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The Proposition

The question here is how exactly do we build a great sentence – one that is a pleasure for the reader to read and the listener to receive? Sentences are sequences of words, but just adding words together does not create a sentence. We need a proposition.

For the meaning of our ideas to make sense to the receiver of our message, we need to have what is called a proposition, in the sense of a statement about reality that can be accepted or rejected by the receiver.

You see, apart from the fact that a sentence is a sequence of words containing a subject and a predicate that expresses an idea, most sentences express or imply a number of ideas, i.e. the ‘propositions’ we put across to our readers:

1. The basic unit of writing is the proposition, not the word or even a sequence of words, and we build sentences by putting propositions together. In other words, before we can even  think about the words we need to choose for our sentences, we must decide on what we want to tell our listener or reader.

2. The style of our sentences is determined by the ways in which we combine not words, but the propositions those words stand for or refer to. In other words, once we chose the message, now we need to decide how to put it (the message or the proposition) across to our listener or the reader we intend to convince.

3. One of our first goals will be to understand how sentences combine propositions to present information, and how we can use our knowledge of the ways in which sentences put propositions together to present our own ideas more effectively.

We have seen in our previous lessons that each sentence we write reflects three main kinds of choices we make: (1) what to write about and what we want to accomplish by writing about it, (2) which words to use, and (3) what order to put them in. Simply put, for a piece of good writing we must identify the three main factors that determine the style and effectiveness of our writing — propositional content, word choice, and syntax.

The 'WHAT' and 'HOW' of sentence building

Most of us have been taught to think of style and meaning or form and content as two different things:

1. We think of content as the ideas or information our writing conveys. This is the WHAT of a sentence, for which you need vocabulary to be able to convey your ideas.

2. We think of style as the way in which we present those ideas. This is the HOW in which you put your ideas across and for this you need syntax.

If we get to understand this simple idea in this lesson, we can easily continue next time to demonstrate how sentences put propositions together, how they combine information and how using different syntax we can change the information we convey in our messages. 

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