III: SENTENCES AS COMPLETE THOUGHTS

At the risk of being read out of the profession, I shall maintain that the ancient "rule" that a sentence is "a group of words expressing a complete thought" is a perfectly reasonable statement, providing that we are referring to a written group of words. All of our fifty decent sentences are complete thoughts because they are punctuated as complete thoughts. When a writer puts a period at the end of a group of words, he has completed whatever thought he was expressing. It is the writer, not the reader or the grammarian or the epistemologist, who determines when his thought is complete for him. The thought may be dumb,irrelevant, weird, or even "thoughtless," but he is expressing it as he likes and ending its expression when he wants to. The writer is master of his own thoughts. I labor the point because I want the writer reading this book to accept his privileges and his responsibilities in the matter of the style and thought of his sentences. In every sentence he writes, he must make and has the opportunity to make countless choices.

The distinction between the spoken and the written thought is a crucial one. Sentences according to my definition exist only in written form. Listen to ordinary speech and try to determine where the sentences begin and end. You may find some "periods" in impromptu speech that seem like the written word in sentence form, but spoken English characteristically is a string of sounds with no clear beginnings or ends. When this string of sounds is translated to letters and separate words, these graphic representations must be subjected to the code of punctuation.

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