My system for examining sentence structure ignores all the words that don’t contribute to a sentence’s complexity—all articles (a, an, and the); simple adverbs that tend to cluster around a verb or verbal; adjectives, which usually come ahead of the noun they’re describing; helping verbs that precede the key verb (“could have been dreaming”); and conjunctions, which just act as glue between two or more items. English, unlike most languages, depends on word order rather than inflectional endings, and knowing the order in which grammatical units are placed helps a writer put his sentences together. In English, we have a limited number of such units, but when you consider how many different ways they can interact and on how many different levels, the number of sentence structures is almost infinite. I say “almost” because there’s always a limit to everything. Even that monkey banging away on a typewriter could one day write Hamlet, but it’s highly unlikely.
The grammatical units in English are main clause (S-V-O and S-V-S), adjective, adverb, and noun clause (s-v-o and s-v-s), prepositional phrase (1-o), infinitive phrase (2-o), present participial phrase (3-o), past participial phrase (4 plus usually a 1-o), appositive (a noun or noun phrase repeating the noun it usually follows), and nominative absolute (an odd unit made up of a 2, 3, 4, or adjective with its own subject that loosely attaches itself to a sentence and moves around like an adverb and sort of modifies the whole sentence).
Whew! That sounds much more complicated than it does when we put it in the perspective of my system.
These units can add ideas to our sentences by stringing them along on the same level, adding them in a series on the same line. For example, S - S - V - O - O - O, or S - V - O, and S - V - O. Or they can be added on second, third, fourth, and even fifth levels below the main line. I guess a writer like Faulkner could go deeper than a fifth level, but the deeper the structures go, the more likely the reader would get lost in the maze. But that often happens in Faulkner’s writing. Was he consciously going that deep or did his mind simply function that way? There’s a sentence in “The Bear” that goes on for several pages, using all the grammatical units in helter-skelter fashion, but also parentheses and brackets to go even deeper in the message.
I hope I haven’t lost any of my few readers by this time. Be patient, and you’ll soon see what it’s all about.
Here’s an example of how a sentence can go down four levels:
Okay, so it's a dumb sentence, but it shows how we can use adverb and adjective s-v-o's.
To lighten the load of what I just said, how about another Ole and Sven joke, this one echoing the ridiculousness of all the Viagra and Cialis commercials:
Sven is late for work. The boss finds him in the bunkhouse, and Sven explains that he has an erection and can't get his overalls on. "OK, Sven, you need to go in the barn and get a shovelful of nice hot horse manure and pack it around there. That'll take down the swelling and you can come on and get to work." Sven goes to the barn and opens his fly and gets the shovelful of manure ready. At that moment, the boss's wife walks in. "What the hell are you doing, Sven?" Sven explains what he is doing. "Yumping Yeesus, Sven, don't do that!" she says as she pulls up her dress. "Stick it in here!" "What?" says Sven. "The whole shovelful?"