Samson and the Mountain (Adventures in Grammar #2)

This is the story of Samson, a very independent boy. Samson does everything by himself. Even when he really needs the help, he insists on doing everything on his own.

“I’ll do it by myself!” he declares, with bright eyes and little fists.

Samson loves to climb. He climbs trees, rocks, the doghouse in his yard, jungle gyms, monkey bars, everything. Even when the things he climbs are high, intimidating, and even scary, he climbs everything on his own.

“I’ll do it by myself!” he declares, hoisting himself skyward, swinging upside-down by his knees, reaching for the next branch.

One day, Samson decides to make his biggest climb yet: The Mountain. It is a very long climb, and Samson is still a very small boy.

“You might need some help on this one,” says Samson’s big brother Josiah.

“What if we come along just in case you need us?” says their papa.

“Rouf-rouf-rahoo,” says Woody, their dog.

(Ruff translation: You don’t have to do this alone!)

But Samson shakes his head. “I’ll do it by myself!”

One sunny summer morning, Samson fills his backpack with the things he’ll need for his climb: plenty of snacks, a canteen full of water, a flashlight, and a raincoat just in case.

“Are you sure you don’t want any help?” asks Josiah.

“Or any company?” asks their papa.

Samson shakes his head. “I’ll do it by myself. I’ll climb the Mountain all by myself!”

“Raou-ruh-raou,” says Woody.

(Ruff translation: Good luck!)

Samson carries his backpack to the base of the Mountain. He looks up at the summit. “I’ll do it by myself,” he whispers.

Not too far behind Samson sneak Papa, Josiah, and Woody. They know that Samson wants to do it by himself, and they don’t want to stop him. They just want to stay quietly close by, just in case he needs them.

Samson starts his climb. He hikes all the way to a small stream and stops for a snack.

When Samson opens the backpack, though, the bag of snacks spills out into the stream. “Oh, no!”

The package of snacks floats down the stream, where Josiah fishes it out. “I’ll hold onto this in case Samson needs it,” he says.

Upstream, Samson shakes off the loss. “I’ll keep going,” he says. “I can still do it by myself.”

Samson, followed by Josiah, continues up the mountain.

The sun beats through the trees of the mountainside as the morning passes. A little farther up, Samson stops to rest on a rock. He pulls out his canteen of water for a drink.

No sooner does Samson take a few swigs from his canteen than a snake slithers out from under the rock and hisses at him. Samson yelps and drops the canteen, which rolls away down the hill. “Oh, no!”

Amid the trees below, Samson’s papa catches the rolling canteen. “I’ll hold onto this in case he needs it,” he says.

Samson shimmies away from the rock, watching for snakes. Even though his voice wobbles a little, he says, “I can still do it by myself.”

Samson, along with Josiah and their papa, persists in his hike up the mountain.

As the day slides into afternoon, heavy clouds roll along in the sky. Samson grits his teeth and opens his backpack again. “I’m not that far from the top now. I’ll just put on my raincoat—”

But a sudden gust of stormy wind pulls the raincoat right out of his hands. “Oh, no!”

The raincoat ripples along down the trail. Woody leaps and carefully catches a sleeve in his teeth. “Ruh-roh,” he growls around the fabric.

(Ruff translation: Well, this is quite an unfortunate setback! I’ll bring this coat along in case he needs it.)

Samson shivers as a raindrop pelts his nose, but then he scowls. “I’m going to do it by myself!”

Samson, as well as his papa, his brother, and Woody, keeps going.

A rainstorm wets Samson as he climbs, but he doesn’t stop. The rain passes, and the sun is just beginning to sink in the sky when he finally steps onto the summit of the mountain.

Samson looks out over the sunset, squares his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and smiles. “I did it! I did it by myself!”

He looks around.

He’s alone.

There’s nobody to celebrate with. Nobody is there to keep him company. Nobody is there to join him for the hike home.

Samson rifles through his backpack. All that’s left is his flashlight to guide him back down the wet, snaky mountain path in the darkness. His legs and arms are very, very tired. His stomach grumbles. His throat is scratchy. His shoulders are still quite damp.

And he is lonely at the top.

Samson’s chin trembles. He turns on the flashlight and blinks it through the twilit trees. “I wish—I really wish I hadn’t done this by myself.”

Then, Samson’s family emerges onto the summit. “You didn’t,” Papa says, handing him the canteen.

Josiah holds out the package of snacks. “Here, I saved these for you.”

Woody steps forward, wagging his tail, and drops the raincoat at Samson’s feet.

Samson looks at his papa, brother, and dog as they gather around him. “Thank you.”

Together, they eat the snacks and drink the water. Samson bundles up in his raincoat to stay warm for the climb down. Then, Papa hoists Samson onto his back and takes Josiah’s hand. Woody sidles close beside them.

Then, Samson and his family hike down the mountain together, grateful for each other and thankful that none of them had to climb the mountain alone.

Thanks for reading this story of Samson the Independent! I thought I could illustrate the impact of singular-versus-plural verbs through a character who insists on being separate and independent at every turn. Subjects and verbs must agree in sentences, meaning that they must both be singular (“he says”) or plural (“we say”).

You might have also noticed that this whole story is told in present tense (says/climbs/is, rather than past-tense said/climbed/was). I chose to tell the story this way because singular and plural verbs often look the same in past tense—“he climbed” versus “they all climbed,” for example—but they are clearly different in present tense: “he climbs” versus “they all climb.”

That brings us to today’s topic…

 

In tricky sentence structures, how can you tell whether to use singular or plural verbs?

A singular noun is a person, place, thing, or concept. It can also be a mass of something uncountable, like “coffee” or “clothing.” A singular subject—the active noun in a sentence—requires a singular verb. Examples:

  • Samson does everything by himself.
  • The sun beats through the trees of the mountainside as the morning passes.
  • Woody leaps and carefully catches a sleeve in his teeth.

 

A plural noun contains more than one person, place, thing, or concept. It is often countable, like “cups of coffee” or “shirts.” A plural subject requires a plural verb. Examples:

  • They know that Samson wants to do it by himself.
  • Heavy clouds roll along in the sky.

 

Now, there are some trickier structures that tend to throw people off. First, the subject typically comes before the verb in a sentence, but you can also invert a sentence so that the verb comes first. It still has to match the subject, though. Examples:

  • Not too far behind Samson sneak Papa, Josiah, and Woody.
  • “Are you sure you don’t want any help?” asks
  • No sooner does Samson take a few swigs from his canteen than a snake slithers out.

 

And here’s the really tricky thing: The subject of a sentence also might not be the closest noun to the verb. If you’re unsure, find the verb and ask, “Who or what is doing this action or holding this state?” Example:

  • The package of snacks floats down the stream, where Josiah fishes it out.

Even though “snacks” is closest to the verb, “package” is the subject, and “of snacks” just describes the package. My rule-of-thumb to find the subject is that if a noun follows a preposition (like “of snacks”), it’s almost never the subject. It’s describing the subject.

 

Furthermore, and is the only conjunction that forms a compound (plural) subject and requires a plural verb. Other conjunctions and phrases—or, nor, along with, as well as, joined by—remain singular. Whatever noun comes first is the subject, and anything that follows only modifies it. Examples:

  • Samson, followed by Josiah, continues up the mountain.
  • Samson, along with Josiah and their papa, persists in his hike up the mountain.
  • Then, Samson and his family hike down the mountain together.

Only the “and” in this last sentence creates a plural.

 

I hope that this story helps you remember a few common rules for singular and plural subjects and verbs. Ask yourself if your subject is independent like Samson or joined by “and” to something else.

Thanks for reading! Check back on March 26 for our next Grammar Adventure.

In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!

XOXO

Joy

 

A Tale of Three Sisters (Adventures in Grammar #1)

In a faraway land, there once lived three sisters, each quite lovely and quite contrary. They were always arguing—with passersby and with each other.

The youngest sister was called But. Her name was a sore spot; it often made her the rump of jokes. She always crafted quick, clear arguments, but she interjected a lot.

The middle sister was named Although. She loved poetry, the way the words washed into each other. She liked the sound of flowery arguments, although their logic was sometimes harder to follow.

However was the eldest. She was pensive in her arguments and preferred to think through her words before speaking. Her younger sisters tended to bubble over; she, however, loved the power of a good dramatic pause.

One warm spring afternoon, the sisters sat in the shade of a yew tree outside their home, weaving blankets and words.

Although eyed But’s blanket. “Although your pattern is pretty, I think my style of weaving is faster.”

But shook her head. “I’ve nothing against yours, but mine is definitely the fastest.”

However smiled while she listened to her sisters’ squabbling. Her fingers wove quickest of all; she wouldn’t bother jumping into the argument just to say so, however.

At that moment three travelers rode past. So taken were they with the lovely sisters that they dismounted their horses and bowed deeply. The sisters were pleased, and they invited the travelers to tea.

In the sisters’ parlor, conversations wove around the room. The youngest of the travelers, a charming man with ink on his cuffs, gazed into But’s eyes. “Milady, has anyone asked permission for your hand in marriage?”

But stared back. “No one has, but whom would they ask? My hands are my own.”

“Of course,” the young man stammered. “Well… Would your hands have any interest in becoming a lawyer’s wife?”

But eyed his ink-stained sleeves and his kind face. “They would not,” she said, “but they would have great interest in becoming a lawyer… and perhaps, one day, a wife.”

The first traveler’s face lit up. “I can help you learn if you like,” he offered. The other sisters were so happy for But that they invited the travelers to stay for dinner.

Inside the dining room, laughter rippled through the air. The second traveler, a stormy-eyed lady with a fine ruffled collar and swords at her waist, knelt at the table beside Although. “Milady, your poetic words and ways fill my heart like the sea fills my soul. Would you consent to travel the world with me?”

Although smiled. “Although I have never desired to sail the wild ocean, I feel I would always find safe harbor with you. I shall.”

The second traveler’s face brimmed with delight. The other sisters were so glad for Although that they invited the travelers to stay for stargazing.

Outside in the mild evening, a comfortable quiet settled over everyone. The oldest of the travelers, a man with gentle eyes, leaned closer to However. “I have loved and lost before,” he began. “I am older and sadder than I used to be, yet my heart still yearns to love. If I gave it to you… would you give me yours in return?”

A shooting star whistled across the sky above them. However cast her eyes down. “I cannot make such a weighty decision so quickly.”

The third traveler’s face fell. The others looked soberly at each other.

However,” she added, “you may ask me again at another time.”

He looked up hopefully. Another shooting star whisked past overhead.

The fragrant days of spring passed around the sisters’ home. But left for the city with her suitor to earn her letters as a lawyer, but she returned home every so often, always with ink smudges, heavy books, and a content smile.

However’s suitor visited frequently, bringing her gifts of lilacs and daisies and lilies and roses to set upon her table. However was always happy to see him. When he asked for her heart, however, she always deferred. “Another time,” said she.

The days warmed into the gleam of summer. Although sailed out of the harbor with her love to travel the world and fill it with poetry. Although the seafaring life pleased her greatly, she returned home every so often with sea glass and shanties and stories.

However’s patient suitor still visited often, bearing baskets of berries and sweet summer fruits to share on stargazing picnics. However was always elated to see him. When he asked for her heart, however, she continued to put him off.

Finally, the air began to blow cool, and the leaves turned to fiery shades. The summer was surrendering to the dreariness of autumn. However’s suitor knocked once more on her door, this time empty-handed.

“I have nothing left to offer you,” he said sadly. “I have brought you the most beautiful offerings that spring and summer can tender, and now cold autumn comes. If you have no further interest in my heart, I would ask that you return it.”

However stepped out. “I could never give my heart to someone so fast and all at once,” she said.

Her suitor turned away.

She laid a hand on his shoulder. “However… I have given you a piece of my heart with every kind word and every thoughtful act. My patient, gentle love, you now possess it all.”

His eyes lit up like stars at her words. The brightness of autumn bloomed around them, no longer dreary in the slightest with their hearts to kindle and warm each other. They were married as soon as But and Although could be summoned home.

However, who loved the power of a good dramatic pause, had found something she loved much more.

And they all lived happily, merrily, and still a bit contrarily, ever after.

I hope you liked this little tale of three sisters! The word nerd and folktale fan in me really enjoyed writing it. I wanted to start this blog series with a commonly confused topic; I always review the but/although/however conundrum when I’m tutoring. In conversation, we tend to use them interchangeably, but they each have a distinct grammatical job to do.

So… (rubs hands together—here we go!)

 

How are “but,” “although,” and “however” actually different?

 

But is a coordinating conjunction. Some English teachers call these “FANBOYS” conjunctions (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So) to help students remember them.

Coordinating conjunctions are used to join two independent clauses (complete thoughts) when the thoughts have equal weight in the sentence. Examples:

  •    She always crafted clear arguments, but she interjected a lot.
  •    The sisters were pleased, and they invited the travelers to tea.
  •    “I’m older and sadder than I used to be, yet my heart still yearns to love.”

 

Although is a subordinating conjunction. There are many, many subordinating conjunctions! Common ones include although, because, since, if, when, while, and so on.

Subordinating conjunctions are also used to join independent clauses, but they do so by making one clause subordinate (dependent)—meaning it’s no longer a complete thought on its own. Commas are placed after subordinate clauses but typically not before them.* Examples:

  •    I can help you learn if you like.
  •    She smiled while she listened to her sisters’ squabbling.
  •    “Although your pattern is pretty, I think my style of weaving is faster.”

*There are, of course, exceptions! An exception even appears in the story: “She liked the sound of flowery arguments, although their logic was sometimes harder to follow.”

This is an example of an adverb of concession. When an independent clause is followed by a contrasting clause, it does receive a comma to support the logical turn in the sentence. English, amirite?

 

However is a conjunctive adverb. What does that mean? Well, adverbs are modifiers: they change how another word (usually a verb) is used in a sentence. A conjunctive adverb modifies the meaning of a whole sentence. They are standalone words and phrases like however, on the other hand, as a matter of fact, thus, therefore, first of all, and so on.

Conjunctive adverbs are used to fill in the logic between two complete thoughts. They can be placed anywhere in a sentence. Since they stand alone, conjunctive adverbs are set apart from the rest of the sentence with commas. Examples:

  •    She, however, loved the power of a good dramatic pause.
  •    She wouldn’t bother jumping into the argument just to say so, however.
  •    Finally, the air began to blow cool.

 

I hope that the characterizations I’ve given to these words throughout the three sisters’ story—But as a quick-minded interrupter, Although as a poet, and However as a lover of dramatic pauses—will make it easier to remember their various purposes.

Thanks for reading! Check back on February 19 for the next Grammar Adventure.

In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!

 

XOXO

Joy