The English Sentence
In English, the number of sentences is infinite. However, within this infinity, there are FIVE patterns:
Subject + verb
e.g. An accident happened.
Subject + verb + object (direct)
e.g. The man took the money.
(s) (v) (o)
Subject + verb + object (indirect) + object (direct)
e.g. The man give me the money.
(s) (v) (o) (o)
Subject + verb + complement (of the subject)
e.g. She is pretty.
(s) (v) (c)
Subject + verb + object + complement (of the object)
e.g. They elected him President.
(s) (v) (o) (c)
e.g. They made her unhappy.
(s) (v) (o) (c)
Sir Winston Churchill once said that the English sentence is a “noble thing.” As such, in order to write an effective sentence, one must know what an English sentence is.
A sentence is for communicating a complete thought, a command, a question, or an exclamation.
e.g. I love you.
e.g. Take it.
e.g. Is it right?
e.g. How wonderful!
In most cases, a sentence requires at least one subject-verb combination (e.g. I came.); in some cases, a sentence can be a single word (e.g. Help!).
The basic sentence pattern or sentence structure is made up of a subject and a verb:
But you can add single descriptive words (modifiers) to add more meaning to the basic sentence pattern. These words can be: an article (a, an, the); an adjective (a word to describe the noun or subject); an adverb (a word to describe the verb).
e.g. The (specify which birds) yellow birds (the color of the birds) sing beautifully. (how they sing)
You can add a phrase (made up of two or more words with no subject-verb combination) to make the sentence longer. There are different types of phrases:
- an infinitive phrase: to + verb e.g. to do the work, to play the piano
- a participle phrase: present participle/past participle + noun, e.g. playing the piano, the broken window
- a prepositional phrase: under the table, in the beginning
You can add a clause (made up of words with a subject-verb combination) to make the sentence longer. There are two different types of clauses:
- an independent clause: communicating a complete thought, e.g. The man was singing.
- a dependent clause: describing another clause, and not communicating a complete thought, e.g. When the man was singing (what happened?)
You can change sentences into different types by adding different clauses:
- The simple sentence: one independent clause making one complete thought, e.g. The man was singing.
- The compound sentence: more than one complete thought, with two or more independent clauses, e.g. The man was singing and the children were dancing.
- The complex sentence: one independent clause with one or more dependent clauses, e.g. The man was singing (independent clause), when the children were dancing (dependent clause).
- The compound complex sentence: two independent clauses with one or more dependent clauses, e.g. The man was singing (independent clause) and the children were dancing (independent clause) when the light suddenly went out.
Effective writing is the use of different types of sentences (simple, compound, complex, compound complex) to give variety. In addition, vary the sentence length to avoid monotony in writing.
To learn more, go to Learning Writing Resources.
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau