This page will discuss the types of sentences, what a sentence fragment is, and when each of these is appropriate to use. You have already learned about subjects, which tells who or what is doing something, and predicates, which tell what the subject is doing. These are used to create the various patterns in sentences. We will also discuss some of the big problems with sentence construction and how to correct them.
A. THE BASIC PATTERN
Obviously, the basic pattern for a simple sentence is subject - predicate.
Both of these components can become more complex. The predicate, for instance, can be in two parts: the verb and the complement. If you need refreshers on these, see the Parts of Speech page. You can see that none of our examples above have only a subject and a verb because very few English sentences are that simple. Thus, a more useful way to think of this pattern is subject - verb - complement.
These are simple sentences, and because they can stand alone they are also independent clauses. These are combined with other independent clauses or dependent clauses or phrases to create more complex, meaningful, interesting sentences.
B. CREATING MORE COMPLEXITY THROUGH COORDINATION (COMPOUND SENTENCES)
The first way to think about creating more complex sentences is through coordination: using two items of equal weight within the sentence elements or by joining whole independent clauses. For instance, in the following situations, we have added more items within the three sentence elements:
You can also do this with two independent clauses to create a very common sentence structure:
Yesterday was hot, but today it is cooler.
Notice that these are joined by "and" and "but." These are called coordinating conjunctions, and the resulting sentences are called compound sentences. Here is the whole list of coordinating conjuctions:
Be aware, too that there are some adverbs which can also connect two independent clauses:
Here is the list of conjunctive adverbs:
accordingly, also, anyway, besides, certainly, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, incidentally, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, specifically, still, subsequently, then, therefore, thus
Note that some punctuation (a comma or semi-colon) is necessary to use between the two clauses to reinforce the independent nature of the clauses.
The two elements on either side of these conjunctions should both be independent clauses, so make sure that you have the full subject-predicate form on either side when you use them.
The final way to join two independent clauses without adding a word is with a semi-colon (like this); for that discussion see the Other Punctuation page.
C. CREATING MORE COMPLEXITY THROUGH SUBORDINATION (COMPLEX SENTENCES)
Even more complexity of meaning can be created in sentences by using subordination, that is, by using an independent clause joined with word groups (individual words, phrases or clauses) that modify the independent clause but take a less important place in the sentence than the independent clause. Whew! These are called complex sentences; let's look at this in practice:
"Since Wendy left" modifies the main part of the sentence by specifying when this happened to Peter. "Although..." gives more information about my ignorance of your hairstyle. "Because..." explains why we must stay in. Notice the first two of these are clauses because they contain a subject and predicate, and the third one is a phrase because it does not. All of them are modifying subordinate elements in the sentences, however.
Also note that, as in coordination, in subordination there are specific words which start each of these dependent modifiers. Here is the list of subordinating conjunctions:
There are other adverbs which also introduce subordinate elements and indicate the relationship between the parts of the sentence:
how, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whom, whoever, whomever, whose, why
These may also be used with phrases or clauses:
Note in these situations that you only need to add a comma when the modifying element comes before the main part of the sentence.
The major thing to remember about subordination is that you are using these elements to modify the main part of the sentence, thus choose your conjunction/adverb and your structure accordingly so it achieves your desired effect.
D. RECOGNIZING AND USING FRAGMENTS
A sentence fragment is a group of words which is used as a sentence but does not have the subject-predicate form described above. Why are your writing instructors always telling you not to use these? The answer lies in the differences between written and spoken communication. We are always using fragments in speech, and our conversations would be pretty cumbersome if we always spoke in full sentences:
Are you going to school today?
Yes, I am going to school today.
What time will the bus be picking you up?
The bus will be picking me up at about eight o'clock.
Even though written communication may not be as lengthy as these examples, it is still necessary for the sake of clarity and style to spell out our ideas more fully. If you are not sure if you have written a sentence or a fragment, try the following test:
There are two easy ways to fix unwanted sentence fragments:
There are specific and limited instances when sentences fragments are effective writing. Make sure that you have one of these purposes in mind when you spot a fragment in your proofreading.
If you are not doing one of these things, fix the fragment as directed above.
E. MAJOR SENTENCE ERRORS
Aside from fragments, there are a couple of major errors that writers make in sentence construction. The problem with all of these is that they do not accurately depict the relationship between the two clauses, and that can cause misunderstanding for your reader. Do you see any of these in your writing?
You can fix these problems in various ways, depending on what you want the sentence to mean:
Notice that there are slightly different shades of meaning in each of these sentences, so you need to ask yourself what exactly you want the sentence to say.
Now that you understand the types of sentences, you might want to move to the next page for some assistance in created Varied Sentences.