Where’s the verb?

Back in my too-long ago schooldays, I was taught English by an old grammarian. Let’s call him Charlie Broadwood – for that indeed was his name. He kept a tin of sweets in his desk drawer, and from time to time he would pop one in his mouth and suck it with every sign of satisfaction. If one of us in his class did something particularly meritorious he would call us out to partake of one of his “luscious sweetmeats”. But I digress. He taught that a sentence is a recognisable grammatical structure of words, containing a subject, a predicate, and a verb. If the verb, subject or predicate is implied, the sentence is an elliptical one. I know that Fowler accepts verbless sentences, and that some poets say that anything goes in writing nowadays, but I don’t think so.

I know I infuriate other poets in critical groups, or when I edit poems for publications, by asking, “Where’s the verb?” but the truth is, I can’t help it. To me, a sentence without a verb may be a wondrous descriptive subordinate clause or whatever, but it ain’t a sentence. I can happily eject adverbs (more than happily) or excessive adjectives (equally), but if there isn’t a ‘doing word’ in a sentence, it isn’t ‘doing’ anything; it just sits there.

We have a rich and almost infinitely flexible panoply of vocabulary, grammar, syntax and punctuation, and I use the lot, maybe because of Charlie Broadwood’s luscious sweetmeats. Those who would oversimplify our language would leave it a poor, depauperate and anorexic thing. I want to see those verbs. Now, go back and write it out again.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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4 Responses to Where’s the verb?

  1. swiss says:

    gregory corso!?
    i’m there!

  2. sunnydunny says:

    I first read him in 1961. Terrific poet.

  3. swiss says:

    i was compiling my list of things i want to be at and that one’s a non-negotiable!

  4. Jim Murdoch says:

    Yes, I also feel very old-fashioned in this regard. I’ve just about embraced the sentence fragment but only as long as it makes sense when spoken. I don’t mind poets doing what they like if they can explain to me why other than the one-excuse-covers-all “it felt right”. I was lucky in that I had one teacher at least, in Primary 6, who hammered home English grammar – we were always dissecting sentences – and I wish there had been more later but that was it. So when you talk about ‘subordinate clauses’ I grue because I know I don’t understand these as well as I should; you can only cram so much into one year. I have a couple of good grammar books but who has the time to go back and study now? It would be interesting but I doubt it would be useful.

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