Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Is a Complete Sentence?

Narrations should be done in complete sentences. Questions should be answered in complete sentences. This seems like a simple requirement, but I found myself struggling to explain to First Son exactly what makes a stream of works a complete sentence rather than an incomplete one. He would consistently answer my questions starting with something like "so that..." or "fighting..." or "loving God..." (the last is his standard answer for why someone is a saint). In the beginning, when I prompted him to respond in a complete sentence, he would often look at me in dismay.

I finally resorted to examples:

"St. George fought the dragon."
"fought the dragon"

Eventually, First Son seemed to pick up on the idea and could consistently correct his phrases when I pointed out they were incomplete.

I was delighted to discover what is likely the answer to my problem in Charlotte Mason's Towards A Philosophy of Education. I imagine this particular idea is addressed in lots of other books about Charlotte Mason's methods, but somehow I missed it.
Every sentence has two parts, (1), the thing we speak of, and (2), what we say about it.
The first part of a sentence, of course, is the subject

How simple it would have been to say to First Son, "Who or what are you speaking about?"

Now that I think about it, I'm sure I will be saying that to him in the future.


  1. When I taught 4th grade, we used to do a chant (from the Shurley English Method) about complete sentences. It went like this:
    "A sentence, sentence, sentence
    is complete, complete, complete
    when five simple rules
    it meets, meets, meets
    It has a subject, subject, subject
    and a verb, verb, verb
    it makes sense, sense, sense
    with every word, word, word
    add a capital letter, letter
    and an end mark, mark
    now we're finished and aren't we smart
    now our sentence has all its parts"

    We said it several times each week (along with some of the other chants/songs from the method.) The kids really seemed to like it and it was very easy to refer to if they were making incomplete sentences.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Michelle. Last year, First Son didn't know what subjects and verbs were, but he's starting to learn as we're studying Latin. I'll share this with the kids next year.


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