All aboard the grammar train!

This is one train, as an aspiring writer, you don’t want to miss. Grammar is a very broad term defining the rules of any given language including sentence structure, when and how to use punctuation, and the proper use and placement of different parts of speech. In short, grammar is to writing as holy books are to religion: without them, everything falls apart. In fact, the rules are so numerous and varied, that I couldn’t begin to enumerate them in a single article, so instead, we’ll focus on some of the basics of English sentence structure.

Train Metaphor = No Joke

I have always been a visual learner, so when I say, “All aboard,” I mean it: grammar is very similar to a train in many ways. Where sentence structure is concerned, each train car could be considered a different part of speech, each car chained to another in a specific order to yield a viable statement. In the broader sense of the term, grammar is like a train, in that it’s a long list of ideas and concepts strung together to form the basis of what we call language, speech, and the written word. Especially where poetry is concerned, these concepts can be rearranged to a certain extent, but until you’ve mastered the basics, I wouldn’t stray too far from the standard “train set.”

The Engine

Every sentence in the English language requires a subject – the engine. This is the part of your sentence which makes it run. No engine means the train goes nowhere, and no subject in your statement produces the same fate. The subject can be represented by people, places, and things, but in their simplest form, they’re almost always nouns. In the statement, “Eddie eats everything,” Eddie is the noun, the subject, and coincidentally, the first word in the sentence much like a train engine (funny how that works, right?). Without Eddie, the sentence has no subject and would be considered incomplete. Poetry often employs an implied subject, meaning that the subject isn’t clearly defined, but through the context of the greater work and artistic expression, the subject can still be identified. Whether implied or otherwise, the subject must be present for your writing to work.

The Caboose

If every sentence has a beginning, every sentence must also have an ending. In English, if a statement has no verb, it is incomplete. The simplest sentence in our language will always have a subject and a verb: nothing else is needed. Going back to our example, “Eddie eats everything,” if you take off everything, you’re left with “Eddie eats,” which is still a complete thought. It isn’t an incredibly expressive thought, but it has the most crucial parts. The caboose tends to move around a little in English, especially where poetry is concerned, but again, the important part is that you understand how vital it is to quality grammar.

The Boxcars

Very seldom is a train just one or two parts. Typically they’re towing a bunch of boxcars: consider these the different parts of speech you can add to your writing to make it stand out. Sometimes they haul animals, others house people, and then there are fortified cars which transport government secrets. Adverbs, prepositional phrases, pronouns, objects, adjectives, participles… these are all boxcars in the English language, and the majority of your statements already use them whether or not you realize it. Take our original sentence, “Eddie eats everything.” We’ve already determined that Eddie is the subject/noun, and eats is the caboose/verb which leaves everything as a boxcar which, in this case, is a pronoun. Is it essential to the sentence? No, but it brings life to your words by further defining what Eddie eats.

I’m sure this seems incredibly simple, but understand that grammar is an incredibly complex subject, and the truth is – especially for those of you learning English as a secondary language – it will take years to master all the ins and outs. That’s why I will be posting new lessons in grammar every single week. As time goes on, we will piece everything together as a team: I’ll be the conductor, and you can be the train’s crew. So again I say, “All aboard!” Will you be joining us?


Samuel Blake ǀ @herheart_oncraft
Her Heart Poetry’s ON CRAFT area will be evolving over the coming months. Samuel’s goal is to both educate and inspire readers and writers of all calibres. ON CRAFT articles will be published to teach about a different facet of creative writing.

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