Monday, June 05, 2006

June 5: Complex Sentence Day

On this day in 2004, Ronald Reagan died at his home in Bel-Air, California. Certainly much has been written about Reagan’s political career as governor of California and the 40th president of the United States, but after his career in politics was over, Reagan accomplished something unique. On November 5, 1994, he announced to the world that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

In a short handwritten letter, Reagan explained his desire for privacy, but also his desire to raise public awareness for the millions afflicted with Alzheimer’s. With his characteristic candor and optimism, Reagan closed the letter by saying: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead" (1).

The May 14, 2001 edition of Time magazine contained a cover story tracing the search for the causes and potential cure for Alzheimer’s. One study of particular interest involved a group of more than 6oo nuns. Scientist David Snowdown of the University of Kentucky began studying the nun's personal and medical histories looking for clues that might solve the mystery behind why some people get Alzheimer's and other don't.

Snowdown became interested in autoiographical essays that the nuns had written when they entered the order in their early 20s when they first took their vows. He analyzed each essay for its idea density and grammatical complexity, and the results provided some interesting insights. Snowdown discovered that the nuns whose essays contained grammatically complex sentences were the same nuns who six or more decades later were free of any signs of Alzheimer’s. Conversely, those nuns who used relatively simple sentences were the same nuns who contracted Alzheimer’s. With the nuns' early writing, Snowden was able to predict with 85% to 90% accuracy which nuns would have the disease 60 years later (2).

There is no evidence yet that teaching students to incorporate complex sentences into their writing will prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in later years. However, one thing is certain, a healthy menu of intellectual persuits, including writing, in your younger years doesn't hurt. Another certainty is that good writers use a variety of sentences, and understanding the difference between simple sentences and complex sentences is a starting point to adding variety to your sentences.

By definition a simple sentence has one independent clause, while a complex sentence has one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. For example, the sentence "Mary washed the car." is a simple sentence. Similarily the sentence "Mary ate dinner." is a simple sentence. Combining the two sentences using the subordinating conjunction "after" creates a complex sentence: After Mary washed the car, she ate dinner. Notice that the start of the sentence is a dependent clause that begins with the word after. The second clause in the sentence is an independent clause.

Today's Challenge: Syntax Sense
Read the sentences below and see if you can tell the difference between the simple sentences and the complex sentences. As you analyze the sentences, notice how subordinating conjunctions are used to connect phrases and clause. Examples of subordinating conjunctions are: after, although, as, because, even though, if, since, unless, when, and while.

1. When I write poetry, my mind is active and creative.

2. I write poetry to keep my mind active and creative.

3. She plays the drums well because she practices a lot.

4. The family will get together while they are in town.

5. The family will get together while in town.

6. If the sun comes out today, we plan to go to the beach.

7. Talking on the phone after school with his friend, Jerry remembered he had not paid the phone bill.

8. Since there are 85 billion different possibilities for the first four moves of a chess game, alternative moves are not hard to find.

Quote of the Day: Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
–Ronald Reagan

Answers: 1. Complex 2. Simple 3. Complex 4. Complex 5. Simple 6. Complex7. Simple 8. Complex

1 -

2- Lemonick, Michael D. and Alice Park Mankato. "The Nun Study." Time 14 May 2001: 54-64.

No comments: