Posts Tagged ‘Proposition’

Gathering Knowledge One Sentence at a Time

November 10, 2011 7 comments

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: