What is writing made of?

In her book The Writing Life (1989), Annie Dillard tells the story of a fellow writer who was asked by a student, “Do you think I could be a writer?” ” ‘Well,’ the writer said, ‘do you like sentences?'”

Excerpted from How To Write A Sentence by Stanley Fish. Copyright 2011 by Stanley Fish. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Writing is made of sentences (and sentences are made of clauses).

SVA sentence

SVA = Subject + Verb + Adverbial

Elephants live here.
Elephants [SUBJECT] live [VERB] here. [ADVERBIAL]

In SVA sentences, the adverbial is required; without it, the sentence is grammatically incomplete:

Elephants live ??

Adverbs and adverbials are optional in the other 6 sentence patterns. You can include adverbials in any sentence you like, but the only sentence pattern that requires an adverbial is the SVA.

Explanation of adverbs/adverbials
John Seely on the 5+2 sentence patterns
Adverbs at CCC
5+2: the 7 canonical sentence patterns in English
Grammar for Teachers by John Seely

Complex sentence

Traditional grammars organize sentences into 4 categories:

  • Simple sentence
  • Compound sentence
  • Complex sentence
  • Compound-complex sentence

A complex sentence has just one independent clause and at least one dependent clause:

Rex barks when the postman comes.
Rex barks [INDEPENDENT CLAUSE] when the postman comes [DEPENDENT CLAUSE].
when [DEPENDENT MARKER WORD] the postman [SUBJECT] comes [VERB]

Richard Nordquist defines “clause
Identifying Independent and Dependent Clauses (OWL)
Clauses (Richard Nordquist at about.com)
The Main Clause (chompchomp)
Dependent Clauses: Adverbial, Adjectival, Nominal (Towson)
Clauses and Sentences (Internet Grammar of English)