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Mastering the Art of Sentence Structure: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Feb 3

Understanding sentence structure is fundamental to effective communication and writing. Whether you're a student, professional, or aspiring writer, honing your skills in constructing well-formed sentences can significantly enhance your written expression. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key elements of sentence structure, from basic components to advanced techniques, providing valuable insights to help you elevate your writing to the next level.
I. The Foundation: Basic Sentence Structure
  • Subject and Predicate:

  • Almost every sentence has a subject and a predicate:

  •  the subject (who or what the sentence is about)

  •  the predicate (what the subject is doing or what is happening).

  • The only sentences that break these rules are used in speech and not formal writing unless in quotes as part of speech, such as the following:

Sentence Fragments:
  • Sentence fragments lack a complete thought and often do not contain both a subject and a predicate. For example: "On the table."

Imperative Sentences:
  • Imperative sentences give commands or make requests and may not explicitly state the subject. For example: "Close the door."

Exclamatory Sentences:
  • Exclamatory sentences express strong emotion and may not have a clear subject or a traditional subject-predicate structure. For example: "What a beautiful day!"

Elliptical Sentences:
  • Elliptical sentences omit words that can be understood from the context, and in some cases, a subject or predicate may be implied rather than explicitly stated. For example: "Eating ice cream for dessert, and you?" (implied subject: "Are you").

  • Simple Sentences:

  • A simple sentence would have a single subject and predicate.

  • Ex: A ball bounces.

  • The ball is the subject, and bounces is the predicate

  • Adding Detail with Modifiers:

  • Modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) enhance sentences by providing more detail and context.

  • Ex: The yellow ball bounces high.

  • Yellow is the adjective and high is the adverb.

II. Building Blocks: Complex Sentence Structures
  • Compound Sentences:

    • Compound sentences contain two independent clauses using coordinating conjunctions to create compound sentences.

      • Ex 1: She enjoyed hiking in the mountains, and he preferred relaxing on the beach.

        • This compound sentence combines two independent clauses ("She enjoyed hiking in the mountains" and "he preferred relaxing on the beach") using the coordinating conjunction "and."

      • Ex 2: The sun was setting, so we decided to have a picnic by the lake.

        • In this compound sentence, the independent clauses "The sun was setting" and "we decided to have a picnic by the lake" are joined by the coordinating conjunction "so."

  • Complex Sentences:

    • Complex sentences contain subordinate clauses.

      • Ex 1: Although it was raining, she decided to go for a run in the park.

        • In this complex sentence, the independent clause "she decided to go for a run in the park" is joined with the dependent clause "Although it was raining" using the subordinating conjunction "Although."

      • Ex 2: After finishing her homework, Maria went to the library to borrow some books.

        • The independent clause "Maria went to the library to borrow some books" is linked to the dependent clause "After finishing her homework" using the subordinating conjunction "After."

  • Compound-Complex Sentences:

    • Combining both compound and complex sentences offers more nuance, options, and expressions to your writing style.

      • Ex 1: While Mary was cooking dinner, John set the table, and they chatted about their day, but the phone rang, disrupting their conversation, so Mary went to answer it.

        • This compound-complex sentence consists of multiple independent clauses ("Mary was cooking dinner," "John set the table," "they chatted about their day," "the phone rang," and "Mary went to answer it") combined with coordinating conjunctions ("and," "but," and "so") and subordinating conjunctions ("While" and "disrupting").

      • Ex 2: Although she had studied diligently for the exam, Sarah felt nervous, but she took deep breaths and focused on the questions, and eventually, she finished the test feeling relieved.

        • In this example, there are both independent clauses ("Sarah felt nervous," "she took deep breaths and focused on the questions," and "she finished the test feeling relieved") and a dependent clause ("Although she had studied diligently for the exam"), making it a compound-complex sentence.

III. Punctuation and Sentence Structure
Commas and Clauses:
  • The role of commas is to separate clauses and maintain clarity in your sentences.

  •  Use commas when:

    • Separating Items in a List:

      • Use commas to separate items in a list. For example: "I need to buy apples, oranges, and bananas."

    • Joining Independent Clauses:

      • Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction (such as and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) to join two independent clauses. For example: "She loves to read, but he prefers watching movies."

    • Introductory Elements:

      • Use a comma after introductory words, phrases, or clauses. For example: "In the morning, I like to go for a run."

    • Non-Essential Information:

  • Use commas to set off non-essential information within a sentence. For example: "My friend, who is an artist, painted a beautiful mural."

    • Separating Adjectives:

      • Use commas to separate two or more adjectives that modify the same noun. For example: "It was a cold, windy day."

    • Direct Address/ Writing a name::

  • Use a comma when directly addressing someone. For example: "John, please pass the salt."

    • Use a comma to frame a name if it is in the middle of the sentence: “My friend, Evian, is coming over later.”

  • Quotations:

    • Use commas to set off dialogue or quotations. For example: She said, "I'll be there in a minute."

  • Dates and Addresses:

    • Use commas to separate parts of dates and addresses. For example: "January 1, 2022" or "New York, NY."

  • Before "and" in a Series:

    • In American English, use a comma before "and" in a series. For example: "I had eggs, toast, and coffee for breakfast."

Semicolons and Colons:
  • Semicolons (;):

    • Use semicolons to connect related independent clauses and colons to introduce lists or emphasize information.

    • Joining Independent Clauses:

      • Use a semicolon to connect closely related independent clauses (complete thoughts).

        • Example: The sun was setting; the sky was painted in hues of orange and pink.

    • Separating Items in a List with Internal Commas:

      • When items in a list contain internal commas, use semicolons to avoid confusion.

        • Example: My travel destinations include Paris, France; Rome, Italy; and Barcelona, Spain.

    • Linking Independent Clauses with Transitional Phrases:

      • Use a semicolon before a transitional word or phrase that connects independent clauses.

        • Example: She loves hiking; however, she's never been camping.

  • Colons (:):

    • Introducing Lists:

      • Use a colon to introduce a list of items, especially when the list follows an independent clause.

        • Example: She bought the following fruits: apples, oranges, and bananas.

    • Introducing Explanations or Clarifications:

      • Use a colon to introduce an explanation, clarification, or elaboration.

        • Example: The answer is simple: practice and dedication.

    • Separating Hours and Minutes in Time Notation:

      • Use a colon to separate hours and minutes in time notation.

        • Example: The meeting is scheduled for 3:30 PM.

IV. Sentence Fluency and Variety
Parallel Structure:
  • Parallelism is important it maintains consistency and balance in sentence structure, particularly in lists and series. Maintaining parallel structure contributes to the overall clarity and rhythm of a sentence or a passage, making it more pleasing to read and easier to comprehend.

  • Parallel structure, items in a list, elements in a series, or parts of a sentence that serve similar grammatical functions should have a parallel grammatical structure. This means using the same grammatical form for each element in the series or list.

    • Examples of Parallel Structure (We show nonparallel structure first so you can more easily see the difference):

  • Non-Parallel Structure: 

    • She likes hiking, swimming, and to ride a bike.

  • Parallel Structure: 

    • Ex 2:  She likes hiking, swimming, and biking.

    • Ex 3: The teacher asked the students to read the textbook, complete their assignments, and they should participate in class discussions.

Revision and Editing Strategies
  • Self-Editing Techniques:

    • Develop effective self-editing habits to identify and correct common issues in sentence structure, such as run-on sentences and fragments.

  • Seeking Feedback:

    • Understand the importance of seeking feedback from peers or mentors to gain valuable insights into improving sentence structure and overall writing quality.

There endless possibilities for your sentences. This guide covers the basics of structure and grammar. We always recommend one-on-one tutoring so that students can practice implementing the tools listed above. Remember, even when we know how to use a reference guide, the act of learning and truly understanding material takes practice and making mistakes, It can be extremely hard to catch your own mistakes, so reach out! For some students, in specific situations, we even offer free starter packs of classes. We would love to help you or your student master the essentials and to get you/them writing like a pro!

Mastering sentence structure is an ongoing process that involves practice, feedback, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Incorporating the principles discussed in this guide into your writing, you'll find yourself crafting sentences that not only convey your ideas clearly but also captivate and engage your audience. Embrace the art of sentence construction, and watch your writing skills flourish.
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