It’s a reasonably safe assumption that if you are planning on taking a college entrance exam, that understanding sentence structure will help you score higher.
Did you know that over half of the English section of the SAT assesses students on questions of grammar, mechanics, and punctuation?
But what about those students who don’t have their sights set on college? Is there any real benefit to understanding sentence structure?
The answer is yes! Sentence structure helps writers craft their thoughts logically and clearly for readers to understand.
Just like in math, sentence structures have a variety of equations and conditionals to make writing correct.
Read on for more information about sentence structures and how to become the most persuasive writer you know!
What is Sentence Structure?
A sentence must require two things to be classified as a complete sentence: a subject and a predicate.
A subject (what the sentence is about) + a predicate (what is said about the subject) is the most basic form of sentence composition.
Sentences can be long or short, but a predicate must always contain a verb.
Of course, this is the English language, and nothing is so cut and dry, so there are exceptions to this rule. When someone gives a command (an imperative), they usually don’t use a subject. Stop! Look! Wait! are all examples of imperatives.
A sentence must express a complete thought. If it doesn’t
See how my incomplete sentence example above leaves you looking for closure? That’s an incomplete thought and not an example of a sentence.
There are a few basic rules for creating a sentence:
- A sentence always begins with a capital letter and;
- Ends with a full stop (period, question mark, or exclamation point).
To stick with my math comparison from above sentence structure has the potential to increase in complexity. The definition of a sentence above is the most basic form of writing sentences (or a simple 2 + 2 equation).
Basic Sentence Elements
In order to more clearly understand sentence structure, you must first be able to identify the key parts of a sentence. There are many contributing elements to writing; here is a basic overview of some of the features you might encounter when writing:
An independent clause is a complete sentence. It contains a subject and predicate and conveys a complete thought.
Independent clauses do not require additional information to understand the sentence.
Examples include “Jim read a book,”; “I enjoy running,”; and “They baked chocolate chip cookies.”
A dependent clause is a sentence that doesn’t express a complete thought.
There are a couple of reasons why a clause may be categorized as a dependent. These reasons include:
- The sentence includes a marker word (Before, after, because, since, to, although, though, whenever, wherever, whether, while, even though, even if);
- Or the sentence includes a conjunction.
A dependent clause has to be joined with another clause to be considered a complete sentence.
When a dependent clause is hanging out on its own, it’s what we call in the biz (literally nobody calls it the biz) a sentence fragment.
The subject of the sentence is the person, animal, place, thing, or concept that does the action.
You can quickly determine the subject of a sentence by answering the question, “Who or what?”
A verb is an action word in a sentence.
ArgoPrep blog has a fantastic resource about all things verbs. Check it out for more information about the various types of verbs in writing.
This is the word in the sentence that receives the action from the subject.
Objects are either nouns or pronouns and are used to describe the verb in a sentence. For example, I went to a baseball game.
In this example, I is the object and went to is the action verb.
Advanced Sentence Structures
Since we already covered the simple structure above, here is a quick review:
Subject + predicate = simple sentence structures. The simple structure can also have an object and modifier, but they are not necessary.
Simple Sentences vs. Compound Sentences
A compound sentence is when a sentence contains at least two independent clauses. The clauses can be combined with either a comma, semicolon, or coordinating conjunction.
When you use a compound sentence in your writing, you can increase the variety of your writing.
Variety in writing makes your prose flow better and have more interest. If you just wrote using simple sentences, your text would sound like a robot (and your reader would most likely fall asleep).
Complex Sentence Structure
A complex sentence is a sentence that contains at least one independent clause and one dependent clause.
If a sentence begins with the dependent clause, it should be considered an introductory thought to the independent clause.
For example, (notice the comma in this sentence) my dog likes to sleep on the couch.
If the independent clause is the first clause in the sentence, a comma is not required for grammatical correctness.
The final form of sentence structures is the compound-complex sentence. A compound-complex sentence is the combination of at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.
Compound-complex sentences rely heavily on the correct use of commas and coordinating conjunctions to help the reader follow the writer’s thoughts.
An example of a compound-complex sentence is:
I finished the race, but I forgot to cross the finish line even though it ended at the beach.
“I finished the race” and “I forgot to cross the finish line” are both independent clauses.
“it ended at the beach” is obviously our dependent clause, because we don’t fully know what it’s referencing without the previous clauses to help us along.
Want to Be a Better Writer?
Do you often feel like you can’t express yourself through writing? Do you wish that you earned higher grades on your essays in school? Have you ever said, “That’s not what I meant to say!” in relation to somebody reacting to something you wrote?
The fact is, writing is a challenging skill that everybody should learn. It is one of the few skills taught in school that you have to use regularly when you enter into adulthood.
Good writing comes from reading blog posts like this to understand common errors. But if you’re still a student and looking to improve your test scores on writing portions of high-stakes tests, consider picking up an ArgoPrep workbook.
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I can remember being in school (even college) and not being entirely clear on my teacher’s feedback about things like comma splices, dependent clauses, and other writing rules that sometimes just don’t make sense.
Sentence structure can be confusing for many students as they are learning how to write more clearly.
We want to be able to write with emotion, clear thoughts, and variety, to deliver our ideas in a way that is going to be well-received.
This why sentence structure is so important to anybody who desires to become a more persuasive writer.
Check out the ArgoPrep blog for more posts like this!