April 30: Advantageous Day

On this day in 1939, New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig played his 2,130th consecutive major league game.  The game he played that day against the Washington Senators would also be the final game of his career. Not long after his final game, Gehrig learned that he had an incurable and fatal disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — a disease known today as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  

Lou Gehrig as a new Yankee 11 Jun 1923.jpgIn his 17 seasons, all as a Yankee, Gehrig was a World Series champion six times, an All-Star seven consecutive times, an American League Most Valuable Player twice, and a Triple Crown winner once.  Gehrig was the first major league baseball player to have his number (4) retired, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1939.

In June 1939, the New York Yankees officially announced Gehrig’s retirement, and on July 4, 1939, they invited him to speak at Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day (1).

On that day, Gehrig gave what has become not just one of the single most memorable speeches in sports history, but one of the most memorable speeches in history, period.

It was a speech of startling magnanimity.  Everyone in Yankee Stadium that day came to honor Gehrig and to share the sorrow of a career and a life that would be cut short.  Under the circumstances, it would be natural for the speaker to give a mournful, gloomy speech about himself, about his bad luck, and about all he had lost.  Instead, Gehrig spoke in positive and thankful tones, focusing not on himself but on all the people who helped to make him the “luckiest man in the world.”

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

Sure I’m lucky.

Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?

Sure I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something.

When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing.

When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.

The effectiveness of Gehrig’s speech illustrates an ancient principle of rhetoric.  Aristotle taught that giving a speech is about much more than just what you want to say; instead, it’s important to consider the audience.  The Aristotelian triangle is a model that helps speakers and writers assess the rhetorical situation. The triangle’s three points are the speaker, the subject, and the audience. Looking at all three points of the triangle reminds us that the speaker is only one part of the formula for successful persuasion.  Truly successful speakers, like Gehrig, must appeal to the audience’s advantage. Therefore, when we think about our purpose in speaking, we should not just ask, “What’s in it for us?” Instead, we should ask, “What’s in it for them?”  As the American humorist, Will Rogers put it: “When you go fishing you bait the hook, not with what you like, but what the fish likes” (2).

Winning rhetoric always employs “The Advantageous” by considering the rhetorical situation from the audience’s point of view.  Gehrig might have made his speech all about himself; instead, he made his message much more inclusive by considering his audience.  His thankful and optimistic tone transformed a seemingly sad, hopeless occasion into a positive, hopeful reminder of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

Today’s Challenge:  Aristotle, Ads, and Addresses

What are some examples of great speeches or classic advertisements where the speaker or the writer has employed the advantageous for effective persuasion?  Analyze a specific speech or advertisement that is an example of effective persuasion. Use the Aristotelian Triangle to discuss the relationship between the speaker, the audience, and the subject.  How did the speaker specifically relate and appeal to his or her audience to effectively fulfill the purpose? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Today’s Quotation:  . . . you need to convince your audience that the choice you offer is the most “advantageous” — to the advantage of the audience, that is, not you.  This brings us back to values. The advantageous is an outcome that gives the audience what it values. -Jay Heinrichs


2-Heinrich, Jay. Thank You For Arguing. Three Rivers Press, 2007.


April 29: Hyperbole Day

On this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy hosted a White House dinner honoring 49 Nobel Prize winners.  Addressing the gathered collection of extraordinary minds, Kennedy gave a brief speech, one sentence of which is one of the most memorable of presidential quotations (See September 2:  Presidential Proverb Day):

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of human talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House–with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Kennedy’s remark is a textbook example of hyperbole: a type of figurative language that exaggerates for effect or emphasis.

The etymology of hyperbole is from the Greek huper meaning beyond and ballein meaning to throw. So the image is of a pitcher over-throwing his mark. A modern slang derivative of hyperbole is hype, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “excessive publicity, or exaggerated or extravagant claims made, especially in advertising or promotional material.”

As Kennedy’s quotation demonstrates, the primary effect of hyperbole is humor, and it should be clear to both the writer and to the audience that the exaggeration is intentional.

Today’s Challenge: I’ve Told You a Million Times Not to Exaggerate

What are some examples of situations in which someone might use hyperbole in writing? Select one or more of the topics below, and celebrate Hyperbole Day by writing a short piece.

  1. Write a film review for your favorite movie, exaggerating its excellence.
  2. Write an advertisement exaggerating the fine qualities of a project.
  3. Write a note explaining, excusing, and exaggerating the circumstances surrounding your late homework.
  4. Write a tabloid article exaggerating the who, what, when, and where of a story.
  5. Write a love poem exaggerating your devotion to your significant other.
  6. Write a college essay exaggerating your fine qualities and qualifications for college.
  7. Write a tall tale or fish story, exaggerating the details of what happened.
  8. Write the text of a campaign commercial, exaggerating the qualities of a candidate.
  9. Write a monologue for a telephone solicitor, exaggerating the urgency of buying your product.
  10. Write a nostalgic memory, exaggerating the hardships you faced.

Quotation of the Day:  Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red. -William Shakespeare



April 28:  Mockingbird Day  

Today is the birthday of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. She was born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1926 and the events in her novel parallel her life growing up in the South during the Depression. One example is the character Dill who was drawn from Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote. In 1959, Lee assisted Capote in his now classic non-fiction novel In Cold Blood (1966) (See April 14:  Prepositional Phrase Day). To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. In 1962, the novel was made into an Oscar-winning film, but strangely, Harper Lee never wrote another novel.  In 2015 the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird was published under the title Go Set a Watchman.  Harper Lee died in 2016.

Cover of the book showing title in white letters against a black background in a banner above a painting of a portion of a tree against a red backgroundThe success of To Kill a Mockingbird continues today. It’s taught in nearly 80 percent of America’s middle schools and high schools. According to the Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature, To Kill a Mockingbird is on every list of the book-length works most frequently taught in high school English.

Here are the lists:

Public Schools:

Romeo and Juliet; Macbeth; Huckleberry Finn; Julius Caesar; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Scarlet Letter; Of Mice and Men; Hamlet; The Great Gatsby; Lord of the Flies.

Catholic Schools:

Huckleberry Finn; The Scarlet Letter; Macbeth; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Great Gatsby; Romeo and Juliet; Hamlet; Of Mice and Men; Julius Caesar; Lord of the Flies. (1)

Independent Schools:

Macbeth; Romeo and Juliet; Huckleberry Finn; The Scarlet Letter; Hamlet; The Great Gatsby; To Kill a Mockingbird; Julius Caesar; The Odyssey; Lord of the Flies

Particularly interesting is that To Kill a Mockingbird is not only the most contemporary work listed, it is also the only work by a woman.

Today’s Challenge:  A Truly Must-Read Book

What one book would you say should be a graduation requirement for high school?  Brainstorm some titles of books that you think should be read by high schoolers.  Then, select the single book that you would argue is the most important. Write your argument for why this book should be required reading.  Explain what the book offers students, and why is it an important book both for today and for tomorrow (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. -Harper Lee

1-Applebee, Arthur N. ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. Bloomington IN. 1990-05-00. Eric Identifier: ED318035.


April 27:  Mouse Day

On this date in 1981, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) introduced its computer mouse. It’s hard to imagine a time when we operated a computer without a mouse, a time when we didn’t point and click, or a time when we needed a good mouser more than we needed an operational mouse.

The invention of the mouse is credited to Douglas Engelbart, who created what he called an “X-Y position indicator for a display system” in 1964. His invention, a wooden shell with two metal wheels, was patented in 1970. In 1970, however, there were no personal computers; it would be ten more years before someone stepped up to take the mouse to the big time.

The decade of the personal computer had arrived in 1980, and Steve Jobs , co-founder of Apple Computer, challenged Xerox’s (PARC) to create a mouse that was durable, useful, and inexpensive. They succeeded. Where Engelbart had used metal wheels, they used a plastic ball. Their mouse was ready for demonstration in 1981, and in January 1983 the Apple Lisa was introduced, the first commercial personal computer with a mouse. At a price of almost $10,000, the Lisa was not a commercial success, but Apple rebounded one year later with the Macintosh 128K. Like the Lisa, the Macintosh had a single-button mouse. The Macintosh revolutionized personal computing with its Graphic User Interface (GUI), the predominant method we use today of interacting with a computer using windows and icons. Imagine trying to do this without a mouse!

With the popularity of Microsoft Windows in the 1990s, the mouse became what it is today: ubiquitous (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Build a Better Abecedarian

When you hear the word “ computer technology” what are some words that come to mind?  Brainstorm as many words as you can that you associate with “computer technology,”  such as antivirus, bandwidth, and cloud.  Attempt to create an A to Z list of words that are related to computer technology.  Include a short definition next to each word. (Common Core Writing Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  The computer is by all odds the most extraordinary of all the technological clothing ever devised by man, since it is the extension of our central nervous system. Beside it, the wheel is a mere hula-hoop. -Marshall McLuhan

1 -Soojung, Alex and Kim Pang. Mighty Mouse. Stanford Magazine March/April 2002.

April 26:  ABCs of Poetry Day

April is National Poetry Month, which was first introduced by the Academy American Poets in 1996.  In that year, President Bill Clinton, in his presidential proclamation praised National Poetry Month saying that it “offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today’s American poetry” (1).  

Of course, the association of poetry and the month of April goes back much farther than 1996, and it is certainly more than just an American tradition.  For example, in 1845, while visiting Italy, British poet Robert Browning began his great poem Home Thoughts From Abroad as follows:

Oh, to be in England

Now that April’s there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England—now!

In addition to springtime, one of the favorite topics of poets is poetry itself.  As you might guess, they don’t give dry dictionary definitions:

Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers. – Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Poetry is either language lit up by life or life lit up by language. -Peter Porter

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat. -Robert Frost

Today’s Challenge:  Quench Your Thirst for Verse

What are 50 words that come time mind that you associate with the word “poetry”?  Brainstorm a long list of words or phrases that come to your mind when you think of the word “poetry.”  Write down anything that comes to mind: poetic terms, memorable poetic lines, great poems, favorite poets, or just words that you think are especially poetic.


On this the 26th day of the month we are reminded of the 26 letters of the alphabet — the letters we use to write and to read poetry.  Imagine you were to create a poetry ABC book, featuring your 26 poetry-related words, names, or phrases. The only stipulation is that you must cover all 26 letters of the alphabet, and you must be able to explain how each of the items on your list is poetry-related.

To help prime your poetic pump of ideas, here is a list of poetry-related terms from Edward Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary:

alliteration, ballad, couplet, double dactyl, enjambment, found poem, genre, haiku, iambic pentameter, juxtaposition, kenning, lipogram, metonymy, narrative poetry, onomatopoeia, persona, quatrain, rhyme scheme, sonnet, tone, understatement, villanelle, wit, xerox poetry, ya-du, zeugma (2)

(Common Core Writing Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. -Robert Frost


2-Hirsch, Edward.  A Poet’s Glossary. New York:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.


April 25:  Interrogative Mood Day

Do you know what the interrogative mood is?  If you had an opportunity to learn, would you take careful notes?  Would the prospect of a pop quiz on the subject matter increase or decrease your motivation to learn the material?  Does the topic of grammatical mood interest you in the least? If someone were incorrectly using the subjunctive mood, would you correct him or her?  Have you ever played 20 questions? Do you ever ask questions without concern to actually answering them? Do you think it is possible for someone to compose a 160-plus page book entirely of questions?  Do you get annoyed when people ask too many questions, or do you find it oddly interesting?

Today is the birthday of novelist Padgett Powell, born in Gainsville, Florida in 1952.  Powell has taught writing at the University of Florida for more than 20 years, and he has published six novels, as well as three collections of short stories.  His most intriguing work, however, is a book entitled The Interrogative Mood, A Novel?  In case you are unfamiliar with the term, interrogative mood, it simply refers to questions — as in what you are asked when you are interrogated.  And Powell’s book is full of them.  In fact, it is nothing but questions.  So, instead of a typical novel that features a narrator, The Interrogative Mood features an interrogator.

There are four basic moods in English; A sentence’s word order and specifically the position of its main verb changes depending on its mood.  If, for example, you were writing about the topic of buying a car, you would craft your sentences differently depending on your grammatical mood, which should not be confused with your emotional mood:

-Indicative Mood deals with matter-of-fact statements:  I think I’m going to buy myself a new car.

-Imperative Mood deals with commands:  Stop talking about buying a new car, and just do it.

-Subjunctive Mood deals with hypotheticals or wishes:  If I were rich, I would buy a new car.

-Interrogative Mood deals with questions: Should I buy a new car?

Clearly, Powell’s preferred mood is the interrogative.  In the course of the 160-plus pages of his book, he asks roughly 2,000 questions without giving a single answer.

Here’s a small sample:

Can you read music?  Would it be reasonable to ask someone if he or she has a favorite musical note?  Would you like to visit a tar pit or a peat bog, or would you rather eat cucumber sandwiches on a pleasant veranda with a civilized hostess in England?  Will you wear a garment with a small tear in it? Do you cry at movies where you are intended to cry, or at other points in the drama, or not at all?

Powell got started asking questions when he noticed that some of his university colleagues wrote emails to him composed entirely of questions.  He began composing his own witty replies, all in the interrogative mood (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Interrogative or Imperative?  Choose one!

Would you prefer to write entirely in the interrogative mood or the imperative mood?  Follow Powell’s example and write a composition composed of at least 20 questions.  Try to vary the length of your questions – some long, some medium, some short. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)


Imagine you were to compose a novel called The Imperative Mood – Buy This Novel Now!.  Compose the first 200 words writing in the imperative mood: sentences that are commands.  Do it now. Don’t wait, and don’t procrastinate.

Quotation of the Day:  A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy? -Albert Einstein

1-Powell, Padget.  The Interrogative Mood.  Ecco, 2010.


April 24:  Library of Congress Day

On this date in 1800, President John Adams approved an appropriation of $5,000 to purchase books, establishing the Library of Congress. The books were ordered from London and a total of 740 volumes were housed in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Invading British troops destroyed the library when they set fire to the Capitol Building in 1814. In 1815, Congress accepted an offer by retired President Thomas Jefferson to replace the library with his own eclectic collection of 6,487 books.

The library moved to its current location, the Thomas Jefferson Building across the street from the U.S. Capitol, in 1897. Two additional buildings were added in 1939 and 1980: The John Adams Building and the James Madison Memorial Building.

Today, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.  Its more than 38 million books are stored on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves.

While the Library of Congress plays an important role in the government of the United States and is the de facto national library of the U.S., just as important are the thousands of local libraries around the world.  Too often we take these spaces for granted. Here are a few choice quotations to remind us the value of libraries:

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.Walter Cronkite

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.Ray Bradbury

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. -Lady Bird Johnson

Today’s Challenge:  The Future of Books

What is the future of libraries?  In the age of the Internet and all the changes in the way people access information and the ways they read, are physical libraries filled with physical books still important?   Research what people are saying about libraries and about the future of physical books.  Then, make your argument about what role libraries and books will play in the future, and use evidence from your research to support your reasoning.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Outside of a dog, books are man’s best friend; inside of a dog it’s too dark to read anyways. -Groucho Marx

1 – Library of Congress website. https://www.loc.gov/about/fascinating-facts/

April 23:  Birth of the Bard Day

The greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare, was born on this day in 1564. He died on the same day 52 years later in 1616.

Besides the date of his birth and death, we know little about Shakespeare’s life. Here is a brief timeline of key events:

1564 Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, 100 miles north of London

1582 Married to Anne Hathaway on November 28th

1583 Daughter Susanna is born

1585 Twins Judith and Hamnet are born

approx. 1591 Travels to London, works as an actor

1596 Eleven-year-old Hamnet dies

1513 Globe Theatre burns and Shakespeare retires to Stratford.

1616 Dies in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Shakespeare is clearly the most successful playwright who ever lived, but his influence reaches well beyond just his plays. His writing literally transformed the English language. If you want to see what the birth of the universe looked like you can read an account in Genesis, Chapter 1; if you want to see what the birth of words looks like, read the plays of Shakespeare.

According to linguist David Crystal, of the 17,677 words in the collected works of Shakespeare, approximately 1,700 (10%) can be identified as neologisms — that is invented words (1).

Here is a small sample of words first recorded in Shakespeare, according to David Crystal in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language:

accommodation, assassination, barefaced, countless, courtship, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, fancy-free, lack-luster, laughable, premeditated, submerged

In addition to individual words, there are countless common expressions that first appear in the works of Shakespeare:

There’s the rub from ‘Hamlet’

It’s Greek to me from ‘Julius Caesar’

At one fell swoop from ‘Macbeth’

Every inch a king from ‘King Lear’

Play fast and loose from ‘Love’s Labor Lost’

What’s in a name? from ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Paint the lily from ‘King John’

Too much of a good thing from ‘As You Like It’

Give the devil his due from ‘I Henry IV’

Although we know few specifics about Shakespeare’s education, we can make some guesses based on what we know about education in the 16th century England.  According to writer Simon Callow, the main topic of study was grammar – not English grammar, but Latin grammar:

Grammar school was tough. . . .They didn’t study history, they didn’t study mathematics, they didn’t study geography, they didn’t study science.  They studied grammar, from dawn to dusk, six days a week, all the year round. Grammar – Latin grammar. They translated from Latin into English and from English into Latin. At school, ordinary conversation was in Latin; any boy caught speaking English was flogged. And they mastered the tropes of rhetoric, from antimetabole (where words are repeated in inverse order) to zeugma (where one verb looks after two nouns). This is the language of power and politics: of the law, of Parliament, of the court, and this is the world of which young Will and his fellow pupils would soon, it was hoped, be part.

Today’s Challenge:  A Novel Opening

Who are the most memorable characters from Shakespeare’s plays?  If you were to inhabit the mind of one of these characters, writing his or her story in first person, which character would you choose?  Select your favorite character from Shakespeare and re-imagine his or her story as if it were a novel written in first person by the character.  Write the opening 250 words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  From a selection of his other works, we might think him variously courtly, cerebral, metaphysical, melancholic, Machiavellian, neurotic, light hearted, loving, and much more. Shakespeare was of course all these things—as a writer. We hardly know what he was as a person. -Bill Bryson

1-Shakespeare’s Genius in Creating Words. https://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A76533195#back1



April 22 – Earth Idiom Day

April 22nd has been recognized as Earth Day ever since 1970, the same year that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established. On a day where many people are focused on preserving green space and maintaining clean drinking water, we will look at the relationship between the Big Blue Marble and our language.

Earth Day Flag.pngLet’s begin by looking at some ‘roots.’

The Latin root for earth is terra, as in terra firma = “firm ground.” It’s the root found in words like subterranean, terrestrial, extraterrestrial, and terrarium.

The Greek root for earth is geo, as in geography, geology, and geopolitics.

On Earth Day, each of us becomes an Antaeus. Do you remember him from Greek mythology? He was the son of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Poseidon (god of the sea). Antaeus was an undefeated wrestler until he met up with Hercules, who was able to figure out his weakness. Even Hercules had trouble defeating the great wrestler until he lifted Antaeus’ legs from the earth. When he did this, Antaeus became powerless. As a result, Antaeus is a powerful metaphor for those who realize that their strength and very survival depends on Mother Earth.

Our daily conversations are well ‘grounded’ in earth metaphors. A number of idioms (expressions of two or more words that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words) use the earth as a metaphor. Below are a few examples using the words “earth” and “ground” from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1).


down to earth, four corners of the earth, move heaven and earth, not have an earthly chance, salt of the earth, heaven on earth, hell on earth, ends of the earth, wipe off the face of the earth


both feet on the ground, break ground, common ground, ear to the ground, from the ground up, gain ground, hit the ground running, happy hunting ground, run into the ground, stand one’s ground, worship the ground, someone walks on

Today’s Challenge: Clear as Mud

What are some examples of English idioms containing the words mud, grass, dust, dirt, trees, or water? Celebrate Earth Day by mining the language for expressions (idioms) containing the words listed below. Try to come up with as many as you can for each word:

mud, grass, dust, dirt, trees, water

Brainstorm a number of Earth-related idioms.  Identify three idioms that you think would be particularly curious for someone for whom English is a second language.  Write your three idioms, along with explanations of their meaning. Also, give an example sentence of each, showing how it might be used by a native English speaker. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Imperious Caesar. dead and turn’d to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away: O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, Should patch a wall to expel the winter’s flaw! –William Shakespeare in Hamlet: Act V, Scene 1

1 – Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

April 21:  Complex Sentence Day

On his day in 1989, the film Field Of Dreams made its debut in American theaters.  The film stars Kevin Costner as a farmer who hears voices in his cornfield imploring him to build a baseball field.  The film is an adaptation of a magical realist novel, Shoeless Joe by Canadian author W. P. Kinsella.  The book and film form the perfect mix of sentimental themes of fantasy, baseball, and family.

The most memorable line of the film — a line which has become one of the most memorable movie lines of all time — comes from the voice that Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears in his cornfield.  The voice says, “If you build it, he will come.”

This line, along with the film’s tagline “If you believe the impossible, the incredible can come true,” are textbook examples of complex sentences.

Unlike a simple sentence, which features a single independent clause, or a compound sentence that features two independent clauses, a complex sentence features an independent clause and at least one dependent clause (also known as a subordinate clause).  

For example, the line that farmer Kinsella hears in his cornfield begins with a dependent clause, a clause that cannot stand alone:

If you build it

To complete the sentence, and to make it a complete complex sentence, the independent clause is added at the end.

If you build it, he will come.

Complex sentences are an essential element of any effective writer’s repertoire because they not only provide sentence variety, but they also combine ideas logically, showing a reader the relationship between two ideas.  For example, notice the differences between the sentences below:

Because he loves baseball, Bill plays every day.

Although he loves baseball, Bill plays tennis in the spring.

After he plays baseball, Bill always cleans his cleats.

If Bill’s team wins their baseball game, they will be in the playoffs.

Each of the sentences is complex, beginning with a dependent clause; however, in each sentence, the logical relationship between the clauses is different.  In the first, the relationship is cause and effect; in the second, it’s contrast; in the third, it’s time; and in the fourth, it’s conditional.

The words that single the relationship and that make the clauses dependent are called subordinating conjunctions.  

Read the examples below to see the different ways that subordinating conjunctions connect ideas:

Cause and Effect (or Reasons): because, since, so that

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

Contrast (or Concession): although, even though, though, while, whereas

Although he loves to write, Bill’s favorite pastime is reading.

Time: before, after, as, once, since, while, when, whenever

After Bill gets home from school, he sits down and reads the newspaper.

Condition:  if, once, unless

If Bill gets money for his birthday, he plans to buy some new books.

Use the mnemonic “A WHITE BUS” to remember the major subordinate conjunctions:

A White Bus

After, although, as

WHen, which, who, where, while

If, in order that

That, though

Even though

Before, because

Until, unless

Since, so that

Today’s Challenge:  If You Make a Parallel Product Pitch, It Will Sell

What are some products that you would personally endorse?  Imagine you work for an advertising agency.  Brainstorm some possible products that you might try to sell with a strong sales pitch.  Select one specific product, and construct a topic sentence for a 60-second sales pitch that features three parallel dependent clauses.  Notice, for example, how the following two topic sentences each feature parallel dependent clauses:

If you want the best value, if you want the highest quality, and if you want the best tasting cheese, buy Johnson’s Cheddar.

Boston Bacon is the best because it melts in your mouth, because it’s low fat, and because it goes well with any meal.

Writing three-pronged parallel complex sentence like these is a great skill to practice for effective writing.  These sentences can be used as a thesis statement for an essay, or as a concluding sentence for a paragraph or essay.  Notice that in the two example sentences above, the three parallel dependent clauses may come before or after the independent clause.

Once you have constructed your topic sentence, write the rest of your pitch by elaborating on the points in your topic sentence. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. -Elmore Leonard