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Sent e n c e s
These articles give you all the information you need about
sentence structure in English writing. The following is
important information about sentence patterns and the
rules for proper sentence construction in English writing.
Enjoy your reading and start writing good effective
sentences.
GettingintoSentences
Consider this question: Which one of the following is a good
sentence ?
1) Birds fly .
2) Those beautiful small red-blue African birds, which we

saw at the zoo last week, actually fly around the world every
year looking for a mate.
Actually, from a pure grammatical perspective, these
sentences are both valid as they contain the basic elements
required by grammar. Still, when it comes to good writing,
sentence (2) is by far much more interesting to the reader
than the laconic short sentence (1). It is important to know
the various sentence elements (subjects, predicates,
phrases, clauses) that can make your writing accurate and
grammatically correct but also more interesting and
appealing to your readers.
WhatisaSentence?
A sentence is basically a group of words which are tied

together and convey an idea, event or description. The


words in an English sentence have a certain order and rules
regarding ways to either expand or shorten it. The

boundaries of a sentence are easily recognized, as it begins


with a capital letter and ends with a terminal punctuation

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with a capital letter and ends with a terminal punctuation


mark (period, question mark or exclamation point). It is
important for English writers to know the language of

sentence grammar terms in order to be able to analyze and


develop their writing.
The four main sections regarding English sentence
structure are:
1. Basic Clause Structure
2. Phrase
3. Clause Types

4. The 4 Sentence Types

Sent e n c e StructureinEnglishWriting
1.BasicClauseStructure
Right or Wrong ?

In the park a young boy yesterday a black snake bit.


Wrong ! The reader of the above sentence may not

understand who or what bit what or who. In order to make


sure that it is a snake who bit a young boy, the words have
to be placed in a certain order, which in English is usually

fixed. In addition, phrases describing place and time, also


adhere to a certain order. The correct sentence is therefore:
A black snake bit a young boy in the park yesterday.

If you want to know more, read the grammar rules for


basic clause structure below.

If you are ready to read other sentence structure topics,


click here for the index.

The Grammar Rules for Basic Clause Structure in English


Before we begin our review of the rules, you should know

that sentences can be defined according to their purpose:


1) A declarative sentence

-can make a positive statement


Some birds fly south in winter.
-can make a negative statement

These birds do not fly south in winter.


2) An interrogative sentence asks a question
Do these birds fly south in winter ?

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Do these birds fly south in winter ?


3) An imperative sentence gives a command
Fly south this winter !
4) An exclamatory sentence expresses a strong feeling
Oh ! I just love these cute birds !
5) A subjunctive sentence can convey a condition, wish, or
preference which are contrary to fact or reality.
I wish these beautiful birds didn't fly south this winter (but
in reality they will).

1. A basic sentence is composed of at least one


independent clause. A clause is composed of a minimum of
a subject and a predicate. Without one of these elements,
the clause is ungrammatical.

2. A subject of a clause is an entity such as a person, a


place, an object, or an abstract concept, which acts, is
described or is acted upon. The subject usually answers the
question Who/What is the sentence about?
The subject in the "right or wrong" example is "a black
snake."
The lion roared.
[The subjects acts]
The lion is beautiful.
[The subject is described]
The lion was hunted.
[The subject is acted upon]
3. A simple subject is the word or group of words acting as
a subject. A complete subject is the simple subject and its
modifiers. A compound subject consists of two or more
nouns or pronouns, linked by either and or or. A complete
compound subject includes the compound subject and its
modifiers.
The lion roared.

[The lion = simple subject]


The big lion roared.

[The big lion = complete subject]

The lion and the lioness roared.

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The lion and the lioness roared.


[The lion and the lioness = compound subject]
The big strong lion and the beautiful lioness roared.
[The big strong lion and the beautiful lioness = complete
compound subject]

4. The subject usually precedes the predicate but not


always.
The lions ran off.
[subject precedes predicate]

Off ran the lions .


[predicate precedes subject]
Under the tree lay a pride of lions .
[predicate precedes subject]
Why did the lions run ?
[predicate element precedes subject in questions]
5. A predicate of a clause gives information on the subject,
either describing it or identifying the action it performs or
that is performed upon it (its predicament). The predicate
contains the verb in the sentence and objects that are
affected by the subject's actions. It usually answers the

question What happens/ is described?


The predicate in the "right or wrong" example is bit a young
boy in the park yesterday, the verb is bit, the (direct) object
in the above example is a young boy.
The lion roared .

[The predicate tells what the subject does]


The lion is beautiful .

[The predicate describes the subject]


The lion was hunted .

[The predicate tells what was done to the subject]


6. A simple predicate consists of only the verb. A complete

predicate consists of the verb and its modifiers. A


compound predicate consists of two or more verbs with or
without objects, or a verb with one object or more, linked by
either and or or. A complete compound subject includes
the compound predicate and its modifiers.
The lion roared .
[roared = simple predicate]

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The lion roared .

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[roared = simple predicate]


The lion roared loudly .

[roared loudly = complete predicate]


The lion roared and growled at the foxes.

[roared and growled at the foxes = compound subject]


The lion roared and growled at the small foxes loudly.
[roared and growled at the small foxes loudly = complete
compound subject]
7. A direct object is a noun, pronoun or group of words

acting as a noun that receives the action of a transitive verb


without a linking preposition. A direct object answers the
question whom? Or what?
The teacher read the story.
[the story = direct object]

8. An indirect object is a noun, pronoun or a group of


words acting as a noun that answers the question to

whom/what ? or for whom/what ? the action expressed by a


transitive verb was done.
The teacher read the story to the students.

[the story = direct object, to the students = indirect object]


9. In sentences where the indirect object follows the word to
or for, always put the direct object before the indirect
object. If the indirect object does not follow to or for, put
the indirect object before the direct object.

Yes: The teacher gave an assignment to the students.


No: The teacher gave to the students an assignment.
Yes: The teacher gave the students an assignment.
[the verb give can be used without to]

10. When a pronoun is used as an indirect object, some

verbs require to or for before the pronoun, while others do

not. Consult a dictionary if you are unsure (the best place to


look this up is in the example sentences within the entry of
the verb in the dictionary).

The teacher explained the grammar rule to the students.


No: The teacher explained them the grammar rule.
Yes: The teacher explained the grammar rule to them.
[the verb explain follows only one pattern, with to]
The teacher gave an assignment to the students.
Yes: The teacher gave an assignment to them.
Yes: The teacher gave them an assignment.

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Yes: The teacher gave them an assignment.


[The verb give follows both patterns, with and without to]
12. When both the direct object and the indirect object are
pronouns, put the direct object before the indirect object
and use to or for with the indirect object.

The teacher gave an assignment to the students.


No: The teacher gave them it.
Yes: The teacher gave it to them.

Yes: The teacher gave them an assignment.


[the verb give can also be used without to before indirect
object]

13. A typical word order for an English one-clause-sentence


would therefore be:

Subject-Verb-Direct Object-Indirect Object


The teacher gave an assignment to the students.
14. To expand the basic one-clause-sentence, you can add
manner (how?), place (where?) and time (when?how often?)
modifiers. These usually appear in the above mentioned
order. An easy formula to help you remember the basic
word order for a basic English sentence is:

Subject-Verb-Object-Manner-Place-Time , or conversely

the acronym SVOMPT (pronounced like swamp). You usually


do not have to include all six parts, but if you do, this order
is recommended.

The teacher gave an assignment to the students quickly in


class yesterday.
[subject] [verb] [direct object] [indirect object] [manner]
[place] [time]

15. A complement is an element appearing in the predicate

that renames or describes a subject or an object. A subject


complememt is a noun, pronoun, or adjective that follows a
linking verb (e.g. b e, look, appear). An object complement
follows a direct object and either renames or describes it.
This student is a 12th-grader .
[ is = linking verb, a student = subject complement]
This student refers to himself as "Professor X. "

[ refers = verb, himself = direct object, Professor X = object


complement]

16. A modifier is a word or group of words that describes


or limits other words. Modifiers can appear in both the

subject and the predicate of the sentence. Modifiers may be 6/10

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subject and the predicate of the sentence. Modifiers may be


single words, phrases or whole clauses.

The best student got an A on the biology test.


[the adjective best modifies the noun student, the noun
biology modifies the noun test]

The students in class were very excited when the teacher


read the story funnily .

[ the preopositional phrase in class modifies students, the


adverb very modifies the adjective excited, the adverb
funnily modifies the verb read]

Consequently , the teacher continued reading the story. He


did not finish it because the lesson ended.

[the adverb consequently modifies the independent clause


the teacher continued reading the story,
the dependent clause because the lesson ended modifies
the independent clause he did not finish it]

17. An appositive is a word or group of words that renames

the noun or pronoun preceding it. When an appositive is not


essential to identifying what it renames (when it is nonrestrictive), use a comma to separate it from the rest of the
sentence.
Berlin, the capital of Germany , is developing rapidly.

[the appositive the capital of Germany renames Berlin]


The student talked to Mr. Smith, his counselor .

[the appositive his counselor renames Mr. Smith]


SentenceStructure:Summingitup
As our brief article shows, sentence structure rules are the
basic building blocks of English writing. If you know the

basics, you will be able to make your writing more complex


as you advance your writing skills.

Grammar Guide Index

Grammar Rules
Grammar Exercises
Parts of Speech - General Overview
Singular and Plural Nouns

English Adjectives - Basic Terms

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English Adjectives - Basic Terms


English Verbs (Part 1) - Basic Terms

English Verbs (Part 2) - More Terms


The Verb To Be

Negative Sentences and Question Formation


The Irregular Verbs in English (Part 1)
The Irregular Verbs in English (Part 2)
The Verb Tenses in English

Spelling Rules for the Verb Tenses


Present Tenses:
The Present Simple Tense

The Present Progressive Tense


Past Tenses:
The Past Simple Tense

The Past Progressive Tense


Sentence Structure (Part 1) - Basic Clause Structure
Sentence Structure (Part 2) - Phrases

Sentence Structure (Part 3) - Clauses


Sentence Structure (Part 4) - Sentence Types

Recommended Software

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