The Paris Review

The Laws of Simple Sentences

In our new eight-part series, Life Sentence, the literary critic Jeff Dolven will take apart and put back together one beloved or bedeviling sentence every week. Tom Toro will illustrate each sentence Dolven chooses. Read earlier installments of Life Sentence here

Image © Tom Toro

A sentence has to be complete to be a sentence. It also has to be correct. “The trees wave.” That will certainly do: it has a subject and a predicate, a simple arrangement and a simple image. The grammarians’ demand for formal completeness dates back only to the middle of the seventeenth century, and so it is much younger

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