Breaking Down a Sentence

The Teaching Company sells a course entitled “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft.”

In the first lecture, Professor Brooks Landon demonstrates how word choice and syntax alter the meaning of what we say. He offers a mental model for thinking about this.

Take the sentence: “I then went to the store.”

Now imagine two axis: one vertical, and one horizontal.

On the vertical axis is a list of closely related words for each key word in the sentence. So along with “went,” you might see:
and so on.

And along with “store” might be (from more abstract to more specific):
Target, and
Brooklyn Center Target.

On the horizontal axis is a list of all the word-order variations of a given sentence:
I then went to the store.
Then I went to the store.
Then went I to the store.
I went, then, to the store.
To the store I then went.
I to the store then went.

The words you choose, and the order in which you place them affects the propositional content of your sentence. Sometimes it’s a subtle change of meaning.


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