Blessed are they who can speak in simple, clear, effortless English

Jose A. Carillo

Jose A. Carillo

LAST week, I arguedthat there’s really no such thing as a complex-complex sentence and explained why there are only four types. But a very articulate follower of my new English-usage features page on Facebook, MaximoTumbali, thought otherwise. He suggested there’s even a need to add a sixth type—the complex-complex-complex-complex—like this one:“He got mad when I told him that he should study in order to be able to move on to the next level until he graduates from the secondary.”
Let me share our animated online exchange:

Max Tumbali: Don’t you think the continuing complexity of a sentence complicates one’s effort to seize what it all means, but to the composer it’s a mark of ingenuity?

Joe (that’s me): Oh, yes, complexity is the stuff that not a few stupefying grammarians in academe love to revel in. It feeds their vainglory to declare that some sentences can get verycomplicated in construction. It’s really a good, absorbing, brain-stretching diversion to parse and diagram them.From the looks of it, though, that example of yours is simply a complex sentence. It has “he got mad” as the independent clause, with “when I told him” as the first dependent clause and “that he should study” as the second dependent clause, which is then modified by the adverbial clause “to be able to move on to the next level until he graduates from the secondary.” I hope I didn’t confound you with that analysis.

Max: Absolutely not! On the contrary, you enlightened me so much aboutthat sentence type’s anatomy. You’re truly a guru. But how would you classify Marcel Proust’s typical kilometric sentence?

Joe: I would classify Proust’s long prose as one overextended sentence that wonderfully works without any hitch, as in a flowing, uninterrupted dream. Of course, it defies traditional sentence diagramming, and I won’t recommend to lesser creative mortals like you and me topursue such writing. To be truly communicative, it pays to write plain and simple prose.

Max:You’re undoubtedly right, although sometimes some writers admit that they can better express their thoughts throughmore complex sentences. And do you agree with what one English teacher said some time ago that the easiest way to learn English is through or by ear? And that an English sentence is construed to be correct if it sounds good to the ear?

Joe: Yes, absolutely, it’s easiest to learn English by ear. Just beware that doggerel can sound good to the ear even if it has atrocious grammar and syntax.

Max: But if communication is the apparent purpose, shouldn’t there be less emphasis on the study of English grammar and more on the oral use of English where most often grammatical rules are violated or just taken for granted?

Joe: All the more should good English grammar be emphasized, whether in written or oral communication. It’s the mark of an educated, precise, discerning, knowledgeable thinker. Whether we admit it blesseor not, we get assaulted by bad English and get leery at someone who, no matter how high in social standing or authority, bungles grammar and usage much too often and may not even be aware of it.

Max: That should always be the case. So, aren’t you alarmed that most college students, graduates, professionals—worse, even statesmen—can’t speak correct English these days? How would you account for this decadence in the quality of their spokenEnglish?

Joe: Those who habitually express themselves in complex-compound and compound-complex sentences aren’t really clear and precise thinkers. They haven’t learned how to organize their thoughts and make them easily understandable to their listeners. When I listen to them, I can’t help but silently exclaim that blessed are they who are able to speak in simple, clear, plain, effortless English!

(To be concluded next week)

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Visit me on Facebook, Follow me at @J8Carillo. E-mail:


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

Comments are closed.