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Saturday, September 7

ES3 - The 1 - o

The easiest way to expand our sentences is to increase some of the main elements, like S-S-S-V-O-O (Charlie, Jim, and Bob each ordered eggs and bacon.) But that’s sort of the way little kids expand their sentences. We can do better than that.

A second way of adding to sentences involves what I call the 1 (traditiionally called a preposition). The 1 is a word that always takes one or more o’s, together forming a word group that, in its frequency of use, is peculiar to English. For example:
The 1’s belong to a relatively small group of words, only about sixty in our language, but we use them over and over again for adding information to our sentences. Sentence #1 is an S-V-O pattern with the S being “Many of our friends.” We instinctively feel that the S breaks into two parts, “Many” and “of our friends.” The word “many” is the key word structurally, leaving us the sentence “Many drive economy cars,” but the S just screams for more information—“Many” what? The words “of our friends” point out what kind of “many” is being talked about. The 1 is the word of, accompanied by its o, “our friends.” We determine the o of the 1 the same way we determine the O of the V—by asking the question “who or what?” directly after the 1. “Of” who or what? “Of our friends.” Sentence #2 contains the S-V-O “He found the note,” and the 1-o “from his girlfriend,” which adds information about the note, pointing out which note. In sentences #1 and #2 the 1-o’s are acting as adjectives describing, respectively, the S and the O. The 1-o, when it works with a noun, will nearly always come immediately after the noun.

The 1-o can also act as an adverb, giving us information about the V. In sentence #3 the 1-o is “after class,” telling when “the students discussed the reading list.” Other kinds of adverbial information answer such questions as where? why? how? under what conditions? to what extent? You should note that, like most adverbs, the 1-o, when it works with the V, can be placed in various positions in the sentence.
The students discussed the reading list after class.
After class, the students discussed the reading list.
The students, after class, discussed the reading list.
The students discussed, after class, the reading list.
The positions in the first two examples, the end position and the front position, are the most normal, and the position between the V and the O is the least normal, the most awkward.

We saw earlier that one possibility for adding ideas to our sentences was simply to add similar units, as with the pattern S-S-S-V-O-O. The same thing is true of the 1-o’s. In fact, our language makes such extensive use of the 1-o that we would find a series of two or more 1 - o word groups more common than a single 1 - o. Sentence #4, for example, contains two 1-o’s working together: (At the back) (of the room) Charlie was reading a book. Together the 1-o’s are working with the V, “was reading,” answering the adverb question “where?” When we look at the second 1-o, “of the room,” we see that it is describing the noun it follows, giving us more information about the word back. We often string together three or four 1-o’s in a row, each one giving more information about the o of the preceding word group. Usually they look like this:

Each of the 1-o’s points back to the word it follows, giving more information about each noun.: Which “some?” Which “shops?” Which “mall?” Which “west side?” But getting back to Charlie and his reading, we see that the 1-o’s, “at the back of the room,” can be moved to other positions in the sentence without seriously changing the meaning. For example, “Charlie, at the back of the room, is reading a book,” or “Charlie is reading a book at the back of the room.” This last example, with the 1-o’s in the final position, can be ambiguous (having more than one possible meaning) depending on the nature of the word the 1-o’s follow. With only a slight change in the sentence, the final position for the 1-o’s produces a double meaning: “Charlie was reading a bulletin at the back of the room.” Was Charlie, , who just happened to be sitting at the back of the room, reading a bulletin that he had brought with him to class, or was he reading a bulletin posted at the back of the room? The position of a 1-o after a noun is so strong that our automatic assumption is that it is describing the noun. We can avoid the double meaning by rearranging the sentence or by adding words which make the meaning clearer. “At the back of the room, Charlie was reading a bulletin.” Here, the meaning is clear: the 1-o’s are giving us information about where Charlie was reading. “Charlie was reading a bulletin posted at the back of the room.” Here also, the meaning is clear:: the 1-o’s are telling us where the bulletin was posted.

Sentence #5, “Charlie is the only man in town for the job,” illustrates 1-o’s not working in sequence, but working separately to describe the noun in front of the first 1-o:
Clearly, “for the job” describes man, and not town, the noun it follows. There is some danger of double meaning when we have 1-o’s separately trying to describe the same noun. For example, by reversing the position of the two 1-o’s, we get “Charlie is the only man for the job in town.” Here the sentence can have two meanings. Most readers will assume that “in town” is describing “the job,” whereas that may not have been what the writer intended. An even more obvious example shows how a writer might fall into an unintentionally ridiculous sentence: “Charlie noticed a girl on the bus with sad eyes.” The reader is more likely to notice the weird bus than the girl. Even reversing the 1-o’s does not help much: “Charlie noticed a girl with sad eyes on the bus.” This kind of ambiguity results from too many word groups trying to describe the same word. We generally try to place adjective and adverb word groups as close as possible to the word they describe, but when several word groups are describing the same word, because close positions are limited, the sentence often results in confused meaning.

One more oddity about the 1 should be noted. Sometimes what looks like a 1 after the V is not a 1 but only an adverb attached to the V, an attachment usually resulting in an informal change in the meaning of the V.
This informal change in the meaning of a V can even result in the curious situation where the same word is repeated, first as part of the V and next as a 1. For example, “The terrorists must be dealt with with caution.” Here, the V “to deal with,” means “to handle.” Just be aware that we often create new V’s by adding various words that are often 1’s, but may also be just attached adverbs.

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