Tag Archives: dependent clause

Breaking It Down: Sarah Palin’s English

4 Feb

As we move closer to identifying and electing the next president of the United States of America, the media is aflutter with speeches from the various candidates and their supporters. One of the most discussed speeches in the last month was Sarah Palin’s endorsement speech for presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

While Palin’s style of public speaking has been fervently discussed, with reporters and media personalities frequently commenting on her often puzzling phrasings, a close look at this recent speech reveals that Palin’s speaking style is a bit more complicated than it may seem. As New York Times opinion blogger Anna North notes in her recent piece, Sarah Palin’s English, Palin frequently uses two different grammatical elements – dependent clauses and participial phrases – albeit in unique ways.

Well, what does that mean? Let’s break it down.

A dependent clause is a clause that provides an independent clause with additional information, but which cannot stand alone as a sentence. It can either modify an independent clause with additional information or serve as a component of it. It cannot stand alone as a complete sentence because it does not express a complete thought.

  • For example: The students completed the worksheet, which was found in their textbook. 

In this example, the bolded phrase “which was found in the textbook” is our dependent clause. The first part of our sentence, “The students completed the worksheet“, could stand on its own as a complete sentence. It is our independent clause. The dependent clause, “which was found in our textbook“, provides additional information about the worksheet the students completed, but, because it is not a complete thought, it cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence.

Now, what about Palin? In her speech endorsing Donald Trump, she states: “He is one who would know how to negotiate, our own G.O.P. machine, the establishment, they who would assemble the political landscape.” In this case, Palin’s independent clause is “He is one who would know how to negotiate,” and it could stand alone as its own sentence. The rest of the sentence, “our own G.O.P machine, the establishment, they who would assemble the political landscape“, is a dependent clause, as it provides additional information about those Trump would know how to negotiate with, but it could not stand alone as a complete sentence because it is not a complete thought.

Palin also frequently uses participial phrases. A participial phrase is a word group consisting of a present participle (-ing form) or a past participle (-en form) plus any modifiers, objects, and complements. A participial phrase commonly functions as an adjective, and we know that adjectives are used to describe things.

  • For example: Quickly checking his answers, the student submitted his exam

In this example, we see a present participial phrase. “Quickly checking his answers” functions as an adjective within this sentence, as it describes the student’s actions as he submitted his exam. Similar to our dependent clauses, this present participial phrase cannot stand on its own and requires the rest of the sentence in order to be understood, whereas “the student submitted his exam” could function as a complete sentence.

And in Palin’s speech? She uses participial phrases frequently, but in different ways. In her speech endorsing Trump, Palin also uses a present participial phrase when she notes “And the blank check too, making no sense because it’s led us to things like… to pay the bills…In this case, “making no sense because it’s led us to things like…  to pay the bills” is our present participial phrase. It functions as an adjective describing the blank check that Palin is discussing, and while the sentence “And the blank check too” could stand on its own, this present participial phrase cannot.

Different grammatical constructions and their anomalies are all around us. As you watch TV, read articles on the internet, or explore various social media and news outlets, I encourage you to keep an ear (or an eye) out for these different grammatical constructions. While some speeches, like Sarah Palin’s, will be analyzed, discussed, and deconstructed, it is only with an understanding of the different elements of grammar that we can effectively understand these messages, their meaning, and their criticism.

Are you confident in your knowledge of dependent clauses and participial phrases? Try this dependent or subordinate clause quiz, or this participial phrase quiz and find out! Do you have a grammatical question or other writing concern? Do you need help with a writing task or assignment? Send us an email or schedule an appointment in the Writing Center! We are always happy to help!

© Alyssa Ryan 

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