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    #1

    Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    Hi,

    I am going to ask a somewhat convoluted question here, but fingers crossedsomeone can answer me. (Apologies in advance for the length.)

    First of all,what are the different categories for parenthetical asides that are set asideby commas, dashes or parentheses? You have nonrestrictive descriptors thatfunction syntactically as modifiers, interjections (such as 'yeah', 'oh', etc.)that have no syntax function, and...

    And what else? Are there other categories I'm missing?


    Take this sentence, for instance: "Becoming a great writer—or even a goodwriter—requires practise and patience."

    The phrasebracketed in dashes is a coordinate completer of the gerund 'Becoming', whichitself is the sentence's subject... Correct? So how is the phrase in dashesfunctioning in terms of the syntax? Why has it been set off withDashes? I'm not looking for an answer along the lines, "It's just anonessential element..." How does that enclosed phrase relate to theremainder of the sentence? Is it just down to the writer's own intuition to setaside this phrase and call it 'supplementary or nonessential'?

    Next, take the following couple of sentence as examples for my secondquery: (1) "James felt endangered and hopeless about the situation,endangered because he wasn't familiar with the situation, hopeless because hecouldn't inform anyone of his situation." And (2) "James visited thesweet shop, which contained a selection of his favourite sour sweets, includingsome of the newest releases from last month's convention."

    In sentence (1), how are the two clauses set aside by commas functioning? Bothelements are set aside individually by means of commas, but they're bothproviding more info. about the two adjective completers of the main clause. Isthis even a legal construction with commas? The form of this example is takenfrom an English Academic's book--I've just changed the substance of thesentence.

    In sentence (2), there also appears to be two nonessential elements trailingthe main clause, again separated individually by commas; however, in thisinstance, the second 'parenthetical' seems to be a parenthetical, not to themain clause, but to the first parenthetical element. Can we have a nonessentialintertwined within another nonessential, itself a nonessential to the mainclause? What's the deal here?

    If there's anysource that teaches the logic of nonessential elements in the meticulous detailI'm looking for, I'd appreciate a link/reference. I have struggled with myunderstanding of them for months and months now! I'm not sure why I can't getmy head around them.

    I have studied syntax in detail, learning the logic of the language, the rolesof each word category, etc., etc., but this single issue has driven me up thewall! I can't understand the logic of 'nonessential bracketed words, phrases,or clauses', no matter how much I try to study them. Sorry for the mini-rant!


    Thanks for taking the time to read,
    Sean

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    #2

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Hello, Munsea:

    I have never taken a university-level class in syntax. My only "knowledge" about grammar is limited to high-school (secondary) level textbooks. So I will very timidly suggest a few ideas (certainly NOT "answers.")

    1. "God bless -- no harm in a blessing -- the Pretender."

    a. That sentence comes from one of my favorite books.
    b. "No harm in a blessing" is clearly parenthetical.
    c. As is obvious, it has no grammatical connection to either the subject or the predicate.

    2. "Becoming a great writer -- or even a good writer -- requires practice and patience."

    a. I think that we should ignore the hyphens when we analyze it.
    b. Apparently, the writer used those hyphens to slow the reader down. It makes the statement more dramatic by pausing after the first "writer" and the second "writer."
    c. The main point, IN MY OPINION, is that "even a good writer" IS grammatically connected to the subject.

    i. Let's rewrite it without the "dramatic" hyphens:

    "Becoming a great writer or a good writer requires practice and patience."

    If I am not wrong, "a great writer or a good writer" is a compound object of the gerund "becoming." (Don't be misled by the author's punctuation.)


    My source: House and Harman, Descriptive English Grammar (copyright 1931 and 1950).

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    #3

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    Yeh, this is an example of a compound object to a gerund. But apart from the added 'drama' created by the dashes, what else would you say about the logic of setting that phrase aside by dashes? How would you interpret it differently if the dashes weren't there?
    It's often said that parentheticals should be removable from the sentence because they don't contain the critical info., but this being the case, why are they
    included at all...
    I know it's quite sad I'm fretting over something like this, but I really want an answer!

    Thanks for taking the time to reply

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    #4

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    "Becoming a great writer—or even a good writer—requires practise and patience."
    ... The use of the dash puts more emphasis on the word, phrase, or clause than a set of parentheses would. - THE GRAMMAR BIBLE p 442

    "James visited the sweet shop, which contained a selection of his favourite sour sweets, including some of the newest releases from last month's convention."
    Which clause: ... commas to set off nonrestrictive words, phrases, and clauses. THE GRAMMAR BIBLE p 419
    Including: a preposition (which is usually preceded by a comma; dictionary definition)

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    #5

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    inase, please read this extract from the forum rules:

    You are welcome to answer questions posted in the Ask a Teacher forum as long as your suggestions, help, and advice reflect a good understanding of the English language. If you are not a teacher, you will need to state that clearly in your post.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 28-Sep-2015 at 17:53.

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    #6

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    Quote Originally Posted by 99munsea94 View Post
    Why are they [parenthetical elements]
    included at all?

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****

    Hello, Munsea:

    Hopefully, someone will soon give us an answer to your excellent question.

    While we're waiting, may I just throw out something to think about?

    Maybe I'm wrong, but isn't it just natural for people to use parenthetical elements in ordinary speech, when our minds are racing very fast and when we do not have time to craft perfectly written sentences?

    Which dialogue do you think is the more natural in ordinary conversation? (I shall keep my opinion to myself.)

    DIALOGUE A

    TheParser: It's great discussing the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both presidents had a big impact on American history.
    Munsea: Agreed.
    TheParser: Could you please explain their international policies?
    Munsea: Well, Roosevelt never thought out any international policy. I am referring to Theodore.
    TheParser: Thanks for the clarification.


    DIALOGUE B

    TheParser: It's great discussing the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both presidents had a big impact on American history.
    Munsea: Agreed.
    TheParser: Could you please explain their international policies?
    Munsea: Well, Roosevelt -- I refer to Theodore Roosevelt -- never thought out any clear international policy.

    Source for the sentence in boldface: Pence and Emery, A Grammar of Present-Day English (copyright 1947 and 1963).

    P.S. In writing, when you have time to think -- and an opportunity to revise -- you might write: "Theodore Roosevelt never thought out any clear international policy."
    In speech, however, we do not want to sound like a book. If there were some way to record your conversations throughout the day, you might be astonished at the number of parenthetical elements that you regularly "throw" into your sentences.

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    #7

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    Thanks for this interesting perspective, TheParser! I absolutely agree that 'DIALOGUE B' sounds more natural in terms of two people having a conversation. I still wonder, though, if there is some unwritten rule whereby you can insert anything into 'a parenthesis' and it's acceptable in written English. And then you have more advanced syntax structures where parenthesis are embedded within other parenthesises ... Nowhere seems to explain this issue in the depth I'm looking for, yet I know its a complicated issue that aught to be addressed. I've read far too many English grammar/syntax books for my liking, and I'm still completely perplexed by PARENTHETICALS!! :(

    Thanks for your input.

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    #8

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    Actually, it is not an answer. It is a reference and not my idea. I am not a teacher.

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    #9

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    It would be a good idea to put "not a teacher" in your signature.

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    #10

    Re: Syntax Query: Help with Functioning of 'Parenthetical Elements'

    I don't think informally interjected parenthetical addenda need necessarily obey a robust and coherent logic, they only need to be heard in the moment according to an analogy with such a coherent logic: that allowing spontaneous addenda either amidst, or subsequent to, the main assertion. I don't see there is any formal problem here: a non-essential clause itself gives rise to another. Something like Thomas the train pulling two cars of coal. Whoever gave you the idea that natural languages obey, in all instances which are natural and comprehensible, the sort of formal syntactic logic you're studying? It's only an attempt at axiomatising what is actually heard, as opposed to accounting for everything that can be heard.

    Another point: practise is a verb, you should have typed "practice".

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