English Grammar: Sentence Structure in English

sentence structure

Hero Asked on 18/03/2014 in English Grammar.
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How can you improve your comprehension of sentence structure in English?  
If you want to improve your understanding of how English works, it’s really worth looking at sentence structure and sentence types.

Every sentence gives information about someone or something. This someone or something is called the SUBJECT.
The subject can be

  • a person (Susan),
  • more people (My husband and I)
  • or basically anything (My life, A dog, The weather, Our society etc).

The information that is given about the subject is called the PREDICATE.
See the predicate in the following sentences in bold. You can use coloured highlighters at home when analysing sentences.

  • Susan is married.
  • My husband and I have been married for eight years.
  • My life is exciting.
  • There is a dog in the garden.
  • The weather is getting better.
  • Our society is facing new challenges.

 

I usually advise beginners to begin sentences with the subject and build it up from there. This word order is very common in English:

George’s parents (who?)
moved to a small town (do what?)
last year. (when?)
We (who?)
are going to celebrate my sister’s birthday (do what)
next Saturday. (when?)

 

Then you can add extra information:

George’s elderly parents
moved to a small town in the north
last year.

We
are going to celebrate my younger sister’s eighteenth birthday
at our parent’s house
next Saturday.

 

A part of a sentence that contains a subject and a predicate is called a CLAUSE.

There are four main sentence types:

1. SIMPLE SENTENCE
It contains one, independent clause.

  • I love literature.

2. COMPOUND SENTENCE
It contains two independent clauses that are connected with one of these linking words: BUT, OR, AND, SO

  • I love literature, but my husband hates it.

3. COMPLEX SENTENCE
It contains one independent clause plus extra information in a ’dependent clause’.

Dependent clauses don’t make sense on their own. They are linked to the independent clause with words like WHILE, WHEN, BEFORE, AFTER, IF, ALTHOUGH etc.

  • I love literature although I hated it as a child. (’although I hated it as a child’ makes no sense without ’I love literature’)

4. COMPOUND-COMPLEX
It contains minimum 3 clauses: 2 independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

  • I love literature, but my favourite subject is history because it’s more interesting.

The types of sentences you use in your writing might make a big difference:

  • if you use simple sentences only, it will be boring and unsophisticated
  • if you use compound-complex sentences with lots of dependent clauses, it will be difficult to understand

My advice is to vary the length of your sentences to keep your readers entertained.

 

Read more:
4 Main Types of Sentence Structures

 

To get the word order right in long sentences, you can do two things:
1. read a lot
2. practise

Reading is obviously a great excercise, you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of correct sentences which will help you form a subconscious understanding of how sentences work. You can start with easier texts to familiarize yourself with the basic structures first.

Practice is essential if you want to improve, so start writing right now. Visit our facebook page and join the conversation there. Keep a diary or write a blog about something you’re interested in. Write poems and short stories. Anything that will make you construct sentences in English.

 

Read more:
18 Powerful Websites to Improve Your Writing Skills in English
LIVE Video Chat Room For English Learners
6 Ways to Improve Your English Writing Skills Using Cool Websites

 

There’s a game I like to play with my students:
I write a simple sentence on the board then see how many words they can add to it to make it longer and longer. This is a really useful exercise.
We might start with:

  • I called Jenny yesterday.

Then start adding words:

  • My mother and I called Jenny yesterday.
  • My mother and I called Jenny yesterday to talk about the reception.
  • My mother and I called Jenny yesterday to talk about the wedding reception.
  • My mother and I called Jenny yesterday morning to talk about the wedding reception.
  • My mother and I called Jenny yesterday morning to talk about the wedding reception again.
  • My mother and I called Jenny yesterday morning to talk about the wedding reception again because she had forgotten to call us back.
  • My mother and I called Jenny yesterday morning to talk about the wedding reception again because she had forgotten to call us back as usual.

OK, this last one might be a bit too long 🙂

I hope you’ve find this useful. Remember, it’s good practice to write, so feel free to ask questions or share your own tips with us.

 

Read more:
List of Sentence Connectors in English with Examples!
Examples of Conjunction Words in a Sentence!
How can I improve my comprehension of sentence structure in English?

Promoter Answered on 19/03/2014.

A useful explanation of subject and predicate relation.The way the writer had stepped into the territory of clauses is worth appreciation. It is a simple way to understand the nitty gritty of english sentence structure. Pleased to be a part of the programme!!”

on 12/04/2015.

Thank you so much for your kind words Sheikh!

on 13/04/2015.

It’s worth noting that the definition of complex sentences is quite broad and covers sentences with dependent clauses containing a subject and a predicate that can function as independent clauses with just a slight change. This may lead to confusion.

Therefore, I think the example of an complex sentence “I love literature although I hated it as a child.”, although correct, doesn’t sufficiently clarify the difference between complex and compound sentences.

Though’ is virtually synonymous with ‘but’, and the dependent clause “although I hated it as a child” has both a subject and a predicate.
In other words, replace ‘although’ with ‘but and you get a compound sentence with two independent clauses: “I love literature, but I hated it as a child.”

Other examples:

In the afternoon I read a book while my brother played a game. (complex sentence)
In the afternoon I read a book, and my brother played a game. (compound sentence)

Since I have no money, I can’t afford a new PC. (complex sentence)
I have no money, so I can’t afford a new PC. (compound sentence)

My father forbade me to go out at night because it was dangerous. (complex sentence)
My father forbade me to go out at night, for it was dangerous. (compound sentence)

I found a few examples of sentences with dependent clauses (indicated by brackets) that cannot be easily converted into independent clauses:

He finally finished his novel, (after spending months on research).
The trophy goes to the person (who wins the race).
Where is the ice cream (that was in the freezer)?
The town (where I was born) is on the east coast.
We will do anything (that is necessary).
The author, (whom I met at the book signing), was very cordial.
That cat (that you found) belongs to the Smiths.

on 15/04/2015.

Hi Tomasz! Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate it!
Are you interested in contributing to our forum?

on 15/04/2015.

Hi Ana! What exactly do you mean by contributing? I guess I may ask questions or comment from time to time whenever I come across this forum again, but right now I don’t think I could commit to making a regular input.

on 15/04/2015.
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