Grammar: The Sentence

Posted December 26, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Obviously, sentences are the building blocks of a story. Without them, characters couldn’t communicate. We couldn’t envision the difference between a straw pallet heaped with moldering woolen blankets and a sumptuous four-poster piled high with plump feather mattresses and even plumper feather pillows dressed in bright silken jewel tones. We wouldn’t know who was the bad guy or how anyone felt. Is it raining, snowing, or is an avalanche about to hit?

We wouldn’t get anywhere without the flexible sentence providing information, atmosphere, emotion…motive that I want to absorb.

Now, getting down to brass tacks, the more important sections of this post are what a sentence is and its structure. Clauses are useful, and writers will remember the main types from school.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Sentence
Credit to: Pitt.edu
Definition: A sentence is a complete thought with a subject and a verb.

A.k.a., independent clause

A sentence is structured according to the number and type of clauses they have.

Sentence types are the kinds of sentences we all learned in grade school.

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Subject + Predicate
Subject Predicate
General Definition: Usually a noun that comes first, it is the doer of the sentence. See the post, “Predicate“, for more examples.

Doer is also known as agent.

General Definition: Usually a verb, the predicate usually comes after the subject and is the action performed by the subject of the sentence. See the post, “Predicate“, for more examples.

Rule: The predicate must agree with the subject in number and person.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the subject
  2. Blue indicates the predicate

The ball rolled down the street.

The flowers will be blooming soon.

Helen got married last week.

It is snowing up a storm.

The game was cancelled due to the tornado.

I love the glass pyramid I.M. Pei designed for the Louvre.

Sentence Structure
Simple Sentence
Compound Sentence
Complex Sentence

Sentence Fragment
Run-on Sentence
Mixed Construction
Simple Sentence Definition: Contains a subject and a predicate and expresses a complete thought. It may also contain a compound subject and/or a compound predicate (see Compound Predicate for examples.)

A.k.a., Independent clause

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the subject
  2. Blue indicates the simple predicate, a.k.a., verb

I threw a fit.

Mary worked on her new quilt.

Carol and Gene practiced their duet.

Bertram heads to the coffeeshop and works on his novel for two hours before work.

Compound Sentence Definition: Contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunctions. Except for very short sentences, a comma is always used to separate one independent clause from another.
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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the subject
  2. Blue indicates the verb (simple predicate)
  3. Orange indicates the comma + coordinating conjunction

I threw a fit, and
Giorgio ignored me.

Mary worked on her new quilt, but she didn’t quite finish it.

Carol and Gene practiced their duet, but they had no one to play the xylophone for them.


Bertram worked on his novel, so Angela went to the concert.

Using so indicates that Bertram’s actions led to Angela’s.


Bertram worked on his novel, for
Angela went to the concert.

Bertram decided to work on his novel because his girlfriend went out.

Complex Sentence Definition: Contains an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A complex sentence always has a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun.

Rule: A sentence that begins with a subordinating conjunction requires a comma at the end of the dependent clause.

A sentence with the subordinating conjunction in the middle does not require a comma.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the subordinating conjunction
  2. Blue indicates the relative pronoun associated with the conjunction
  3. Orange indicates any required comma

When she finished her quilt, we were all impressed with Mary’s artistic abilities.

We were all impressed with Mary’s artistic abilities when she finished her quilt.

Because she was such a bully, we all avoided Helene.

We all avoided Helene because she was such a bully.

Since I finished The Affair at Styles, I couldn’t get enough of Agatha Christie.

I couldn’t get enough of Agatha Christie since I finished the The Affair at Styles.

Complex Sentence with Dependent Clause Rule: Contains an independent clause and a dependent clause.
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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the independent clause
  2. Blue indicates the dependent clause

The books which are on my bookshelves are my favorites.

The dress which I wore last night is one-of-a-kind.

The book that I read is due back at the library.

The state capitol building which was built in 1799 is being restored.

Complex-Compound Sentence Definition: A sentence having two or more coordinate independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses (Richard Nordquist).

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the independent clause
  2. Blue indicates the dependent clause
  3. Orange indicates the comma + coordinating conjunction

Those are my principles, and if you don’t like themwell, I have others.” –Groucho Marx

The door of the morning room was open as I went through the hall, and I caught a glimpse of Uncle Tom messing about with his collection of old silver.” –P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

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, Dave Barry’s Guide to Marriage And/or Sex

Sentence Fragment Definition: An incomplete sentence that cannot form a complete thought, sometimes through the lack of a subject or a main verb.
Return to top Sentence fragments happen by treating a dependent clause or other incomplete thought as a complete sentence. You can usually fix this error by combining it with another sentence to make a complete thought or by removing the dependent marker (Purdue Owl).

A.k.a., dependent clause

Fragment Possible Revisions
Even though Mary was divorced, Annnnd, ???
Even though Mary was divorced, she still loved John.
I need to find a new roommate. I need to find a new roommate because the one I have now isn’t paying her share of the rent.
A story with deep thoughts and emotions Direct object:
She told a story with deep thoughts and emotions.

Appositive:
Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, a story with deep thoughts and emotions, has impressed critics for decades.

Toys of all kinds thrown everywhere Complete verb:
Toys of all kinds were thrown everywhere.

Direct object:
They found toys of all kinds thrown everywhere.

A record of accomplishment beginning when you were first hired Direct object:
I’ve noticed a record of accomplishment beginning when you were first hired

Main verb:
A record of accomplishment began when you were first hired.

Mixed Construction Definition: Mixed constructions are sentences constructed out of an assortment of parts. They start one way (often with a long prepositional phrase) but end with a regular predicate.

Suggestion: Usually the object of the preposition (often a gerund, as in the last two examples) is intended as the subject of the sentence, so removing the preposition at the beginning is usually the easiest way to edit such errors (Purdue OWL).

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With the ultimate effect of all advertising is to sell the product Remove preposition:
The ultimate effect of all advertising is to sell the product.
By paying too much attention to polls can make a political leader unwilling to propose innovative policies Remove preposition:
Paying too much attention to polls can make a political leader unwilling to propose innovative policies.
For doing freelance work for a competitor got Phil fired Remove preposition:
Doing freelance work for a competitor got Phil fired.

Rearrange:
Phil got fired for doing freelance work for a competitor.

Run-on Sentence Definition: Two independent clauses not separated by any form of punctuation.

Rule: Fix a run-on sentence by adding a period, semicolon, or colon to separate the two sentences.

A.k.a., fused sentence

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Run-on Sentence The Fix
My professor is intelligent I’ve learned a lot from her. My professor is intelligent. I’ve learned a lot from her.

My professor is intelligent; I’ve learned a lot from her.

My professor is intelligent, and I’ve learned a lot from her.

My professor is intelligent; moreover, I’ve learned a lot from her.

Sentence Types
Definition: There are any number of sentence types, and grammarians have divided the types into formal and functional.

Main Types:

Secondary Types:

Declarative Sentence Definition: The structure is subject + verb.

Formal: declarative
Functional: statement

A.k.a., statement

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We’re going boating today.
Tom plans to ask Mary to play her cello.
The kids played with the dog today.
Harry and Tom flew their kites this afternoon.
Exclamative Sentence Definition: Expresses an emotion such as surprise, anger, or pain.

A.k.a., exclamation, exclamatory

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Marvelous!
Damn!
Such a sad story.
Oh, woe is me.
What does he think he’s doing?
Exclamatory Question Definition: Sentence that is interrogative in form, but an exclamation in meaning.
Isn’t it gorgeous out today?
Isn’t he the biggest jerk!
Imperative Sentence Definition: Expresses a command.

A.k.a., command, directive, concession, wish, request

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Let’s do it!
Do it now!
Come here.
Don’t forget to lock the car.
Interrogative Sentence Definition: Asks a question OR functions as a statement, directive or exclamation.

A.k.a., question

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What time are we supposed to be there?
Did you find the keys?
Are we there yet?
Haven’t we all made a mistake like that?
Could you please hold the noise down?
Are you ever coming to bed?
What’s his problem!
Existential Sentence Definition: Used to express a proposition that someone or something exists.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the existential there

There is a lot to do.

Can there be life on other planets?

Has there been anything in the papers about this?

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to make a stand.

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful princess.

There is a hole in my pocket.

There are visitors waiting to see you.

Experiential Sentence Definition: Involving or based on experience.

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It is raining.
It is snowing.
I am sad.
Expletive Sentence Definition: Uses empty words or phrases to fill out a sentence or a line of verse without adding any sense to the sentence.

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It is important to tighten your sentences. Tighten your sentences.
It is essential to note that zipping up your coat will keep your body heat in. Zipping up your coast will keep your body heat in.
A reasonable person would say you had screwed up. You screwed up.
Firstly, it is important to note that pails with holes in them will not carry water. Make sure your pail doesn’t have a hole in it before you fill it with water.

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