A well-constructed sentence is like music to me. I am a self-confessed nerd and proud of it. A sentence – the four essential elements:
- is the basic structure of our written language
- expresses a single thought
- begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop
- must have a verb and a subject.
There can be simple sentences.
Is a simple sentence. It is technically speaking a command but a sentence nevertheless. It has a subject and a verb – the subject is implied ‘You’.
There are conjoined sentences which have conjunctions linking two elements.
There a number of common problems that people have with sentence construction.
Constructing your sentences with clarity is not difficult really. Sentences that continue as a whole paragraph do not express a single thought. A good guide to sentence length is about 15-20 words over 2-3 lines maximum. This of course will be dependent on the topic of your writing but more than this and your reader will need a compass to get back to the beginning of the sentence to check the meaning.
A sentence begins with a capital letter – always. It also ends with a full stop (period) – always.
Subjects and verbs
Sentences can’t be mentioned without bringing verbs into the conversation. Everyone has heard that verbs are doing or action words, but some verbs don’t do or act anything.
My cat vomited on the floor last night.
This sentence has a doing verb, contrast that with:
My cat is happy now.
Is, are, am, be, been, seem, appear are all state of being verbs. They don’t show action, but they are the link between the subject and other words that involve the subject.
The description that I like best for verbs is: A verb is the engine of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is the actor driving the verb. This is all tied to the meaning of the words in the sentence of course.
In the present tense, a single word defines the meaning for the verb.
Mary carries her clothes downstairs every day.
Subject/verb agreement in number, tense and form (at least).
I is coming home now. x I am coming home now. √
We am arriving late tomorrow. x We will be arriving late tomorrow. √
I done seen him yesterday. x I saw him yesterday. √
This is not a commentary of colloquial speech patterns – this is a discussion of subject/verb agreement to form complete sentences.
Sentence fragments from incomplete subject/verb pairs
This is the one which might give you the green wiggly underline from spellcheck. Some of these may look like sentences.
Because my mother was coming.
This would work as a spoken answer to a question, but it isn’t complete as a sentence. It is a dependent clause.
If it doesn’t rain soon.
Once again this might make sense as part of a spoken conversation, it has a verb but the thought is not complete.
Some of the dogs barking at night.
Did what? The rest of the verb is missing. Whenever there is a verb ending in -ing, you need another part to complete the verb.
This summary only touches on the topic of sentences. There are entire books, courses and careers developed around these building blocks of our language.
I have a number of free guides available here on the website which you might want to take a look. Check out these on the products page.
Let me know what else you would like to see there.
Until next time