In your writing, sentences can vary in length. Whether they are short or long, all sentences have a subject and a verb. This guide gives you an overview on basic sentence components, sentence types, connectors, punctuation, and common sentence errors.
Understanding the basics of how to construct a sentence will help you become a better editor and guide you in constructing clear sentences. Also, it will help you avoid writing run-on sentences and sentence fragments.
Click each tab to learn more about how to construct sentences and try the exercises in each section! If you have a question about any of the exercises, come see an English Language Tutor.
Punctuation for connecting words
A connecting word helps you understand how ideas are linked. These words need to be used correctly and have correct punctuation. This guide provides some basic guidelines that should help you avoid making common sentence punctuation errors. Punctuation rules can sometimes be broken. However, it is better for you to use these guidelines until you become more familiar with punctuation possibilities.
Types of connecting words - Coordinators
The six coordinating conjunctions are "for", "and", "nor", "but", "or", "yet", and "so". Remember the "FANBOYS" acronym to help you remember them! However, "for" and "nor" are not commonly used in modern English.
|Chris decided to transfer to UBC
|John decided to apply to SFU.
You will notice in the examples that you do not always need to include a comma. With the connectors "and" and “or”, if clauses are short and closely related (such as cause and effect), then commas are not generally used. The best way to decide if a comma is needed with “and” and “or” is to decide if there is a clear pause when you read the sentence out loud. However, the other connectors should almost always have commas before them if they separate two clauses.*
- She loved that movie. It was exciting, and her favorite actor had the lead role.
- Sometimes the demand goes up and the price does not fall.
- You could take the children to the park, or you could take them to a movie.
- We need to go now or we will be late for class.
- James decided go to a movie, but Kim stayed home to study.
- He made a lot of mistakes, so he had to do the assignment again.
- Carl usually gets at least eight hours of sleep most nights, yet he’s always tired.
*Note: It is important to know that “and” and “or” are also frequently used to join words and phrases in lists that are not complete clauses. The punctuation rules for making lists are different than for joining clauses.
Exercise 1: Combine the following groups of sentences into longer sentences by using the FANBOYS coordinating conjunctions. Use correct punctuation.
- Carlos lives in Canada / He was born in Peru
- The car ran out of gas / Bob had to walk two kilometers to find a gas station
- Maria could go to art school in New York / She could stay in Vancouver to look for a job
- Penelope likes to drive fast / She got too many speeding tickets / She lost her driver’s license
Exercise 1 Answers:
- Carlos lives in Canada, but he was born in Peru.
- The car ran out of gas, so Bob had to walk two kilometers to find a gas station.
- Maria could go to art school in New York, or she could stay in Vancouver to look for a job.
- Penelope likes to drive fast, but she got too many speeding tickets, so she lost her driver’s license.
Exercise 2: Add correct punctuation (periods and commas) to the following paragraph.
Mark loves to travel but Amy doesn’t so they often argue about where to spend their vacation time one summer they decided to try something different Mark went to Thailand but Amy stayed home Mark’s brother, Alex, and sister-in-law, Jennifer, went with him they knew that they could only spend one week in Thailand so they had to decide what to do they could all go scuba diving in Southern Thailand or Mark could go by himself on an elephant trek in Northern Thailand and Alex and Jennifer could meet him later in Bangkok Mark chose the elephant trek and he had an exciting time Amy was also having a good time back home sometimes she went out with her friends at night and sometimes her mother would visit her during the day she also liked to spend time by herself practicing her piano Mark and Amy learned that they could spent their vacations separately yet they both could have a good time
Exercise 2 Answers:
Mark loves to travel, but Amy doesn’t, so they often argue about where to spend their vacation time. One summer, they decided to try something different. Mark went to Thailand, but Amy stayed home. Mark’s brother, Alex, and sister-in-law, Jennifer, went with him. They knew that they could only spend one week in Thailand, so they had to decide what to do. They could all go scuba diving in Southern Thailand, or Mark could go by himself on an elephant trek in Northern Thailand, and Alex and Jennifer could meet him later in Bangkok. Mark chose the elephant trek, and he had an exciting time. Amy was also having a good time back home. Sometimes she went out with her friends at night, and sometimes her mother would visit her during the day. She also liked to spend time by herself practicing her piano. Mark and Amy learned that they could spent their vacations separately, yet they both could have a good time.
Types of connecting words - Subordinators
There are two important differences between subordinators and most other connectors:
- When you put a subordinator between two clauses to connect them, you should not use any punctuation.
- When you put the subordinator at the beginning of a clause to introduce the main clause, you need to put a comma between the two clauses.
|He did his homework
|he turned on the TV.
|he turned on the TV,
|he did his homework.
Exercise: Join the following ideas using the suggested subordinators.
- Write each sentence in two ways, first using the subordinators between the two ideas.
- Then, rewrite each sentence by placing the subordinator at the beginning of the two clauses.
- Because - BC has a strong service industry / it is a favourite destination for tourists
- Even though - my car is old and rusty / it takes me where I want to go
- Because BC has a strong service industry, it is a favorite destination for tourists
- BC is a favourite destination for tourists because it has a strong service industry.
- Even though
- Even though my car is old and rusty, it takes me where I want to go.
- My car takes me where I want to go even though it is old and rusty.
Here are some common conjunctive adverbs:
|On the other hand
Notice that the transition word “therefore” can have either a semi-colon or a period before it, but that it also has a comma after it. Transition words almost always have punctuation both before and after them.
|Governments need money to operate
|they require us to pay taxes.
|Governments need money to operate
|hey require us to pay taxes.
Because so many transition words and phrases exist, only frequently used transition words and phrases are listed in this lib guide (check out the "Connectors" tab for a more detailed explanation).
Some, but not all, transitions can be moved to other places in a sentence; however, the punctuation rules change when you move the transition.
Compare the following examples:
- Vancouver winters are usually rainy and dark; however, Edmonton winters tend to be cold and bright.
- Vancouver winters are usually rainy and dark; Edmonton winters, however, tend to be cold and bright.
The rule is simple. If you place the transition somewhere in the middle of a clause rather than at the beginning of the clause, you still need to include punctuation on both sides of it (a comma in front of it and after it).
Exercise 1: Use transitions from the list above to combine the following groups of ideas. Use correct punctuation.
- Marjorie is turning fifty this weekend. / She says that she feels like a twenty-one year old.
- Jimmy and Kevin spend most of their time playing hockey. / They are excellent players.
- You could take a bus. / My father could drive you.
- The garden tools should not be left outside. / They will rust.
Exercise 1 Answers:
- Marjorie is turning fifty this weekend. However, she says that she feels like a twenty-one year old.
- Jimmy and Kevin spend most of their time playing hockey. As a result, they are excellent players.
- You could take a bus. On the other hand, my father could drive you.
- The garden tools should not be left outside. Otherwise, they will rust.
Exercise 2: Rewrite the following sentences by moving each transition several words later in the second clause to a place where the transition still sounds good. Make sure you change the punctuation as well.
- The economy is strong. Therefore, interest rates tend to be high.
- Everybody at the party saw the stranger. However, no one asked who he was.
- You could finish your degree next year. On the other hand, you could choose to work instead.
- Agriculture contributes to greenhouse gases. For example, farm animals and rice fields add a great deal of methane gas to the atmosphere.
Exercise 2 Answers:
- The economy is strong. Interest rates, therefore, tend to be high.
- Everybody at the party saw the stranger. No one, however, asked who he was.
- You could finish your degree next year. You could, on the other hand, choose to work instead.
- Agriculture contributes to greenhouse gases. Farm animals and rice fields, for example, add a great deal of methane gas to the atmosphere.