I have the amazing and challenging opportunity to tutor high school students in the fine art of understanding the English language. Personally, I get excited about verb tenses and parallel sentence structure. I am passionate about diagramming sentences. I love explaining gerunds, participles and infinitives. And I do not tolerate the use of incomplete sentences, with the only exception being the effective placement of a well-designed sentence fragment in creative writing. However, the complete sentence is suffering a painful demise at the hands of unsuspecting societal elements which are snuffing out its very existence.
This came to my attention as I was ordering a sandwich at a local sub shop this week. Standing in line, I began assembling a mental list of ingredients for my sub. But before I could even say hello to the server, I was asked what kind of bread I wanted. My reply: “Italian.” When asked what kind of sandwich I wanted, I simply said, “BLT.” Next question: “Toasted?” I answered with a simple “No.” Finally my partially assembled sandwich was passed to the next server and I was allowed to say three words in a row: “Spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers.” Then my final sandwich pronouncement: “Mayo.” That was it. Oh yes, the cashier permitted me to say two more words before paying – “To go.” Nine words – this was the extent of my communication in the sub shop, none of which occurred in the form of a complete sentence.
The same abbreviated language characterized my drive-through experience at a nearby fast food stop a few days later. Which meal number did I want? Seven. Sauce? No. Beverage? Sprite. Please drive forward to the next window. The end.
Modern technology reinforces this brevity without structure. In less than a decade we have embraced life expressed in Facebook posts and news in 140-character tweets. I won’t even begin to mention the growing list of widely-accepted abbreviations and emoticons which do not require the spelling of whole words. Please do not misunderstand. I have nothing against Twitter and Facebook and emoticons. I am simply observing how the changing landscape of the English language is killing the complete sentence.
For nine months of the year I devote my energy to teaching students how to communicate well in the English language in both spoken and written form. I require them to use complete sentences. Sometimes they wonder why I am so adamant about this practice – and sometimes I wonder why as well. Will their future bosses require basic writing skills? Will their laptops, smartphones and spell check do all their grammar for them without any effort on their part? Will the complete sentence become extinct like the dinosaur of ancient times? I do not know, but for now I am compelled to be a champion for the cause of saving the status of the complete sentence as a most basic form of communication between human beings. The end.