Sentence Structure – Definition, Types & Practice Sheet

03.12.22 Sentence structure Time to read: 14min

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Sentence structure is like structuring Lego pieces for effective communication, influencing the clarity and coherence of the ideas conveyed. In the realm of academic writing, skillful manipulation of sentence structure is essential to enhance the reader’s understanding, providing a more profound insight into complex subjects. Correctly structuring sentences is a critical element of rigorous academic discourse, emphasizing the vital importance of mastering sentence construction techniques.

Sentence Structure – In a Nutshell

  • Sentence structure creates a smooth flow of ideas.
  • Key parts of a sentence include the subject, predicate, and object.
  • We use conjunctions and punctuations to join sentences.
  • Sentences with missing elements are not grammatically correct.
  • Varying lengths of sentences in a text enhances readability and keeps readers engaged.

Definition: Sentence structure

Sentence structure is basically how you arrange your words and bits to make a sentence. Think of it like building a Lego set — you’ve got different blocks (words, phrases, clauses) that you need to put together in the right order so it makes sense and looks like what you intended. It involves the order of the subject, predicate, and objects, along with the use of proper punctuation and conjunctions to connect ideas. The must-haves for the correct sentence structure are:

  • Subjects (person, thing, or place performing the action)
  • Predicates (expresses action or being within the sentence)
  • Direct objects (receives action directly)
  • Indirect objects (to whom or from whom the action is done)

The two most common mistakes in sentence structure are:

  1. Sentence fragments
    • These are sentences with missing elements such as the verb or main subject.
  2. Run-on sentences
    • They occur when two independent clauses are not punctuated or joined correctly.
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Basics of sentence structure

The following example will explain the clear conveyance of who is doing what to whom, providing a complete thought that is easily understood. It’s a common sentence structure used in English to narrate actions involving a giver, a recipient, and an item or service being given.

Example

Alisha Lehmann gave the fan an autograph.

Subject: Alisha Lehmann (the person performing the action)

Verb: gave (the action being performed)

Indirect object: the fan (the recipient of the action)

Direct object: an autograph (what is being given)

Grammar rules

In addition to understanding sentence components, adhering to grammar guidelines is crucial. Here are some grammar rules that must be followed:

  1. Every sentence starts by capitalizing the initial letter of the first word.
  2. Conclude sentences with appropriate punctuation (period, question mark, exclamation point, or within quotation marks)
  3. Typically, the sentence structure follows a specific structure: Subject + Verb + Object
  4. Ensure subject-verb agreement: singular subjects require singular verbs, while plural subjects demand verbs in the plural form.

Types of clauses

Clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a predicate. They are the building blocks of sentence structure in English. Understanding the different types of clauses is essential for grasping how sentences are constructed and how meaning is conveyed. There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent.

Independent clauses

An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence because it expresses a complete thought. It has both a subject and a verb (predicate), and can convey a complete idea without the need for additional information. In this case, objects are optional in this sentence structure.

Examples

  • The sun sets.
  • I enjoy reading.

Dependent clauses

A dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause, cannot stand alone as a sentence because it does not express a complete thought. It also contains a subject and verb but requires an independent clause to form a complete sentence. Dependent clauses are often introduced by subordinating conjunctions (like because, although, since, if) or relative pronouns (who, which, that, whatever) and support the preceding independent clause with additional information.

Examples 

  • Because the sun sets (needs additional information to be complete)
  • Which I enjoy reading (cannot stand alone)

Corrected version:

  • It’s getting dark outside because the sun sets.
  • This is the book which I enjoy reading.

The 4 types of sentence structure

Understanding sentence structure is fundamental to mastering not only the English language, but any other as well, as it directly influences our ability to communicate effectively. In English, it governs how words and phrases are arranged to convey complete thoughts. Sentences can be simple (one independent clause), compound (two or more main ideas joined by stuff like “and” or “but”), complex (one independent clause + one or more subordinate clauses), or compound-complex (a mix of compound and complex). Let’s dive deeper into the four types:

1. Simple sentences

The simple sentence structure only expresses a single complete thought and consists of one independent clause made up of:

  • The subject…
    • is the noun that performs an action in a sentence.
  • The predicate…
    • refers to the verb (action) in the sentence structure.

Simple sentence structures may also have a direct or indirect object.

Examples

  • I like going to the cinema.
  • She drove away.

2. Compound sentences

In English, conjunctions that join two or more independent clauses in compound sentences are known as coordinating conjunctions. There are seven primary coordinating conjunctions, often remembered by the acronym FANBOYS. Besides using these conjunctions, independent clauses in compound sentence structures can also be seamlessly joined by a semicolon (;) when they are closely related but not connected by a conjunction, allowing for a smooth and sophisticated flow of ideas.

FANBOYS include:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

Examples

  • She was tired, but she finished her second shift.
  • The sky is clear today; we should go for a hike.

If you’re interested in enhancing your knowledge of FANBOYS, semicolons, and how to use coordinating conjunctions effectively in your writing, our articles titled “Comma with FANBOYS,” “Coordinating conjunctions,” and “Semicolons” may provide valuable insights.

3. Complex sentences

Complex sentences in sentence structure are those that contain one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. The independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence, offering a complete thought, while the dependent clause cannot stand alone, relying on the independent clause to provide full context or meaning. Dependent clauses are typically introduced by subordinating conjunctions (such as because, since, after, although, or when) or relative pronouns (such as whom, which, or that). When the subordinating clause precedes, employ a comma before the independent clause. However, if the independent clause precedes, omit the comma.

Example with subordinating conjunction 

  • Even though it was raining, we went for a walk in the park.
  • We went for a walk in the park even though it was raining. (No comma)

In this example, the dependent clause is “even though it was raining,” as it does not express a complete thought and needs an independent clause, in this case “we went for a walk in the park,” to form a full and coherent sentence structure.

Example with semicolon

  • She had always dreamed of visiting Paris; now, her dream was finally coming true.

4. Compound-complex sentences

This type of sentence structure is a powerhouse for communication, allowing for the combination of multiple independent clauses (which could each stand alone as a separate sentence) with one or more dependent clauses (which cannot stand alone, as we already know). The beauty of compound-complex sentences lies in their ability to express multiple ideas or actions happening simultaneously, show cause and effect, or add descriptive depth, all within a single, fluid sentence. These sentences consist of at least two independent clauses and at least one subordinating clause.

Examples

  • After finishing her homework, Anna went to the library, but she couldn’t find the book that she needed, so she asked the librarian for assistance.

This compound-complex sentence structure contains multiple independent clauses connected by coordinating conjunctions (“but” and “so”), and it also includes a dependent clause (“After finishing her homework”) introduced by the subordinating conjunction “after.”

  • “After finishing her homework” (dependent clause)
  • “Sarah went to the library” (independent clause)
  • “but she couldn’t find the book that she needed” (independent clause)
  • “so she asked the librarian for assistance” (independent clause)

Sentence fragments

Identifying and fixing sentence fragments is essential for clear and coherent writing. A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence presented as a complete one. It lacks either a subject, a verb, or a complete thought, which are necessary components of sentence structures to be considered complete.

Here’s how you can fix them:

  • Add what’s missing
  • Attach to a complete sentence
  • Revise the sentence

Add what’s missing

If the sentence structure lacks a subject, add one. If the missing fragment is a verb, add an appropriate verb.

Example

  • Ran to the store quickly.
  • The cat on the windowsill.

Fixed:

  • She ran to the store quickly.
  • The cat is sitting on the windowsill.

Attach to a complete sentence

If the fragment is a subordinate clause or phrase that cannot stand alone, it might be best to connect a nearby sentence to form a full and coherent sentence structure.

Example

  • Because he was tired. He went to bed early.

Fixed: 

  • Because he was tired, he went to bed early.

Revise the sentence

Occasionally, the best way to fix a fragment is to rewrite the sentence so it expresses a complete thought. This might involve rephrasing or adding context. By looking for the absence of key elements and ensuring each sentence structure expresses a complete thought, you can identify and correct sentence fragments, thus improving the clarity and effectiveness of your writing.

Example

  • When we decided to go to the beach.

Fixed: 

  • We were excited when we decided to go to the beach.

Fixing sentence structure

Maintaining the correct sentence structure is essential for clear and effective communication. It involves ensuring that sentences have a subject, a verb, and express a complete thought. Proper sentence structure enhances readability and helps convey messages more precisely and engagingly.

Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences happen when two (or more) independent clauses are linked incorrectly without appropriate punctuation or conjunctions. These sentences can make your writing difficult to understand because they often lack the breaks that help reader’s digest information. There are two common types of run-on sentences:

Fused Sentences

This happens when two independent clauses are joined without any punctuation or conjunction. The sentence structure below depicts a fused sentence without any punctuation or conjunction between “store” and “I.”

Example

I went to the store I bought milk.

Comma splice

A comma splice is when two separate sentences are joined with just a comma, without any other connecting words or punctuation. It’s like trying to glue two complete thoughts with just a small piece of punctuation, which isn’t grammatically correct nor sufficient to join two independent clauses.

Example of comma splice 

  • It is late, we should go home.

The above sentence can be corrected in the following ways:

1. Using a period It is late. We should go home.
2. Using a semicolon It is late; we should go home.
3. Using a coordinating conjunction It is late, so we should go home.
4. Using a subordinating conjunction Because it is late, we should go home.

Note: If you choose to use a coordinating conjunction, ensure that you precede it with a comma.

Choppy sentences

These are a series of abrupt, shorter sentences that lack fluidity and connection, making the text seem disjointed and stilted. This issue often arises from an overreliance on simple sentence structures, which, while clear, can hinder the flow of ideas and diminish the reader’s engagement. To link them more fluently, use appropriate conjunctions or transition words.

Example

He opened the door. He saw the dog. The dog started to bark. The dog was happy.

Fixed:

When he opened the door, he saw the dog started barking, and it was happy.

Loose sentences

Fixing loose sentence structures involves restructuring them to enhance clarity, coherence, and readability. To achieve this, focus on the core message, prioritize additional information, and reorganize sentences for better coherence. Strategies include splitting complex sentences, reordering components for logical progression, and eliminating unnecessary details. Additionally, avoid lengthy introductory phrases to prevent repetition and redundancy, and ensure new information is not lost.

Example

He opened the door. He saw the dog. The dog started to bark. The dog was happy.

Fixed:

When he opened the door, he saw the dog started barking, and it was happy.

Long sentences

Splitting long sentences into shorter ones can improve clarity, readability, and engagement in your writing. Long sentences, especially those that are complex or contain multiple ideas, can be difficult for readers to follow and may lose the message in a sea of words. Here’s an example of a long sentence structure:

Example

Despite the heavy rain that began early in the morning and continued relentlessly throughout the day, causing the streets to flood and the local streams to overflow their banks, the town’s resilient residents, accustomed to such seasonal downpours, went about their daily routines, undeterred by the inclement weather, with children splashing in the puddles while their parents navigated the waterlogged roads with a mixture of caution and determination, all the while sharing stories of past storms that had been much worse, reinforcing their communal spirit and resolve to weather any storm together.

This example shows quite a long sentence structure, which, although demonstrating the ability to convey detailed and nuanced information within a single stretch of text, risks overwhelming the reader with too much information at once. Such lengthy sentences can cause confusion or lead to a loss of the reader’s attention, as the main point may become obscured by the sheer volume of details and clauses.

Fixing inappropriate coordination

When “and” is used as a connective, but another conjunction would convey a more precise meaning, it’s considered an inappropriate coordination.

Example

John had a skin problem, and he dropped out of school.

In this example, “and” suggests a simple connection between two events. However, it’s unclear whether John dropped out of school because of his skin problem or for another reason. To convey a more precise meaning, a different conjunction could be used, such as “so” if the drop-out was directly related to the skin issue, or “because” to clarify the cause-effect relationship.

Fixing excessive coordination/subordination

Excessive coordination occurs when multiple clauses are joined by coordinating conjunctions within a single sentence, resulting in a cumbersome and potentially confusing structure. However, excessive subordinating conjunctions (such as “because,” “although,” or “while”) result in a convoluted structure that can confuse the reader as it is unclear of how the clauses are related.

Example: Excessive coordination 

Roses area popular flower, and they are difficult to grow, so many people choose to purchase them as cut flowers instead, but that can be expensive.

In this sentence, “and,” “so,” and “but” are used to connect different clauses, creating excessive coordination. This can make the sentence overly complex and difficult to follow. When trying to correct choppy sentences by joining them, it’s important to avoid excessive coordination and consider alternative ways to connect the ideas more effectively, such as using a subordination or restructuring the sentence.

Example: Excessive subordination 

Although it was raining outside, because she had forgotten the umbrella, while hurrying to catch the bus, which was already running late, Sarah decided to wait under the shelter until the rain stopped.

Revised version:

Sarah decided to wait under the shelter until the rain stopped because she had forgotten her umbrella and the bus was already running late.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

Simple, compound, complex, or complex-compound? Test your understanding of structuring sentences correctly and check your answers in the second tab named “solutions.”

  1. The dog barked loudly.
  2. She likes coffee, but she loves tea more.
  3. Although it was raining, we decided to go for a walk.
  4. The book that I borrowed from the library is overdue.
  5. They were watching a movie when the power went out.
  6. He didn’t want to go to the doctor, nor did he want to stay home.
  7. Because the weather was bad, the game was cancelled, and everyone went home.
  8. The artist, who has been painting for over a decade, is holding an exhibition next month.
  9. I enjoy reading science fiction and watching horror movies.
  10. If you save your money, you can buy a new computer, or you could go on a vacation.
  1. Simple (One independent clause with a subject & predicate)
  2. Compound (Two independent clauses joined with “but”)
  3. Complex (One independent + dependent clause beginning with “Although”)
  4. Complex (Independent clause + dependent clause beginning with “that”)
  5. Complex (Independent clause + dependent clause introduced by “when”)
  6. Compound (Two independent clauses + coordinating conjunction “nor”)
  7. Compound-complex (Two independent clauses + one dependent beginning with “because”)
  8. Complex (Independent clause + nonrestrictive relative clause)
  9. Simple (Despite having multiple verbs, this sentence has one subject and is therefore simple)
  10. Compound-complex (Two independent clauses, connected by “or” + one dependent with “if”)
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FAQs

The four types of sentence structures are:

  1. Simple
  2. Compound
  3. Complex
  4. Compound-complex

However, using the same sentence type (simple, compound, complex, or complex-compound) may resolve in a less engaging rhythm.

Fix a long sentence structure by removing any redundant content. Break down the sentence into shorter ones, using conjunctions and avoid punctuation errors.

A comma splice is the incorrect use of a comma to connect two independent variables. A semicolon is better suited in this case.

Both are grammatical elements. However, a subject is the part of a sentence that contains the noun.predicate refers to the verb form in the sentence structure.

A prepositional phrase starts with a preposition and ends with a noun or pronoun, known as the object of the preposition. Typically, prepositional phrases function as adjectives or adverbs. While a noun within a prepositional phrase can sometimes act as the subject, the phrase itself usually modifies another word in the sentence.

Example

In the garden, the flowers bloom brightly.

In this sentence structure, “in the garden” is a prepositional phrase. “In” is the preposition, and “garden” is the object of the preposition. The phrase tells us where the flowers bloom, adding detail and context to the sentence.