”
CLAUSE: a collection of words that contains one S-V combination (read on if you can’t
remember what the heck “S-V combination” means).
PHRASE: any collection of words that does not contain a verb. You can have verbal phrases,
prepositional phrases, participial phrases, gerund phrases, and possibly even plain old phrases
though I can’t think of any right now.
VERB – Verbs are the heartbeat of any sentence and/or clause. Identifying true complete verbs
is the crucial first step in organizing grammar. Find your verb or verbs first (there can easily be
more than one verb in a sentence).
Make sure the verb is a COMPLETE VERB. Verbs often consist of two or more words
including helping verbs (a.k.a auxiliary verbs) such as modals (46c and p. 378-9 box).
There are many types of helping/auxiliary verbs; don’t overlook variations of the verb “to
be” (a state of being: is, was, will be) which in English, as in almost every other language,
changes form more than any other verb (46c, p. 378-9 box).
You can have 2 verbs (a compound verb) with one subject.
Example: Susan saw a cat and was chasing it.
V = saw, was chasing — S = Susan (still one S-V combo)
Sometimes, usually in questions, a verb will be “interrupted.”
Example: Does Susan want to run to the river?
V = does want — S = Susan
Make sure the verb is a TRUE VERB – a “doing” word that describes an action – and not a
thing-that-looks-like-a-verb-but-isn't (e.g., a verbal or verbal phrase). There are 3 kinds of
verbals (48b). The first two of the three are easy to recognize because they have visible
1) GERUNDS: verb-looking thing ending in –ing with no auxiliary/helping verb
directly in front of it. Gerunds act like nouns, and often appear as the subject of a
2) INFINITIVES: verb-looking thing with “to” directly in front of it. Infinitives can act
like anything they want to: nouns, adjectives, predicates, whatever, and can show up
anywhere in a sentence. To identify them – that is, to NOT mistake them for true
verbs – just look out for the “to” in front.
3) PARTICIPLES or PARTICIPIAL PHRASES are harder to identify because they
don’t necessarily have the visual signals of missing helping verbs or “to” in front; you
just have to look at the way they act in the sentence. Usually they act as adjectives,
i.e., they describe something.
1. The man running for the bus tripped on the gutter.
S = man — V = tripped
PARTIC PHRASE: running for the bus -- looks like a gerund with no helping
verb in front of “running” but is acting as an adjective to describe “man.”
2. The man killed at the intersection was running for the bus.
S = man — V = was running
PARTIC PHRASE = killed at the intersection -- looks like a true verb
because it doesn’t end in -ing, but is acting as an adjective to describe “man.”
***PLEASE NOTE: Being able to make distinctions between kinds of verbals isn’t useful in
constructing a grammatically correct sentence, so I do not care if you can or can’t tell the
difference between a gerund, a participle, and an infinitive. I don’t even care if you can’t
remember their names. YOU ONLY NEED TO KNOW HOW TO RECOGNIZE A VERBAL
OF ANY TYPE SO THAT YOU DON’T CONFUSE IT WITH A TRUE VERB.
SUBJECT of each verb – what’s “doing” the verb?
As you will see in the homework, there is the “simple subject” (SS) (the main noun/pronoun
within the complete subject, p.382) and the “complete subject” (CS) (p.381-82).
[NOTE: “S” in this GOO is always the simple subject.]
You can have 2 subjects (compound subject) with one verb. Or a compound verb AND a
1. Susan and Stephanie ran towards the river.
S = Susan, Stephanie — V = ran (still one S-V combo)
PP = towards the river
2. Susan and Stephanie ran towards the river and fell into it and were drowned.
S = Susan, Stephanie — V = ran, fell, were drowned (still one S-V combo)
PP = towards the river, into it
PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE: These phrases (p538, 62f) usually show motion, direction, or
position. Think about “aeroplane” and “cloud”: an aeroplane can fly into, under, through, above,
over, or around a cloud. Prep. phrases are usually short (often 3 words), with fairly small words
– just think “little” in general. Because they’re little, they’re often easily overlooked.
Over the river(PP) and through the woods(PP) to Grandmother’s house(PP) we(S) go(V) .
We(S) fell(V) off the sled(PP) under a tree(PP) and broke(V) our legs above the knee(PP) .
The SS of a verb never appears inside a prepositional phrase. However, prepositional phrases
(PP) can be part of a complete subject. Prepositional phrases can appear in any part of a
sentence (not just in or near complete subjects) and they can be part of any clause. PPs don’t
change the nature of the clause that they appear in. No verb ever appears inside a PP.
CLAUSES – Count Subject-Verb combinations. Each S-V combo makes one clause.
How many clauses do you have to deal with in a sentence?
What are the boundaries of each clause? (that is, where does each clause begin and end?)
Each clause makes its own grammatical micro-world within a sentence.
Susan and Stephanie were running, and they fell into the river and were drowned.
_______________IND 1___________ c.c _____________IND 2_________________
IND 1: S = Susan, Stephanie — V = were running (still one S-V combo)
IND 2: S = they — V = fell, were drowned (still one S-V combo)
SUBORDINATE or INDEPENDENT clause? Their names tell you what they’re like.
Both kinds of clauses have one S-V combo each.
Subordinate clauses [SUB] begin with subordinating conjunctions/subordinators (p. 396
box). That’s the only thing that differentiates them from independent clauses. ***Beware of
“understood” subordinators/relative pronouns, e.g., “that” (p.395). Understood subordinators
mark the beginning of subordinate clauses even if they’re not visible in the sentence.
Subordinate clauses can NEVER stand alone as complete sentences (p.180, 19). If
subordinate clause tries to stand alone, it is a “sentence fragment” and must be either pulled
into a nearby sentence, or turned into a complete sentence by itself.
Some sub. clauses appear **inside** indep. clauses, with a subject on one side of the
interrupting sub. clause and a verb on the other side. You have to track down S-V combos
for each clause very carefully, and sometimes even write out clauses separately so you can
see them clearly.
Example: The cat that Stephanie was chasing scratched her.
IND: S = cat — V = scratched. “The cat scratched her”
SUB: S = Stephanie — V = was chasing. “that Stephanie was chasing”
TRANSITIONERS a.k.a “conjunctive adverb” or “transitional phrase” (p.315):
Transitioners are not coordinating conjunctions. A transitioner alone is not strong enough to
join two independent clauses.
Transitioners are not subordinators. Keeping transitioners and subordinators distinct is
important when you’re trying to decide if a clause is independent or subordinate.
A subordinator always appears at the beginning of a subordinate clause; the subordinator is
what makes the clause subordinate. An independent clause that begins with a subordinator is no
longer an independent clause: it is a subordinate clause.
Transitioners are different from subordinators:
- A transitioner may appear anywhere in a clause (though they often show up at the
beginning of a clause)
- A transitioner does NOT change the nature of the clause that it appears in. An
independent clause that begins with a transitioner is still an independent clause.
If you can’t decide if you’re dealing with a transitioner or a subordinator, try shifting the word
around inside the clause. A transitioner will make sense even if it’s moved from its position at
the beginning of the clause. A subordinator only makes sense at the beginning of the clause.
Alex bought Susan a fake diamond engagement ring; however, she still accepted his proposal.
S V TRANS S V
Alex bought Susan a fake diamond engagement ring; she still accepted his proposal, however.
S V S V TRANS
JOINING INDEPENDENT CLAUSES:
Can be done in one of two (and only 2) ways:
1. with a coordinating conjunction, one of the FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So).
Any coordinating conjunction may have a comma in front of it – that’s a matter of taste –
but you can never put a comma after a coordinating conjunction.
2. with a semi-colon ;
Susan and Stephanie were running; they fell into the river and were drowned.
A comma alone is never strong enough to join two independent clauses. Remember what the
word “independent” means: strong, even pig-headed. Commas are too weak to handle pig-
WRONG: Susan and Stephanie were running, they fell into the river and were drowned.
You can think of a comma as being “strengthened” either with a coordinating conjunction or
with a period on top of it to make a semi-colon; only with such strengthening is it strong enough
to join two indep. clauses
PLURALS and POSSESSIVES and APOSTROPHES (Chapter 36)
The common misconception is that the “s” on the end of a word shows possession. It
doesn’t. The apostrophe is all that matters to show possession. We add the “s” only as a matter
of convenience in our spoken language because we can’t hear apostrophes.
Therefore, to show possession for any word, regardless of whether it ends with an “s” or
not, write out the whole word, THEN add the apostrophe. Only after you’ve added the
apostrophe do you decide if the word needs an “s” on the end.
You never, never, but NEVER put an apostrophe on a word to make a plural. Never. The
“s” does that alone.
The lady’s dressing room has pink curtains.
One lady has one dressing room
NOTE: no apostrophe on “curtains” because “curtains” is plural, not possessive
The ladies’ dressing room in the health club has pink curtains.
All ladies at the health club have one dressing room
The ladies’ dressing rooms in the health club have pink curtains.
All ladies at the health club have more than one dressing room for all lady members
NOTE: no apostrophe on “rooms” because “rooms” is plural, not possessive.
We’ll add to this as the course progresses and according to suggestions from students (you).