Subjects and verbs.

Don’t sleep with the wrong person

by Dirk E. Oldman

OK, now, you would think this is straightforward: if you have a subject and a verb, then the subject is doing the verb.

No, no, I don’t mean doing the verb. In that sense, the subject is doing the object, if there’s an object who doesn’t object. But the verb is what the subject is doing.

The problem is that some people seem to have trouble sometimes keeping track of who’s doing the doing.

Now, let me ask you: if you’re at a party with your spouse, and the two of you are seated a couple of seats apart, and between you is some other person, does that mean that you get to sleep with that other person?

The answer, by the way, is no. In case you weren’t sure.

But, now, look at this sentence, from

Jamie Oliver attempts and fails miserably in trying to convince a group of American kids that consuming processed chicken nuggets are bad.

Let’s skip over the Jamie Oliver part. He may be the naked chef, but he’s not my type. It’s that subordinate clause, starting with the that. (What’s a subordinate clause? It’s like the fantasy you’re having while doing the real act of the main sentence. But I’ll get to that another time. Actually, in this case, you’re several layers in from the main verb – it’s like Inception, but in this case the result is a misconception.) OK, here:

consuming processed chicken nuggets are bad

Remember: the subject is one thing. Which one thing is it? Is it nuggets? If it is, that means that consuming modifies nuggets, which means that the subject is nuggets that are consuming. Ah, no. I’ve had my nuggets eaten but I’ve never been eaten by nuggets. The thing here is actually an act itself: consuming. The nuggets are what’s being consumed, but consuming is a noun formed from a verb.

Let me show you the difference:

Wanking monkeys are normal. This means that monkeys that wank are normal. This is true. The little wankers are at it all the time.

Wanking monkeys is not normal. This means that the act of wanking monkeys – you know, you or someone else who is not the monkeys are or is doing the wanking – is not normal. This is also true. I wouldn’t do it. Would you? Maybe I shouldn’t ask. My ex-wife would. But she’s not normal.

So. The original should be consuming … is bad.

Otherwise it’s like sleeping with just whoever’s next to you.


No peppermint steak, please

by Annie Wei-Yu Kan

Disgusting. Maybe if my ex-husband had been a little less eager to sleep with whoever was next to him, he wouldn’t be my ex-husband. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t be whoever Dirk E. Oldman is: not a monkey but a baboon.

Never mind. It is quite possible to look at a sentence like the one he’s talking about without thinking of disgusting things. I mean disgusting things other than that sentence, which is itself a disgusting thing.

Actually, no, even when you’re talking about food, the analogy to the sentence is disgusting. Think steak with peppermint sauce. You see, when you’re matching subject and predicate, you’re matching the key ingredients of your recipe. And while there are subtle issues of judgement, such as not having one part of a sentence in one tone and another part in another tone (like having my nice, clean writing juxtaposed with Dirk’s stream of filth), you certainly must get the basic matching right. You just don’t serve steak with peppermint sauce. It’s terrible, and very hard to clean the pan after. And you don’t serve onion cutlets with grated lamb and chopped cheese.

It’s easy enough to notice this in the kitchen, but clearly many people are very easily confused. It makes me so tired and impatient. Imagine standing in the kitchen grating lamb chops, bone and all, your fingers tired, your knuckles bloody, your grater ruined. All because you couldn’t manage to look again and see that you’re grating the wrong thing. So how is it that anyone could not stop and look and see what their main ingredients in their sentence are and what the garnishes are?

I see I’m going to have to remind everyone of how it works again. Simple subject and predicate:

The cats want their food.

Add some garnish:

The cats in the kitchen want their food.

Notice how we don’t say

The cats in the kitchen wants its food.

Anyone who is so easily distracted by the nearest thing can hardly be entrusted with something important, like children or a job.

Is the sentence more complex? So what? Do you mean to tell me that in a recipe with 20 ingredients you can’t tell what the main ingredient is? If you make pollo mole poblano, it’s chicken in a sauce with at least 20 ingredients, and it takes forever to make. Forever. But in all that forever, do you forget that you’re making a chicken dish?

The cats, which are eating in the kitchen over in Dirk’s house because he always leaves his dishes around in a mess and would sooner have cats come and lick them off than clean it up himself because he is a dirty pig, want their food.

I guess some people get confused by a gerund. Well, I’m telling you now: Don’t get confused by a gerund!

What do you mean you don’t know what a gerund is? It’s a noun made from a verb. Like kicking in the kicking of his ass. Or even just kicking his ass as a subject:

Kicking his ass just makes him eager for more.

Would you say

Kicking their asses just make them eager for more?

Of course not. The basic structure is

Kicking makes them eager.

The rest is garnishes.

You see how simple it is? If you can’t figure it out with one set of ingredients, try a different set in the same structure and see if you get it. You won’t even need to descend into filth to do it. Other than the filth of a poorly written sentence, that is. But you’ll learn. I have faith in you. Just don’t let me down.


Tagged , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Subjects and verbs.

  1. […] always need a do-ee. I’ve covered all this, so I won’t bore you. I’ve also talked about making sure you’re not screwing the wrong person, syntactically. I just have one more point to make about this […]

  2. […] told you, and so has a certain vulgarian who alternates with me on the Nasty Guide to Nice Writing, the heart of most sentences is a conjugated verb. It’s the meat patty in the hamburger of the clause. I’ve already told you that you can have a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: