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Constructing Sentences - Sentence Types

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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.

What is a sentence?

  • The basic parts of the sentence are the subject and the predicate.
  • The predicate is everything the subject is performing and includes at least one verb and sometimes an object/objects.

Check out the example sentences below.

Subject Predicate
Verb
Birds fly.
Tom studies every day.
She arrived at school.

Complete vs. Incomplete Sentences

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  1. Jonathan arrived.
  2. My younger sister loves to dance.
  3. Mail carriers walk a lot.
  4. The customer came in.

  • Do you think these are complete sentences?
  • When you read each line, did you understand what the writer was trying to say?

The answers to both question should be "yes." These are complete sentences.

Let’s take a look at some groups of words that are not complete sentences:

  1. Jonathan at school.
  2. Loving to dance.
  3. Walked by.
  4. The satisfied customer.

  • Can you identify the subject and verb in each sentence?
  • When you read them, did you have any trouble understanding what the writer was trying to say?

It was probably hard for you to fully understand. These sentences do not tell you what Jonathan does, who loves to dance, who walked, and what the customer does.

In other words, they are missing either subjects or verbs and don’t tell the reader a complete thought. Therefore, they are not complete sentences. They are incomplete sentences.


Exercise: Identify the complete (C) and incomplete (I) sentences

_____1. The hummingbird sang.

_____2. Roses will blossom.

_____3. He.

_____4. Anne is carrying her canvas.

_____5. My neighborhood.

_____6. I met the new neighbours.

_____7. Mexico.

_____8. Jacob will come.

_____9. Music concerts.

_____10. Flew aggressively.

_____11. He was jogging.

Answers:

   C    1. The hummingbird sang.

   C    2. Roses will blossom.

   I     3. He.

   C    4. Anne is carrying her canvas.

   I    5. My neighborhood.

   C    6. I met the new neighbors.

   I    7. Mexico.

   C     8. Jacob will come

   I     9. Music concerts.

   I     10. Flew aggressively.

   C     11. He was jogging.

What is a simple sentence?

  • A simple sentence has a subject and a verb and can stand by itself as a complete thought.
  • A simple sentence can also be referred to as an “independent clause.”  
    • (A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. An independent clause is a complete thought.)

Example 1:  The telephone rang.  

  • "The telephone" is what the thought is about. This is the subject
  • "Rang" is what the telephone did. This is the verb.

Example 2: The woman stared intensely.

  • "The woman" is what the thought is about. This is the subject.
  • "Stared" tells us what the woman did. This is the verb.

Exercise: Create simple sentences using the words from the box. Identify the subjects, verbs, and objects. 

Birds The chef The teacher The poor man cooked homework. I
some food the question a steak wanted collected fly. understand

Suggested answers (other combinations are possible): 

The nouns are red, the verbs are blue, and the objects are purple.

  1. Birds fly. (subject, action verb)
  2. The chef cooked a steak.(subject, action verb, object)
  3. The teacher collected homework. (subject, action verb, object)
  4. I understand the question. (subject, action verb, object)
  5. The poor man wanted some food. (subject, action verb, object)

What is a compound sentence?

 A compound sentence contains at least two independent clauses. You can combine two independent clauses in three ways:

1. Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction

Coordinating conjunctions join independent clauses. They are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. You can remember them as FANBOYS. Although "for" and "nor" can be used for compound sentences, they are not commonly used in modern English.

F A N B O Y S
For And Nor But Or Yet So

Sentences should follow this structure: 

sentence 1  +   , coordinating conjunction   +   sentence 2

Examples:

The teacher lectured for over an hour, and his students took notes.
The young man wanted to travel, for he wanted new experiences.
The student had a test the next day, so she studied all night long.

2. Use a semicolon

Sentences should follow this structure: 

Sentence 1  +  ;  +  Sentence 2

Examples:

The teacher lectured for over an hour; his students took notes.
The young man wanted to travel; he wanted new experiences.
The student studied all night long; she had a test the next day.


3. Use a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb

conjunctive adverb is a type of transition. You can use them to create a compound sentence. Conjunctive adverbs are always used with a semi-colon in front of them and a comma after them. 

Some words that can be used as conjunctive adverbs:

however therefore in fcat on the other hand
nonetheless besides instead then
moreover similarly furthermore still

Sentences should follow this structure: 

Sentence 1 + ; conjunctive adverb, + Sentence 2

Examples:

The car had a V-8 engine and a new paint job; however, it had no brakes.
Julie wanted to pursue her dream; in fact, she would let nothing stop her.
Larry studied for the test all weekend; therefore, he expected a good grade on the test.

Note: Conjunctive adverbs are more commonly used when introducing a clause. 

Example: The car had a V-8 engine and a new paint job. However, it had no brakes.


Check out some more resources in the "Other Resources" link at the bottom of this page!


Exercise: Make compound sentences using each of the 3 ways listed above.

  1. I fell asleep. I was sleepy. 
  2. It was dinner time. I wasn't hungry. 
  3. I might go to graduate school. I might find a job.

Answers:

  1. I fell asleep. I was sleepy. 
    1. I fell asleep, for I was sleepy. 
    2. I fell asleep; I was sleepy. 
    3. I was sleepy; therefore, I fell asleep. 
  2. It was dinner time. I wasn't hungry. 
    1. It was dinner time, but I wasn't hungry. 
    2. It was dinner time; I wasn't hungry. 
    3. It was dinner time; however, I wasn't hungry. 
  3. I might go to graduate school. I might find a job. 
    1. I might go to graduate school, or I might find a job. 
    2. I might go to graduate school; I might find a job. 
    3. I might go to graduate school; on the other hand, I might find a job. 

What is a complex sentence?

 A complex sentence has at least one independent clause and one dependent clause.

  • An independent clause:
    • is a complete thought 
    • is independent
  • dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause):
    • has a subject and a verb
    • begins with a subordinator (a word that joins an independent and dependent clause)
    • cannot be a sentence by itself
    • depends on an independent clause to make a complete thought

Note: A clause includes a subject and predicate (which includes at least a verb).

Some words (subordinators) that can be used to make subordinate clauses:

as as if because since although even though
when while until unless where that

Look at the example sentences below.

The dependent clauses are bold and the subordinators are underlined.  

  • Because the weather is gorgeous, we will go hiking.
  • He finished the last question as the exam ended.
  • While he was preparing the dinner that night, the power went off.

How are complex sentences formed?

They can be formed using these two structures:  

  • Subordinate clause dependent clause, independent clause.
  • Independent clause subordinate clause dependent clause.

Note: As you can see from the two sentences above, a comma is used in the first one but not in the second one.  A comma is not used to separate the clauses if the independent clause comes first.

See the examples below for these two ways of composing complex sentences.

Subordinate clause + Dependent clause, +  Independent clause

When I arrived, the phone rang.
Until Josh attended Douglas College, he hadn't chosen a major.

Independent clause + Subordinate clause   + Dependent clause

The phone rang when I arrived.
Josh hadn't chosen a major until he attended Douglas College.

 


Exercise: ​Join each set of clauses below to form complex sentences in two ways. 

  1. I was late. I ran. 
  2. I was eating. The phone rang. 
  3. She will arrive. She is working late.
  4. I finished my exams. I went out to celebrate. 

Answers:

  1.  I was late. I ran.
    1. I was late even though I ran.
    2. Even though I ran, I was late.
  2. I was eating. The phone rang.
    1. The phone rang while I was eating.
    2. While I was eating, the phone rang.
  3. She will arrive. She is working late.
    1. She will arrive unless she is working late today.
    2. Unless she is working late, she will arrive.
  4. I finished my my last exam. I went out to celebrate.
    1. ​I went out to celebrate when I finished my last exam.
    2. When I finished my last exam, I went out to celebrate.

What is a compound-complex sentence?

  • A compound-complex sentence has two or more independent clause(s) and at least one dependent clause.
  • Simply put, it is a combination of a compound and complex sentence.
  • This sentence type can be a bit confusing to identify since compound-complex sentences are pretty long.  However, this type of sentence gives writers many ways to create sentences.

Here are some examples: (Subordinators are in red, coordinators are in blue, and conjunctive adverbs are in green.)

Dependent clause  + Independent clause + Independent clause
When my boss yelled at me, I got angry, so I quit.

Independent clause + Independent clause + Dependent clause
My boss yelled at me,  so I quit because I was hurt.

Independent clause + Dependent clause + Independent clause + Independent clause
I got angry when my boss yelled at me, so I quit, yet I should have remained calm.

Dependent clause + Independent clause + Independent clause + Independent clause
When my boss yelled at me, I got angry so I quit, ; however, I should have remained calm.

Exercise: Create compound-complex sentences using the clauses from the first table and 2 connectors from the 2nd table.

1 she had a nightmare my daughter woke up I was sleeping
2 I went shopping it was next to my car keys I forgot my shopping list
3 she kept running she got first place my sister was exhausted
4 I am always late my sister is always on time I don't have a watch
5 I am scared of dogs I was a child I was attacked by a dog

Coordinating conjunctions but
Conjunctive adverbs on the other hand therefore in fact
Subordinating conjunctions because because although when while

Suggested answers (there are other possible combinations):

  1. While I was sleeping, my daughter woke me up because she had a nightmare.
  2. I went shopping, but I forgot my shopping list even though it was next to my car keys.
  3. Although my sister was exhausted, she kept running in fact, she got first place.
  4. I am always late because I don't have a watch on the other hand, my sister is always on time.
  5. When I was a child, I was attacked by a dog; therefore, I am afraid of dogs.