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What is a Sentence?

If you want to write good English you have to know how to put the words together to communicate what you want to get over to your readers. That is, you have to know:

  • what a sentence is,
  • what kind of sentences you can use,
  • and how and when to use the different kinds of sentences.

You are interested in writing English so you have to be able to command all the types of sentences that occur in the English language. It is not enough to have a big vocabulary. You have to know how to put the words together to communicate what you want to get over to your readers.

You have to learn what a sentence is to write a good sentence. There are two important things to learn: To avoid basic errors you have to learn:

  • the agreement between subject and verbs,
  • how to express time in your writing.

A sentence is a group of one or more words that make sense by themselves and do not depend on the words that go before or come after them. A sentence expresses a statement, question, request, or command. A well-written sentence needs two parts:

a subject and a predicate. Don’t be afraid of these grammatical words. The ideas behind them are easy to understand.

Subject and Predicate

The subject tells us what (or which person) the sentence is about, while the predicate tells something about the subject, usually what the subject is doing. Take a look at the following sentence, in which, for you to see more clearly, the predicate is enclosed in parentheses ( ), and the subject is underlined.

Mary (sings).

Mary and Peter (sing every morning).

How do we know that Mary is the subject? To know which word is the subject of a sentence, we have to first find the verb and then make a question by placing “who?” or “what?” before it — the answer is the subject. Practice this with the following sentences.

My father’s dog filled the living room floor with ripped newspapers and torn curtains.

The verb in the above sentence is “filled.” Who or what filled the living room with ripped papers and curtains? The dog did. “The dog” is the subject of the second sentence. The predicate (which always includes the verb) goes on to relate something about the subject: what about the dog? It “filled the living room floor with ripped newspapers and torn curtains.”

Every subject is built around one core or central or simple subject. The simple subject is a noun or pronoun.

Look at the following example::

A starting job at the factory would surely make him very happy.

The subject is built around the noun “job”, with the other words of the subject — “A”, “starting”, and “at the factory” — modifying (telling us more about) the noun.

“Job” is the simple subject. When you write, in the beginning, you will probably build your sentence with a simple subject. It still is “simple” even if It may have other words telling more about (modifying) it.

In the same way, a predicate is built around a simple predicate, which is always the verb or verbs that link up with the subject. In the example we just considered, the predicate is “surely make him very happy”. However, the heart of the predicate is the simple predicate which is the verb “would make”. The other words complete the simple predicate. They tell us that the job will “surely make him very happy”.

It is very useful for you to review other people’s writing to identify the simple predicates and simple subjects. This will help you be confident as you build your own sentences. There are other forms the subject and predicate can take.

Compound Subject: Sometimes you will be writing about more than one person or thing. That which interests you, the subject, may be made up of two, three, or more parts. That means you will be writing a sentence with a compound subject. A compound subject is a simple subject consisting of more than one noun or pronoun — as in these examples:

Carrots, onions, and potatoes (go into most stews).

His sister and his uncle (ran along the beach picking up shells).

Compound Predicate: Sometimes you will be writing that a person or a thing does more than one thing. In this case you will be writing a sentence with a compound predicate, a predicate that includes more than one verb pertaining to the same subject. Look at these examples.

Mary (sews and cooks).

The famous author (read extensively in a loud voice and answered all the questions put to him by the students).

What does Mary do? She sews and cooks. This is a compound predicate. (sews and cooks).

What did the author do? He read and answered.

How did he read? Extensively and in a loud voice.

What did he answer? Questions This is the object of the verb answers.

How many questions? All

Which questions? Those which were put to him by the students.

The simple subject is an author; the simple predicate is read and answered. (Although it is a compound subject, it is at the simplest level). The main idea is author read and answered. You have to learn to cut down the skeleton of a sentence to understand it. Of course, just to say “author read and answered” is caveman talk. The writer of the sentence wanted to tell us more. He gave us more details about how and what the author read and answered.

The object of a verb represents the person or thing that is affected by the action of the verb. In the following sample sentences, the simple object is underlined. I hit the ball. The president gave a speech. I ate the cake. Similarly, as with the predicate, there can be compound objects. in a simple sentence. I can say, “Peter cooks ham and eggs

Once you can analyze sentences you will write better. You must keep control of your writing. If you use a compound subject or predicate, don’t lose track of the central idea. Then you add the details that tell the reader when, where, how etc. These ideas are communicated by adjectives or adverbs, or by clauses and phrases used as adjectives or adverbs. See The Clause and The Phrase elsewhere in this series. There are a limited number of patterns that sentences can take in English. Let’s look at them.

The sample sentences that follow for the ten main patterns are simple sentences. You will learn later that in more complex sentences not only nouns are the subject and object of sentences. You will see examples of how other groups of words, clauses, and phrases, can take the place of the subject and object.

Sentence patterns

Most sentences in the English language belong to ten patterns (that is, different ways that sentences are put together). The patterns depend on the type of verb used: If you learn the following patterns, you will build correct English sentences.

The Verb Of Being patterns use a form of the verb to be (for example, is, are, was, were, has, have been, had been) as the main verb in the sentence.

The Linking Verb patterns use one of the linking verbs (for example, smell, taste, look, feel, seem, become, appear, grow, etc.) as the main verb in the sentence. The linking verb links the subject with a “complement”, a word that gives us more information about the subject. This subjective complement can be a noun or adjective.

The Action Verb patterns use one of the many action verbs (for example, walk, eat, write, hit, kiss, buy, etc.) as the main verb in the sentence. The action verb may be either transitive (take a direct object) or intransitive (not take a direct object).

THE TEN SENTENCE PATTERNS

1. Verbs of being patterns

The verb of being is underlined; the other elements mentioned is double underlined.

The verb of being is followed by an adverb indicating where or when.

My brothers are here.

Note: It may be a phrase that indicates where or when.

My brothers are at work.

The verb of being is followed by an adjective.

She is pretty.

Note: It may be a phrase that serves as an adjective.

She is among the prettiest in the class.

The verb of being is followed by a noun that gives more information about the subject.

My father is a teacher.

2. Linking verb patterns:

The linking verb is underlined. the other elements mentioned is double-underlined.

The linking verb is followed by an adjective that gives more information about the subject.

The boy’s story sounds suspicious.

Note: It may be a phrase that serves as an adjective.

Judy seems to be sad.

The linking verb is followed by a noun that gives more information about the subject.

Peter became a Buddhist.

3. Action verb patterns:

The action verb is underlined. the other elements mentioned is double-underlined.

The action verb takes no direct object.

The crazy man shouted.

Note: Even if the action verb is followed by a prepositional phrase, the verb is still intransitive.

The crazy man shouted at his uncle.

The action verb is followed by a direct object.

The dog hid the bone.

The action verb is followed by an indirect object and then a direct object.

Pedro gave his mother a kissNote: Pedro’s mother is the indirect object.

The action verb is followed by a direct object. The direct object is followed by an adjective that gives more information about the object.

I considered his ideas wonderful. Note: The adjective “wonderful” tells us more about the ideas.

The action verb is followed by a direct object. The direct object is followed by a noun functioning as an objective complement.

Mary called John a liar. Note: The noun “liar” tells us more about John.

Sentence Structures

To write well you will have to be comfortable not only with the different sentence patterns but also with the different ways that these patterns can be put together in a larger sentence.

There are four main ways that sentences are put together, depending upon the kind of clause it contains: the simple sentence, the compound sentence, and the complex sentence.

You already learned about the subject and predicate; now you can learn more about the clause. A clause is a group of related words that contain a subject and a predicate. If the sentence has more than one clause, its type depends on the type of clause it contains.

  • The independent clause contains a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. It can stand on its own; therefore it is independent.
  • The dependent clause (or subordinate clause contains a subject and a verb, but no complete thought. It cannot stand on its own, it is dependent, that is, it depends on a complete thought somewhere else in the sentence.

The Simple Sentence

The most basic type of sentence is the simple sentence, which contains only one clause. The simple sentence has a subject and a predicate.

Examples:

The train stops.

The train stops quickly.

The train stops quickly at the station.

The troop train loaded with ten cars stopped quickly making a lot of noise.

All of the above are simple sentences, although some tell us more about the subject or predicate. In all the above sentences you can see that the simple subject is train and the simple predicate is stops.

As you can see, a simple sentence can be quite long. Although it only has one subject and predicate, there can be lots of modifiers (words that offer more information)

This is the most common type of sentence in the spoken language of people of all ages. You should start your writing with simple sentences. When you write, simple sentences can be very effective.

As you improve, you can add transitional words (such as forand, nor, or, yet, so, etc.) to make your writing flow better. Too many simple sentences can make your writing sound immature

The Compound Sentence

A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses (or simple sentences) joined by co-coordinating conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “or”:

Bolivia is a country with many natural resources, but still, it has many poor people

Compound sentences are very natural for English speakers. You will have no trouble writing them. This form is present in the human mind no matter what language you speak

A compound sentence is most effective when you use it to create a sense of comparison or contrast between several pieces of information:

Fish is good for you but many people do not eat it.

The Complex Sentence

A complex sentence is very different from a simple sentence or a compound sentence. It has one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. Complex sentences are important in your writing because they make clear which ideas are most important.

When you write: My mother gave me a present. I did not need anything. The reader will have trouble knowing which piece of information is most important to you, the fact that your mother gave you a present or the fact that you did not need anything.

However, when you write: My mother gave me a present although I did not need anything. Your idea is communicated more clearly. You make it clear with the subordinating conjunction “although” at the beginning of the second clause that the fact you did not need it is less important than, or subordinate to, the fact that your mother gave you a present.

There may be more than one dependent clause in a complex sentence. For example,

Laura forgot her parents’ anniversary, so she sent them flowers when she finally remembered.

The independent clause is Laura forgot her parents’ anniversary. There are two dependent clauses: so she sent them flowers and when she finally remembered.

Notice that the clause when she finally remembered is dependent on the clause so she sent them flowers. The dependence is one of time. She sent flowers when she remembered.

The Compound Complex-Sentence

The compound-complex sentence has two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

This type of sentence is sometimes necessary to communicate comparisons and relationships. You should learn about this type of sentence to understand the nature of writing in English.

This book concentrates on compound-complex sentence because familiarity and ease in their use is the level that you must reach in your writing.

After you know what a compound-complex sentence is, you will recognize them in your reading and understand better what you read. Next, you will be able to write them when it is necessary to communicate more complex ideas.

Masters of the English language (writers and entertainers) use them regularly.

  • “In America, everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards.”(Bertrand Russell)
  • “Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.” (James Baldwin)
  • “The Druids used mistletoe in ceremonies of human sacrifice, but most of all the evergreen became a symbol of fertility because it flourished in winter when other plants withered.” (Sian Ellis, “England’s Ancient ‘Special Twig,'” British Heritage, January 2001)
  • “For in the end, freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged.” (Alice Walker)
  • “We operate under a jury system in this country, and as much as we complain about it, we have to admit that we know of no better system, except possibly flipping a coin.” (Dave Barry)
  • “I believe entertainment can aspire to be art and can become art, but if you set out to make art you’re an idiot.”(Steve Martin)
  • “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” (Theodor Geisel)
  • “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” (Groucho Marx)

Here are some other examples to start analyzing:

I don’t like meat, and my sister doesn’t like fish because she is allergic to it.

The independent clauses are: I don’t like meat, and my sister doesn’t like fish. The dependent clause is because she is allergic to it.

I want to play in the water, but unless I can find my bathing suit, I can’t.

The independent clauses are: I want to play in the water and but I can’tThe dependent clause is unless I can find my bathing suit

Exercise Compound-Complex sentences

Now see if you can analyze the following sentences. Underline the independent clause(s) once and make the dependent clause bold.

You can write on the bark of a tree, but using paper is better as you can fit it in an envelope.

Though Mary prefers watching action films, she rented the latest soap opera, and she enjoyed it very much.

Because I have lived in Mongolia, some people expect me to speak perfectly, and other people expect me to write perfectly

Some people tell me that my cooking is too salty, and others tell me that my desserts are too sweet.

And here are some that are more difficult:

  1. If I earn money from my chores, and from my hats, which I make out of old tires and sell to the rich ladies in town, I will buy a new dog to protect me, however, for the moment I don’t have any money and will have to steal it, just like I did last month when I needed money to get my grandmother out of jail where she ended up for being an exotic dancer without a license
  2. Even though he prefers to eat with a fork when he goes to Chinese restaurants, to show off, he chooses to use chopsticks, but they aren’t easy to use and he usually drops all his food.
  3. If Peter Jobes is the nominee for the Land Party, which is the most popular in this poor country he’ll run against John Buin, who is under investigation, but it still won’t be an easy contest to win
  4. When we were on vacation, we went to the cinema but thought that the movie was too violent because of its many fight scenes, but our children, who like to watch scary movies, thought that we were wrong because we were out of touch with the mass media that are influencing the country.
  5. Although I like to go camping because it is so relaxing, since I got my new job, which keeps me busy, I haven’t had the time to go lately and besides I haven’t found anyone to go with because the people in this town are very unathletic.
  6. Although I, like all women enjoy shopping, since I broke my leg, I haven’t been to the mall in two weeks and I am broke because I can’t pay my credit card bills, which have built up ever since I got my first credit card!

Answers:

Exercise Compound-Complex sentences: ANSWERS Underline the independent clause(s) once and make the dependent clause bold.

  • You can write on the bark of a tree, but using paper is better as you can fit it in an envelope.
  • Though Mary prefers watching action films, she rented the latest soap opera, and she enjoyed it very much.
  • Because I have lived in Mongolia, some people expect me to speak perfectly, and other people expect me to write perfectly.
  • Some people tell me that my cooking is too salty, and others tell me that my desserts are too sweet.

And here are some that are more difficult:

  • If I earn money from my chores, and from my hats, which I make out of old tires, and sell to the rich ladies in town, I will buy a new dog to protect me, however, for the moment I don’t have any money and will have to steal it, just like I did last month when I needed money to get my grandmother out of jail where she ended up for being an exotic dancer without a license.

Analysis:

The independent clause is I will buy a new dog to protect me.

The dependent clause, if I earn money from my chores and from my hats modifies the verb will buy.

The dependent clause, which I make out of old tires, and sell to the rich ladies in town modifies the noun hats.

The dependent clause, however, for the moment, I don’t have money, modifies the verb will buy.

The dependent clause, like I did last month, modifies the verb steal.

The dependent clause, when I needed money, modifies the verb did.

The dependent clause, where she ended up, modifies the noun jail.

Do this same analysis with the other sentences below.

  • Even though he prefers to eat with a fork when he goes to Chinese restaurants, to show off, he chooses to use chopsticks, and he usually drops all his food.
  • If Peter Jobes is the nominee for the Land Party, which is the most popular in this poor country he’ll run against John Buin, who is under investigation, but it still won’t be an easy contest to win
  • When we were on vacation, we went to the cinema and thought that the movie was too violent because of its many fight scenes, but our children, who like to watch scary movies, thought that we were wrong because we were out of touch with the mass media that are influencing the country.
  • Although I like to go camping because it is so relaxing, since I got my new job, which keeps me busy, I haven’t had the time to go lately, and besides, I haven’t found anyone to go with me because of the people in this town is very unathletic.
  • Although I, like all women enjoy shopping, since I broke my leg, I haven’t been to the mall in two weeks, and I am broke because I can’t pay my credit card bills, which have built up ever since I got my first credit card! for more click here

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