The Present State of English Syntax

  • Basil Cottle


The old school exercise of analysis and parsing, long abandoned in many schools now, perhaps went about things in the wrong order: you were faced with a passage or sentence of good prose or verse, and you divided it into its component parts and thus showed that it was correctly constructed, which your common sense and your ear should have shown you, anyway. Of course, in the process your good taste should have noticed that it was well composed, a model of how to compose, with — say — suspense, balance, inexorable logic, the right words in the right order. But there should have been more analysis of the pupils’ careful compositions — revealing, perhaps, a degree of imbalance, disordered items, dangling phrases that formally could belong to either of two nouns or two verbs, and a failure of logic.


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© Basil Cottle 1985

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  • Basil Cottle

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