Archive | October, 2012

Marvel Presents: Sentence Fragments vs. The Avengers

28 Oct

Some things just belong together.  Just ask Jake Johnson, a guy who thinks he is parody-ing Jack Johnson by changing the words to his songs slightly.

I experienced the ultimate coming-together movie (that is, if you don’t count Human Centipede) last night: The Avengers.  This has been a long time coming.  I myself am not a big fan of superhero movies.  For me, the real heroes are those Greek sandwiches.  Oh, and those guys who star in the Cialias commercials.

Evan, on the other hand, is … how do I put this nicely? …. a huge nerd.  [Note: Evan just read this and said, “I’m really more of a geek.”  So … I rest my case.]  He didn’t get to watch all of the movies leading up to The Avengers when they were in theaters, so he’s been watching them lately, and mostly in secret, away from my judging eyes and judging words (like, “I’m judging you!” and “Order in the court!”).  Because he is being sneaky about it, he has had to watch these movies in installments, and that means that it took me a few days to figure out that the “documentary on Norse mythology” that he was watching was actually Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth (or, as his fellow Mermen like to call him, “The L’Oreal Sand King”).

The Avengers basically goes like this: an evil Rubix cube is threatening to release enough energy to destroy earth.  Thor’s (and, based on the hair line, also Paul Ryan’s) half-brother “Loco Loki the Dirty River Eel King” steals Moses’ staff and sneers a lot, so you know he’s bad.  Nick Fury is apparently a good guy, but it’s hard to tell because he didn’t have his own movie before, and also, he never says that line about the snakes on the plane, so it’s a bit of a let down.  Regardless, the universe is in trouble because of the Tesla-glowbox, so obviously, all of the greatest superheroes in American folklore must assemble.  You know … Superman … Spiderman … Batman … wait.

Instead of superheroes I KNOW, we get … Hawkeye?  The Black Widow?  Folks, the only superpower Scarlett Johansson has is the ability to inspire hatred in all women.  And I’ll let you in on a little secret: Dr. Bruce Banner’s degree is actually an honorary DFA from Strayer University.  So.

Anyway, they all meet up, and, as you would expect, all of the sudden I’m a part of the movie, only I can’t move my legs, so I have to army crawl out of a Victoria’s Secret without letting the displays (which are disguised as chalkboards) catch me, which is a real bummer, because an army of red ants (who I just kind of understand  are actually my former elementary school teachers, but they’re still ants, but I just kind of get it) has kidnapped my sister and they keep saying that they’ll give her back if I can “throttle the moment.”

Full disclosure: I may have slept through most of this movie.

But there’s one thing that The Avengers did teach me, I think: you’ve got to have all superpower cylinders firing if you’re going to destroy the Blacklight Tetris Square.  Without just one of them (unless one died while I was asleep), I imagine, the film’s (I’m assuming positive?) ending (I’m assuming the movie did end?) would not have worked (I’m assuming it all worked out and audiences were pleased with its conclusion?).  Look, throw me a bone.  I’m trying to move from The Avengers to sentence fragments.  You need all the pieces, blah blah blah.

Sentence fragments.

Most simply, a sentence fragment is a group of words who are trying to be a sentence, but who lack the ingredients necessary to make a sentence: namely, a subject and a verb.

Let’s get imperatives out of the way.  An imperative is a verb that commands someone to do something.  “Stop!” or “Duck!” are imperatives.  They don’t have to follow sentence rules: “Stop!” (as a command) is a full sentence, because the “you” is implied when an imperative is used.  However, unless you are a writer on an old-timey cop show, you generally skip out on saying things like, “Stop, you!” or “You there, stop!”  Writers on modern police shows have much less actual dialogue to worry about, in part because they can drop the implied “you,” and in part because Stage Direction: (Pulls out Taser) really puts a leash on the creative process.

[Little known fact: “Taser?  I hardly KNOW her!” is a hilarious joke that is not appreciated by a policemen in pursuit of a female subject.]

I’ve run into a lot of students who think that a sentence fragment is just a really short sentence.  This is not necessarily true.  I ate, while quite short, is a complete sentence.  I am is also a complete sentence.  I was eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a complete sentence, and as long as you have a banana, an apple, a slice of toast, a bowl of oatmeal, a glass of milk, a multi-vitamin, protein shake and a mineral enema along with it, it’s also part of this complete breakfast.

Sometimes, fragments get lost in proofreading.  I happy is obviously a fragment, because it is missing a verb.  You could fix this by adding a verb: I was happy or I became happy would complete the sentence.  You could also say I hate Happy if you believe that that smug dog on 7th Heaven needs to be knocked down a few levels.  You look like what my dryer leaves behind after a load of whites, Happy.  No one cares that you’re starring as yourself.

The same goes if you forget a subject.  Running away is a fragment because there is no subject.  In the fields, at dusk is a sentence fragment that, though it has nouns, does not have a subject OR a verb.

But sentence fragments can be more than sentences you just forgot to finish writing, or sentences you were writing while pretending to listen to a friend on the phone.  (“Uh huh … uh huh … no, I’m listening … right, you’re so right, it’s ridiculous that the Gregorian chant is a form of monophonic liturgical music … no, of course, you deserve better”).

So let me open up a can of worms and only let a worm or two escape: a sentence can have nouns and (what appear to be) verbs and STILL NOT HAVE A SUBJECT OR A VERB.  What?!  This is crazier than [that plot twist in The Avengers] when [Thor was Norse the whole time? Hawkeye is Keyser Soze?)!

If you write a sentence that is a dependent clause only, then you have written a sentence fragment.  Dependent clauses often start with words like because, although, however, or if (to name a few).  You can’t get away with writing “Because she was tired.”  That is a sentence fragment, even though it looks like it has a subject (she) and a verb (was).  Those are objects of a dependent clause and are not strong enough to be the subject and the verb.  Plus, you can almost hear it: Because she was tired sounds weak.  It leads you to think–almost subconsciously–she did WHAT because she was tired?  Or she’s feeling WHAT because she was tired?

That’s because a dependent clause needs a strong independent clause on which to rely.  You might write something as simple as “She fell asleep because she was tired,” and boom, your problem is solved.  You’ve got a subject (she) and a verb (fell asleep).  You’ve got the important ingredients for a sentence, and you’ve defeated the dreaded sentence fragment.

Just like (I imagine!) the heroes defeated the villain in that movie I definitely watched in its entirety, The Avengers!  The one thing that I know after totally watching all of that movie is that I’m looking forward to more spin-offs.  From what I gathered from the part of the movie I was awake for, the premise is basically to get as many random match-ups as possible in two hours.  I imagine that the script to The Avengers pretty much just reads: Whoa, what would happen if The Hulk and Thor got in a fight?!  What about Ironman and Captain America?!  What about Ironman and HIS OWN EGO?!

Let’s get real, guys.  The last time I saw that many unnecessary combinations I was at a family photo shoot at a wedding.

“Okay, okay.  Now, for this one, we’re gonna want to get all of the cousins on the bride’s side who have HAD ORTHODONTIC WORK DONE.  One more time, cousins on the bride’s side who have HAD BRACES.  Cousins without braces, stand to the side, you’re gonna go ahead and hop in on the next one.  It’s going to be you guys plus bridesmaids who tried to hem their own dresses and are hoping the bride won’t notice.  You’re going to put these pictures in frames.”

Word of the Week: Rapscallion

16 Oct

Rapscallion: (n.) A disreputable person; a rascal or scoundrel

Similar to: Rogue, knave, scamp

Example: That rapscallion tried to convince me that a good example of a rapscallion was that hit from the 90’s “Baby Got Back to the Kitchen and Took Some Onion-Like Plants From the Fridge.”

The whether outside is frightful.

7 Oct

I once thought that nothing could get in between me and my love of autumn, but darn it all, they’ve done it again: teenage girls and their subsequent access to the Internet have ruined another thing I love.

First, they took YOLO (for those not in the know, this stands for “you only live once”) and they now say it before they do stupid things.  That’s fine.  I was okay letting YOLO go, because once I started hanging out with a bunch of reincarnationists, it turned into a whole thing.  You know, we’d be doing something crazy like sky diving, and when I jumped out of the plane, I’d scream, “YOLO!” and then they would jump out after me yelling, “I’m coming back as a bear!”  So more power to you, teenagers.  Take YOLO; you can have it.  Because you’re right: you do only live once.  And like you, whenever I am faced with the reality of my own mortality, I realize that if I found a pair of glasses with chunky black frames, I could totally take a picture of myself and caption it as “nerd lol.”

They also ruin music.  Let’s not forget that before all of this “I listened to this band before they were cool and now that people like them and this band I’ve revered for years is actually receiving the airplay and critical play they deserve, they’re totally ruined” hipster nonsense, teenage girls getting a hold of good music really DID ruin it for the rest of us.  When a band you’ve worshipped for years becomes, “Omg I totally love them, they’re from that episode of Grey’s, right?” or “I love Radiohead.  That’s the name of that movie where the guy holds that big stereo up outside some girl’s house, right?  I heard that movie was made in the 1940s,” it can be a little deflating.

But now they’ve really done it.  Now they’ve ruined fall.  Fall used to be my perfect season, the season where everything was beautiful and right, and where we all just kind of understood that the weather was perfect and everything was happy and darn it all, but we were going to go apple picking.

These teenage girls like fall, too, and that’s their prerogative.  But instead of quietly enjoying it like the rest of us, they’ve taken to social media sites like mad.  If I see one more Bieber-loving snot reeking of Ax and eau de Pro-Active post one more picture of a tree overlaid with white text that says stuff like “i cant wait for fall & campfires & s’mores & sweatshirt weather” and some such nonsense with all their friends commenting with hearts they made on their keyboard, I’m going to Hannah their Montanas all the way to next Christmas.

All that about weather being said, today’s post is about whether.  And if.  And what the difference between them is.

These transitions are getting more and more abrupt.

Whether and if are not interchangeable words.  The basic difference for usage is this:

  • If should be used if the sentence is conditional.
  • Whether should be used to show two or more alternatives.

Here are some examples:

Knock once if you are a friend, knock twice if you are a foe, knock eighty-eight times if you have OCD and your family will die if you don’t.

In this sentence, every time “if” is used, it represents a condition.  Under the condition that you are a friend, you knock once.  Under the condition that you are a foe, you knock twice.  And so on.

Now, let’s try a “whether” sentence.

Because my weather app on my phone was broken, I didn’t know whether it was sunny or stormy outside.

In this sentence, there are two or more alternatives (in this case, sunny or stormy), so whether is used, and quite cleverly, I might add, because of the subject matter.  If would not be correct in this sentence because it is not conditional.

I’ll give you an example of how choosing if instead of whether (or vice-versa) could confuse the meaning of the sentence.

I didn’t know whether you would play the trumpet or the cornet.

I didn’t know if you would play the trumpet or the cornet.

In the first sentence, the use of whether indicates options: you’re definitely going to play something, but are you going to play the trumpet or the cornet?  In the second sentence, we have a condition: I don’t know if you’re going to play ANYTHING at all.  I may have offered you the trumpet and the cornet and choices, but we still don’t know IF that is going to happen.

So you work on correctly using whether and if, and I’ll work on all of this rage I have against teenage girls and their Internet affair with fall.  After all, I do need to remember this: one day, they will be adults.  Productive members of society.  They will no longer be teenagers posting ridiculous fall memes all over the Internet.

They will be posting pictures of their sandwiches.

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