Sentence

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1. What is a Sentence?

A sentence is a group of words put together in a complete, meaningful way. It expresses a thought, statement, question, wish, command, suggestion, or idea. We use sentences every day when we’re writing and speaking. What’s more, a sentence combines words in a grammatically correct way. There are lots things to understand and of rules to follow when making a sentence, from punctuation, to word order, to making sure you have all of the right parts. This article will cover everything you need to know about strong sentences!

 

2. Everyday Examples of Sentences

Sentences serve all kinds of purposes and share all kinds of information. They are the main form we use to communicate through writing and speaking, so we use them every day, like in the examples below.

Some sentences share information, like something that happened during the day:

My mom cooked pancakes for breakfast.

A sentence may express an opinion or desire, like something you like or dislike:

I love syrup on my pancakes.

It may share a general fact:

Syrup comes from maple trees.

Or, it might ask a question:

Do you like syrup on your pancakes?

 

3. Main Parts of a Sentence

All complete sentences have a subject and a predicate. When a subject and a predicate are together, they make a clause. So, since all sentences have a subject and a predicate, all sentences have a clause.

a. Subject

A subject is the main thing a sentence is about. In a sentence, all verbs need a subject; it’s the person or thing that is doing something.

b. Simple Subject

A simple subject is the main word that tells what a sentence is about:

The big dog went to the county fair.

c. Compound Subject

When two or more subjects in a sentence use the same verb, it makes a compound subject:

The big dog and the small cat went to the county fair.

d. Complete Subject

A complete subject includes all of the words that tell what a sentence is about:

The big dog and the small cat went to the county fair.

e. Predicate

A predicate tells what the subject does, and always needs a verb. Often the predicate is just a verb.

f. Simple predicate

The simple predicate is the sentence’s main verb or verb phrase, and nothing else.

The dog went to the county fair.

The simple predicate is “went,” which is the verb that says what the dog is doing.

g. Compound Predicate

A compound predicate includes two or more verbs that have the same subject and are connected by a conjunction, like “and.” It can include words besides the verbs, but doesn’t include the conjunction.

The dog went to the county fair, and then ate popcorn.

Here, the compound predicate is went to the county fair and then ate popcorn. Compound predicates are important because they keep us from writing short, boring sentences. For example:

The dog went to the county fair. Then he ate popcorn.

Vs.

The dog went to the county fair, and then he ate popcorn.

The second example using the compound predicate is a much stronger sentence.

h. Complete Predicate

A complete predicate includes all of the verbs and other details about it in the sentence:

The dog went to the county fair.

The complete predicate of the sentence is underlined. As you see, it includes not only the verb “went,” but “to the county fair” as well, because those words all tell about what is happening in the sentence.

i. Clause

A clause is a set of words containing a subject and a predicate. An easy way to remember this is

“clause = subject + predicate.”

j. Independent Clause

An independent clause can exist as a sentence on its own.

The dog ran.

k. Dependent Clause

A dependent clause has a subject and a predicate but can’t exist as a sentence on its own:

The dog smelled popcorn, which was popping at the county fair.

In the second part of the sentence, there is a subject (county fair) and a predicate (popping), but the words don’t give enough information to be a complete sentence. It only gives extra information—we need to know that “Sparky smelled popcorn” to understand “popping at the county fair.” Alone, a dependent clause makes a fragment sentence (see VII). “Which was popping at the county fair” is a fragment sentence.

 

4. Sentence Structures

A sentence’s “structure” is the main form it should follow in order for it to make sense and express the right idea. When it comes to making sure your sentence is clear and complete, having the right sentence structure is very important.

a. Simple Sentence

A simple sentence has only one subject and one predicate—in other words, only one clause. Here are three simple sentences:

  • The dog ran.
  • He ran all the way to the county fair.
  • He ate hot popcorn.

b. Compound Sentence

A compound sentence has more than one subject or predicate. It uses a conjunction like “and” to combine two or more complete sentences into one compound sentence. A conjunction, like the word “and” connects words, phrases and clauses. For example, you can combine the three sentences above to make one compound sentence:

The dog ran all the way to the county fair, and then he ate some popcorn.

This is a compound sentence because it has one subject, “dog,” but two predicates, “ran” and “ate.”

c. Complex sentence

A complex sentence has at least one independent clause and one dependent clause.

The dog smelled popcorn, which was popping at the county fair.

“The dog smelled popcorn” is an independent clause; “which was popping at the county fair” is a dependent clause.

d. Compound-complex sentence

A compound-complex sentence has two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause—so, it combines two complete sentences and one incomplete sentence. Here is an example:

The dog smelled popcorn (independent clause)

+

which was popping at the county fair (dependent clause)

+

so (conjunction)

+

he ran all the way there (independent clause)

=

The dog smelled popcorn, which was popping at the county fair, so, he ran all the way there.

The result of combining the three clauses and the conjunction is a compound-complex sentence.

 

5. How to Write a Sentence

Aside from having the parts listed earlier, two things are very important for writing sentences: word order and punctuation.

a. Word order

Word order is important: it’s what makes your sentences make sense. The most common word order is subject + verb + object.

For example:

The fox (subject) + eats (verb) + pancakes (object).

When writing a sentence, make sure the verb comes after the subject, and the object comes after the verb. Otherwise, it won’t make sense, like here:

Eats pancakes the fox. (verb + object + subject)

Pancakes the fox eats. (object + subject + verb)

b. Punctuation

In a sentence, punctuation can be as important as the words you use! Using the wrong marks at the wrong time can make a sentence confusing or even change its meaning. Here are a few key ways we use punctuation:

  • Use a period (.) to end a normal sentence.
  • Use a question mark (?) at the end of all sentences that ask a question.
  • Use an exclamation mark (!) at the end of a sentence that expresses strong emotions.
  • Use a comma (,) to show a pause in the sentence, to make lists, or to separate thoughts. We use commas very often in sentences.
  • Use quotation marks (“”) to quote a person or source (like a newspaper), or to show character dialogue.

 

6. Common Mistakes with Sentences

There are a lot of rules to remember about sentences, so sometimes it’s easy to make a mistake. Along from knowing your grammar rules and sentences structures, it’s important to include the right amount of information in a sentence. If you include too much or too little, it can lead to two very common types of problem sentences: run-on sentences and fragment sentences. Being able to recognize them can help you avoid them in your own writing.

a. Run-on Sentence

In simple terms, a run-on sentence is a sentence that is too long. Sometimes a writer doesn’t use the right punctuation, so the sentence seems like it “runs on” for too long. For example:

The fox really liked pancakes and he ate them every day for breakfast but he couldn’t eat them without syrup and butter.

But, with the right punctuation, this can be a normal compound sentence:

The fox really liked pancakes: he ate them every day for breakfast; but he couldn’t eat them without syrup and butter!

Run-on sentences also happen when you try to put too many ideas into one sentence, like this:

The fox was great at hiding, and no human had ever seen him, also he really liked pancakes, and he ate them every day for breakfast, but he couldn’t eat them without syrup and butter.

We can break up to run-on sentence by separating the main ideas and putting them into their own sentences. There are two main ideas here: the fox was great at hiding, and he liked pancakes. Knowing that, here are two new sentences:

The fox was great at hiding: no human had ever seen him. He also really liked pancakes: he ate them every day for breakfast; but he couldn’t eat them without syrup and butter!

As you can see, the new sentences are much easier to read and make more sense.

b. Fragment (incomplete) Sentence

A fragment is a small piece of something. So, a fragment sentence is just a piece of a sentence: it is incomplete because it is missing a subject, a predicate, or another necessary word.

This fragment sentence is missing an object:

The fox ate for breakfast.

We need an object, like “pancakes,” to complete this sentence.

This fragment sentence is missing a predicate:

He couldn’t without syrup and butter.

It needs a verb, like “eat,” and an object, like “pancakes,” to complete it.

Finally, this sentence doesn’t have a subject:

Ate breakfast.

It needs a subject, like “the fox,” to make it a complete sentence.