Home > Work-related, Writing and Poetry > Gathering Knowledge One Sentence at a Time

Gathering Knowledge One Sentence at a Time

Before I came down with pneumonia a few weeks ago, I decided to broaden my knowledge base again. I have a habit, as most writers do, of taking a course at a time to sharpen skills and create a better base for writing.

This time I’m working on one of the courses from The Great Courses group. It’s called “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft,” lectures by Professor Brooks Landon of The University of Iowa. As most writers know, The U of I is one of the top schools for learning the writing craft. I figured what did I have to lose but some time each day for a DVD lecture and a couple of exercises.

The one thing I expected isn’t what I’ve found in this course. I expected to hear about grammar and all those SPAG (Spelling and Grammar) errors that plague writers no end. Instead, I found lectures on how to decipher the meanings of sentences, the language that’s used to express the writer’s intent.

That’s something I’ve never seen in any writing course or English class I’ve ever taken. For the first time I’m being taught how to use semantics and syntax to get my message across. I’m learning about propositions of sentences rather than prepositions. I’m learning how to write more effectively by knowing what, exactly, my words are portraying.

This is the best little 24-lecture course I’ve ever seen and I wish I’d found it a long time ago. Let me give you a wee taste of what I mean. A proposition is defined in this course as a statement in which the subject is affirmed or denied by the predicate.

Professor Landon says, “Propositions carry emotional or effective impact that has nothing to do with the grammatical expression or surface structure that advances that proposition in a sentence. It is only when we consider the emotional effect of the way we order and combine the propositions that underlie the sentences we speak or write that we can consider ourselves in control of our writing.”

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? In a very real way it is scary. When the student (me) began doing one of the first exercises, I was dumbfounded to see the many permutations of meaning carried within one short sentence, and for longer/more complex sentences, the meaning seemed to grow exponentially. At the end of the fourth lecture I’d come to know how intuitive understanding is based on such actual cues as “in” rather than “on”, or “understand” rather than “comprehend” and so on down the line.

I’ve come to the conclusion that through all of my education, training, and experience, I’ve only now advanced to a place where I can appreciate this course and the grit and beauty of building great sentences. If I study hard and apply myself to this course with as much continued enthusiasm as I have now, the benefits afforded me by its teaching will forever dictate how I write and why. And the real beauty of it is that I can use this knowledge for any type of writing, including poetry.

I recommend this learning tool to all who appreciate a well-written sentence. For essayists, novelists, children’s writers, poets, anyone who works with words, this will work for you. For educators it’s a must.

My challenge for you: Locate and define each of the propositions in the following sentence.

”I’ve come to the conclusion that through all of my education, training, and experience, I’ve only now advanced to a place where I can appreciate this course and the grit and beauty of building great sentences.”

Until we meet again in the classroom,

A bientot,


NOTE: For any who would like to investigate the offerings of The Great Courses, you can go to their site at: www.thegreatcourses.com/


  1. November 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Hi Clauds,
    Hmm. I am not up to your challenge.
    I got their catalog a few weeks ago. I may have to look into taking that course. Thanks for enlightening me.

    • claudsy
      November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      I’m learning stuff that I should have learned at university years ago. After I started this course, I suddenly felt cheated that I wasn’t taught this all those years ago. It makes a huge difference.

  2. November 15, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Wow, marvelous blog layout! How long have you ever been running a blog for? you make running a blog look easy. The whole look of your website is great, well the content material!

    • claudsy
      November 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks. The blog is a couple of years old now, and this is a new theme I’m using.

    • claudsy
      November 21, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      If you enjoy a light read that sucks you right in, this could be one for you. That’s for sure. Enjoy!

  3. February 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Claudette, thank you for reminding me about this course. I am a nerdy Computer Science type who needs all the help he can get with sentence construction. I recently started my own blog and I’m working through the process of improving how I express myself in writing. I am a self-professed Teaching Company (now called Great Courses) addict. Philosophy of Mind, Biology and Human Behavior, Physics Beyond the Edge, Understanding the Universe, and others. I’ve watched so many great courses from them. In fact, I bought “Building Great Sentences” a while back, placed it on the back burner, and never even opened the shrink-wrap. It’s definitely the right time to bust it out and watch these lectures. Thanks for the reminder and nice blog post. Take care.

    • claudsy
      February 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      I’m glad that you could gain from my post. Odd how the universe works, isn’t it. You’d never heard of me, and there I am to remind you that you still hadn’t taken the time to do your course.

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.


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