Tidwell's Use of Verb Clusters


These are the first nine verb clusters in the Chapter One excerpt of Tidwell's Amazon Stranger,

1. Looking for a landing strip the size of a butter knife. (Although this string of words is punctuated as a sentence, it is a verb cluster. Because it has no main clause, it is technically a sentence fragment.)

2. So I had a bad feeling that morning sitting in the military C-130 Hercules, circling over the Amazon, those front propellers whirring overtime against a paint job of jungle camouflage. (The verb cluster in this sentence modifies "Hercules." The phrase that follows the verb cluster, "those front propellers whirring . . .," may look like a verb cluster, but they constitute an absolute, a structure we will be studying in a couple lessons.)

3. His name was Jose, and he slept most of the way despite wearing headphones that connected him directly to the pilots in the cockpit. (The word "despite" in this verb cluster does not change its structure. You should think of "despite" as nothing more than an extra modifying word tacked on to the front of the verb cluster.)

4. Yet when Jose sat bolt upright from his sleeping position just then, passing the headphones tightly to his ears, | listening intently as the plane banked and turned another time, he didn't look mildly concerned. (This sentence contains two verb clusters in parallel structure with each other.)

5. Then he was gone, off to a starboard window, scanning downward with mile-wide eyes. ("Scanning" modifies "he" even though it comes at the end of the sentence.)

6. Glancing out the window myself, all I could see were clouds and an occasional treetop. (Notice that this verb cluster does not dangle because "I" makes sense when it is placed before "glancing" and a helping verb is added--"I was glancing.")

7. Planning to focus on wildlife, nothing more, we traveled by plane, then by motorized boat, then by dugout canoe; then we walloed part of the way; then we waded through swamps pulling boats behind us a la Humphrey Bogart. ("Planning" modifies "we" as does "pulling." Notice that this sentence has three main clauses, the second two linked to the first with the words "then we.")

8. Then, when we finally reached the end of the earth, suffocating in the dense greenery and isolation of the Amazon, ready to do a light story on leaf-cutter ants and freshwater dolphin, we discovered the unexpected Something just shy of a shooting war was stirring in the Cuyabeno. ("Suffocating modifies "we" in the main clause. There is a subordinate clause at the beginning that starts with "when," and the main clause starts with "we discovered.")

9. All of which was startling enough even before the Oil Helicopter from Hell swooped down on our canoe that one afternoon, buzzing the water angrily, | telling Russell and me, in effect, to split. (This sentence has two parallel verb clusters, both modifying "Helicopter.")

Tidwell, Mike. Chapter One: Amazon Stranger. Http://www.washingtonpost. com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/amazonst.htm. July 20, 1996.

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