WHAT IS A SENTENCE?
A sentence is a group of words containing one complete thought. It should be carefully constructed to gain the maximum effect. A sentence must have a subject; a complete verb; a capital letter at the beginning; and a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark at the end.
The old house
At the top of the hill.
- PART OF A SENTENCE
The two main parts of a sentence are the subject and the predicate.
The subject—the subject is the person or thing doing or being something. It may consist entirely of a noun or naming word, but it often consists of one or more descriptive words.
(noun or naming word)
|The old house||Is at the top of the hill.|
|(includes a descriptive word)|
The predicate—the predicate tell us about the subject. The predicate includes at least one word that expresses action, condition or state of being (the verb) and generally includes one or more words that complete or clarify the meaning ofthe “action” or other word.
|The old house||
|At the top of the hill.|
|(completes the meaning)|
The complement—a complement means something that is needed to complete the sense of the sentence. (see intransitive verb).
|The child seems||(incomplete)|
|The child seems||Restless|
|(necessary to complete the sense, but the action does not pass from the subject)|
- THE MEANING OR FUNCTION OF SENTENCES
On the basis of what a sentence does, it can be classified according to the way it is used:
1) Declarative Sentence
A declarative sentence makes a statement of fact, belief, opinion or possibility.
The door is open. (fact)
I believe hi gave an honest answer. (belief)
The Commodore is the best car on the road. (opinion)
She might have gone shopping on the way home. (possibility)
2) Imperative Sentence
An imperative sentence expresses a command or makes a request. (The request requires an “action” response).
Stop! (the subject “you” is implied)
Jenny, stop talking.
Will you stop talking, Jenny.
3) Interrogative Sentence
An interrogative sentence asks a direct question that requires a written or spoken answer, not an “action” response.
What shall we have for dinner?
How did that happen?
4) Exclamatory Sentence
An exclamatory sentence expresses strong or sudden feeling or emotion. The use of an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence tells the reader that the writer intends the statement to have special force. Such sentence usually begin with what or how.
What a nuisance!
How could you!
Sentences of this type should be used sparingly.
- STRUCTURE OF SENTENCES
The sentence is the basic unit of both verbal and written expression, and we sometimes have difficulty with sentence structures in our writing. For many people writing is a less natural form of communication than speech. When writing, we can not rely on many of the tricks that we frequently use in speech.
Various communication situatitions raise rather different expectations about what kinds of sentence structures are acceptable. In speech, in advertising, in fiction and in expository (detailed explanation) writing, differing degrees of sentence completeness are allowable. Speech is the loosest of requirements; in spontaneous conversation we can get by with a reasonable proportion of incomplete or abbreviated sentences. Story writing, magazine or newspaper articles, letters, editorials are examples of more formal situations that require a higher degree of completeness in sentence structure and correct English. Here are the four basic sentence structures:
1) Simple Sentence
A simple sentece contains only a subject and a predicate that contains a verb. In order words, it consists of one principal (main) or independent clause.
|John power||Is our manager.|
|The old house||Is at the top of the hill.|
2) Compound or Extended Sentence
A compound sentence consists of two independent or principal (main) clauses joined by a linking conjuction or perhaps separated by a semicolon.
John power is our manager, and Jill Brown is the assistant manager.
The old house is at the top of the hill, and the new house has been built just below it.
3) Complex Sentence
A complex sentence is one that contains one principal (main) or independent clause and one or more dependent or subordinate clauses. The principal clause is the actual sentence itself, in its simplest form; the other clauses depend on it and add information of secondary importance. (The dependent or subordinate clauses are in bold type).
We thought that Darryl Jones would make the best captain of the football team.
When I asked her, she was unable to tell me who had locked her in.
4) Compound – Complex Sentence
A compound – complex sentence contains two or more principal (main) or independent clauses and one or more subordinate or dependent clauses. (The subordinate or dependent clauses are in bold type).
Judith wanted to visit you while she was in Canberra, but your mother said that you were away on a holiday.
Two versions of what happened are being investigated, and no one seems to know which one of them is correct.
- FREIGHT-TRAIN OR RUN-ON SENTENCES
Each sentence should contain only one main idea. Do not put too many ideas into one sentence. Frequently, writers form sentences by tacking on one idea after another, as if hitching railway carriages together to form huge freight-trains. The resulting sentences are overly long, unwieldy and difficult to read and understand.
The following example would be more effective written as two, three or more sentences, giving a clearer pattern to the writer’s ideas.
When I finnaly reached the top of the creepy staircase, I heard the noise from a nearby room, so I opened the door very slowly, but all I saw was a broken window with a stiff breeze blowing the curtain violenty againts the furniture with a flapping sound, which was a relief!
When I finnaly reached the top of the creepy staircase, I heard the noise from a nearby room, so I opened the door very slowly. All I could see was a broken window with a stiff breeze blowing the curtain violenty againts the furniture with a flapping sound. What a relief!
How many simple sentences are there in the passage?
The cowardly old bulldog scurried quickly under the verandah he had just seen a harmless kitten she was merely trying to be friendly in old Rover’s brain the tiny frisky kitten had somehow come to be mistaken for a fearsome roaring lion.
The cowardly old bulldog scurried quickly under the verandah.
He had just seen a harmless kitten.
She was merely trying to be friendly.
In old Rover’s brain the tiny, frisky kitten had somehow come to be mistaken for a fearsome, roaring lion.
One you have establish the number of simple sentences, you now have to decide how to present them.
a) You can leave them as a string of simple sentences, but you must then punctuate each of them with a full stop.
The cowardly old bulldog scurried quickly under the verandah. He had just seen a harmless kitten. She was merely trying to be friendly. However, in old Rover’s brain, the tiny, frisky kitten had somehow come to be mistaken for a fearsome, roaring lion.
b) You may wish to employ the inserting process or the linking process.
When the cowardly old bulldog saw a harmless kitten, he scurried quickly under the verandah. She was merely trying to be friendly, but in old Rover’s brain the tiny, frisky kitten had somehow come to be mistaken for a fearsome, roaring lion.
c) You may wish to reduce some of the sentences to an ing-phrase construction: (e.g. seeing a harmless kitten…)
Seeing harmless kitten that was merely trying to be friendly, the cowardly old bulldog scurried quickly under the verandah. Somehow, in old Rover’s brain, the tiny frisky kitten was mistaken for a fearsome, roaring lion.
Freight-train sentences show incompetence in writing correct English. They can make a message ambiguous and not clear to the reader.
Note what is wrong with the following sentences.
- Calmly munching oats in her stall, Barbara has finally discovered her runaway horse.
- Everyone at the dance wore dinner jackets. Because it was a formal affair.
- Paralysed with stage fright, the sympathic audience of parents watched the young ballerina as she stood helpless at centre stage.
- Frantically waving with outstretched arms, the bus ignored the parcelladen pedestrian as it sped by.
- A piano for sale by an old lady with carved Queen Anne legs.
The skill of good sentence writing lies in proofreading or editing what you have written. Read each sentence after you have written it and check that the complete message is there. Doing this helps you link the next sentence.
- VARYING THE LENGTHS OF SENTENCES
Varying the lengths of sentences in writing is important. It prevents monotomy and is an obvious way of achieving effect. Freight-train or run-on sentences throughout a piece of writing are monotonous and unwieldy. The reader has great difficulty interpreting what has been written. Over-use of short simple sentences would also become dull and monotonous. Therefore, vary sentence lengths. Use short simple sentences on occasion for effect. Short sentences are very useful to emphasise statements; to create excitement; or to express the effect of powerful emotion, mood, surprise or wonder. Here is an example of the way in which short sentences can be used for effect:
Not a speck of dust stirred. The air in the deserted warehouse seemed to hang heavy as lead in the murky gloom. Dark shadows lingered heavily. Suddenly the door swung open with a ghostly creak. Through the doorway stepped a tall man, obviously the scurity guard. He carried a lethal-looking rifle.
I watched fascinated with bated breath as he glanced idly around the heavily shadowed warehouse. He stopped and listened. He seemed to be looking directly at me. Then, he moved silently back the way he had come, and the door creaked slowly closed once more.
Varying sentence lengths can build tension in a story giving it a dramatic effect. It can add life to your writing.
- SENTENCE BEGINNINGS
Nothing is more boring to a reader than to read a piece of writing with sentences beginning all the time in the same way. For interesting writing, vary your sentence beginnings.
- 1. Begin with an adjective.
Anxious moments ticked by before the doctor said the patient would survive.
- 2. Begin with an adverb.
Bravely he dived into the swirling flood waters to rescue the small dog.
- 3. Begin with a noun.
School is something every child must attend.
- 4. Begin with a participle.
Crying with pain, the wounded child fell to the ground at the football oval.
- 5. Begin with a verb.
Hurry, or we will miss the opening scene of the play.
- 6. Begin with a phrase.
Swimming in the pool is good exercise.
- 7. Begin with a clause.
What Jeffrey did is wrong. (noun clause).
As noon approached, the oppressive heat became unbearable. (adverbial clause).
Do not have sentences beginning with I or then etc. Repeatedly used throughout a piece of writing.