Sometimes I think some of you have the idea that grammatical concepts are something only relevant to a few freaks like me. Maybe you’re right. But we do get about a bit.
I was listening to Simon Mayo’s programme on BBC Radio Five Live this afternoon, on which a new book-panel ‘Book of the Month’ feature had started. You can listen to the whole thing online, or via podcast, but I’ve snipped the relevant bit and put it here.
Nested clauses , also referred to as embedded clauses, are clauses that occur within another clause. What I think he’s really bothered about (from the example he gives) is the use of lengthy complex sentences, with multiple subordinate clauses, where the main clause comes at the end. Do you recall a sentence of that type (technically called ‘left-branching’ as the dependent subordinate clauses appear in writing to the left of the main clause) that we have looked at? If you are in Y12 you should certainly recall this from Jane Austen:
When Lady Russell, not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Campden-place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint.
The BBC have kindly placed the first three chapters of the book under discussion on their website, but you can just click here for it:Portrait of an Unknown Woman – Chs 1 – 3 .
Take a close look at the language of those opening chapters and see if you agree with the speaker’s criticism. Do you think the use of nested clauses is the most characteristic feature of the language? What other striking grammatical features do you notice?
Find me a sentence from the text that contains at least one nested clause, post it in a comment, and explain why you have chosen it. Keep an eye out in your reading elsewhere, too. Spot any nested clauses? Not sure whether you’ve caught one or not? Post ’em here and we’ll have a look.
Go on. You know you want to, and since I’ve been off this week you really ought to do some work. You may like to look at a bit more of the superb online course in Language & Style from Lancaster University. Yes, it’s aimed at undergraduates, but that will probably be you very soon, and it’s aimed at students who may not have studied English language, so it assumes no prior knowledge. If you work through that and can show understanding of even a part of it, it will hugely enhance your attainment at A-level, so it will be well worth the time spent, whether you’re in Y12 or 13, and doing either course (though it is especially valuable for the Lang & Lit students).