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Grammar Books

English Grammar

Sentence Construction

Building a Sentence

What makes a complete sentence?

Simple Sentences
Compound Sentences
Complex Sentences

The anatomy of a sentence

Verbs
Subjects
Predicates

More Advanced Terminology

Objects
Transitive/Intransitive
Adverbials
Complements

Building a sentence

A sentence is a group of words which starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop (.), question mark (?) or exclamation mark (!). A sentence contains or implies a predicate and a subject.

Sentences contain clauses.

Simple sentences have one clause.

Compound sentences and complex sentences have two or more clauses.

Sentences can contain subjects and objects.

The subject in a sentence is generally the person or thing carrying out an action. The object in a sentence is involved in an action but does not carry it out, the object comes after the verb.

For example:

The boy climbed a tree.

If you want to say more about the subject (the boy) or the object (the tree), you can add an adjective.

For example:

The young boy climbed a tall tree.

If you want to say more about how he climbed the tree you can use an adverb.

For example:

The young boy quickly climbed a tall tree.

The sentence becomes more interesting as it gives the reader or listener more information.

There are more things you can add to enrich your sentence.

Parts of a sentence

Description
Adjective Describes things or people.
Adverb Alters the meaning of the verb slightly
Article a, an - indefinite articles
the - definite articles
Conjunction Joins words or sentences together
Interjection A short word showing emotion or feeling
Noun Names things
Preposition Relates one thing to another
Pronoun used instead of a noun to avoid repetition
Proper noun (subject) The actual names of people or places etc.
Verb Action or doing word

For example:

What makes a complete sentence?

If it helps you, think about a sentence as if it were a skeleton, the skeleton contains various bones and these bones are put together to form different parts of the body. So are sentences formed by words, the words are the bones and they are put together in different ways to form sentences.

But just because you put words together in the right order, it doesn't mean you will have a sentence that makes sense.

Try this fun sentence generator (it's a computer programme, so there may be some issues. What the heck, it's clever stuff - see if you can spot them:-

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Simple Sentences

A simple sentence contains a single subject and predicate. It describes only one thing, idea or question, and has only one verb - it contains only an independent (main) clause.

Any independent clause can stand alone as a sentence. It has a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought.

For example:

  • Jill reads.

Even the addition of adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases to a simple sentence does not change it into a complex sentence.

For example:

  • The brown dog with the red collar always barks loudly.

Even if you join several nouns with a conjunction, or several verbs with a conjunction, it remains a simple sentence.

For example:

  • The dog barked and growled loudly.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences are made up of two or more simple sentences combined using a conjunction such as and, or or but. They are made up of more than one independent clause joined together with a co-ordinating conjunction.

For example:

"The sun was setting in the west and the moon was just rising."

Each clause can stand alone as a sentence.

For example:

"The sun was setting in the west. The moon was just rising."

Every clause is like a sentence with a subject and a verb. A coordinating conjunction goes in the middle of the sentence, it is the word that joins the two clauses together, the most common are (and, or, but)

For example:

  • I walked to the shops, but my husband drove.
  • I might watch the film, or I might visit my friends.
  • My friend enjoyed the film, but she didn't like the actor.

Complex Sentences

Complex sentences describe more than one thing or idea and have more than one verb in them. They are made up of more than one clause, an independent clause (that can stand by itself) and a dependent (subordinate) clause (which cannot stand by itself).

For example:

"My mother likes dogs that don't bark."

Dependent clauses can be nominal, adverbial or adjectival.

The anatomy of a sentence

The Verb

The verb is the fundamental part of the sentence. The rest of the sentence, with the exception of the subject, depends very much on the verb. It is important to have a good knowledge of the forms used after each verb (verb patterns), for example: to tell [someone] TO DO [something]

Here we can see that the verb to tell is followed immediately by a person (the indirect object, explained later), an infinitive with 'to', and, possibly, an object for the verb you substitute for DO.

Verbs also show a state of being. Such verbs, called BE VERBS or LINKING VERBS, include words such as: am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being, became, seem, appear, and sometimes verbs of the senses like tastes, feels, looks, hears, and smells.

For example:

  • "Beer and wine are my favourite drinks." The verb "are" is a linking (be) verb.

Fortunately, there are only a limited number of different verb patterns. Verbs can descibe the action (something the subject actually does) or state (something that is true of the subject) of the subject.

For example:

  • ACTION: I play football twice a week.
  • STATE: I've got a car.

Some verbs can represent both actions and states, depending on the context.

For example work:

  • ACTION: David's working in the bank.
  • STATE: David works in a bank.

Finding the Verb

When you analyze a sentence, first identify the verb. The verb names and asserts the action or state of the sentence.

For example:

  • "Working at the computer all day made David's head ache."

The main verb of the sentence is "made", not working.

Verbs identify our activity or state.

For example:

  • eat, sleep, run, jump, study, think, digest, shout, walk ....

The Subject

The subject is the person or thing the sentence is 'about'. Often (but not always) it will be the first part of the sentence. The subject will usually be a noun phrase (a noun and the words, such as adjectives, that modify it) followed by a verb.

Finding the Subject

Once you determine the verb, ask a wh...? question of the verb. This will locate the subject(s).

For example:

  • David works hard.
    • Who "works hard"?=David does=the subject.

  • Beer and wine are my favourite drinks.
    • What "are my favourite drinks"? Beer and wine are=the subjects.

The subject(s) of a sentence will answer the questions, "who or what."

The Predicate

Once you have identified the subject, the remainder of the sentence tells us what the subject does or did. This part of the sentence is the predicate of the sentence.

The predicate always includes the verb and the words which come after the verb. For example:

  • Michael Schumaker drove the race car.
    • "Michael Schumaker" is the subject; "drove the race car" is the predicate.

More Advanced Terminology

The Object

Some verbs have an object (always a noun or pronoun). The object is the person or thing affected by the action described in the verb.

Objects come in two types, direct and indirect.

The direct object refers to a person or thing affected by the action of the verb.

For example:

  • "He opened the door. "- here the door is the direct object as it is the thing being affected by the verb to open.

The indirect object refers to a person or thing who receives the direct object.

For example:

  • " I gave him the book." - here him (he)is the indirect object as he is the beneficiary of the action.

Transitive / Intransitive verbs

Verbs which don't have an object are called intransitive. Some verbs can only be intransitive (disagree). In addition they cannot be used in the Passive Voice e.g. smile, fall, come, go.

For example:

  • David disagreed. - intransitive.
  • Verbs that have an object are called transitive verbs e.g. eat, drive, give.

    For example:

    • David gave her a present.

    Some verbs can be transitive or intransitive e.g. sing

    For example:

    • Xavier Nadu sings. - intransitive.
    • Xavier Nadu sings pop songs. - transitive.

    Adverbials

    An 'adverbial' or 'adverbial phrase' is a word or expression in the sentence that does the same job as an adverb; that is, it tells you something about how the action in the verb was done.

    For example:

    • I sometimes have trouble with adverbs.
    • He spoke very quietly.
    • I've read that book three times.
    • She's gone to the bank.

    The first tells us the frequency of the action (sometimes), the second how he carried out the action (quietly), and the third how many times the action has happened (three).

    The fourth is a little different, as in this case the adverbial (gone to the bank) is more or less demanded by the verb (has).

    To remember the form of such verbs use your notebooks to write down the different forms.

    For example:

    • to go [somewhere]
    • to put [something][somewhere]

    This information is also useful when deciding the order of adverbials in a sentence. Unlike the previous parts of the sentence, a sentence can contain an indefinite number of adverbials, although in practice it's a good idea to keep them few in number.

    Complement

    A complement is used with verbs like be, seem, look etc. Complements give more information about the subject or, in some structures, about the object.

    There are various definitions of 'complement', which range from the very general (anything in the predicate except the verb, including the direct object and adverbs) to the much more restrictive one used here.

    A complement is the part of the sentence that gives you more information about the subject (a subject complement) or the object (an object complement) of the sentence.

    The complement to be used, if any, is dependent on the verb used in the sentence. Subject complements normally follow certain verbs.

    For example:

    • He is Spanish.
    • She became an engineer.
    • That man looks like John.

    Object complements follow the direct object of the verb-

    For example.

    • They painted the house red.
    • She called him an idiot!
    • I saw her standing there.

    The complement often consists of an adjective or noun phrase, but can also be a participle phrase, as in the last example. It is often not very clear whether a phrase is a complement or an adverbial.

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