Sentence Structure – How to Master it in Academic Writing

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Sentence-Structure-Definition

Sentence structure is an essential element of effective written communication in various contexts.

Sentence structure dictates how the parts of a sentence are fitted together.

Sentence Structure – In a Nutshell

  • Sentence structure creates a smooth flow of ideas.
  • We use conjunctions and punctuations to join sentences.
  • Sentences with missing elements are not grammatically correct.
  • It is important to use varying lengths of sentences in a text.

Definition: Sentence structure

Sentence structure refers to the arrangement of the grammatical parts of a sentence. These parts include:

  • The subject
  • Direct or indirect objects
  • Predicates

The two most common mistakes in sentence construction 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.

The 4 types of sentence structure

There are four main types of sentence structure used in academic writing:

1. Simple sentences

The simple sentence structure consists of one independent clause made up of:

  • The subject
    • Is the noun that performs an action in a sentence
  • The predicate
    • This is the action in the sentence structure

The simple sentence structure may also have a direct or indirect object.

Examples:

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

2. Compound sentences

Compound sentences use conjunctions to link two or more independent clauses. Conjunctions include:

  • But
  • Or
  • And
  • For
  • So
  • Etc.

Examples:

  • She was tired, but she finished her second shift.
  • He was happy, and he was glad he had finished the project.

3. Complex sentences

An independent clause is linked with a dependent clause in the complex sentence structure.

Examples:

  • Although I am aware…
  • Because she is sick…

They must be joined with an independent clause to convey a complete thought.

Examples of complex sentences:

  • I am upset because I failed.
  • If she accepts, we will start next week.

4. Compound-complex sentences

They combine complex and compound sentence structures by combining two or more independent clauses and one dependent clause.

Examples:

  • I often walked on the beach; if I could remember her, then indeed, she was gone.
  • They longed for the holidays because they wanted to play in the sun, eating ice cream all day.1

Avoid run-on sentence structure

Run-on sentences happen when two independent clauses are linked incorrectly. Run-on sentences may occur in short sentences because of two common mistakes:2

Comma splice

This happens when a comma is used to join the independent clauses.

For example:

  • There are ways to get what you want, lying will only get you so far.

The above sentence can be corrected in the following ways:

1. Separating it into two sentences There are ways to get what you want. Lying will only get you so far.
2. Using a semicolon There are ways to get what you want; lying will only get you so far.
3. Using a conjunction to link the clauses There are ways to get what you want, but lying will only get you so far.3

Lacking commas before coordinating conjunctions

Add a comma before a conjunction.

For example:

  • Everyone received their cash on time and they all left before the last bell.

The correct sentence structure should be:

  • Everyone received their cash on time, and left before the last bell.

Sentence structure: Sentence fragments

The sentence structure is complete if it contains a subject and a predicate.4

Subjects and predicates

The subject represents the person or object that performs an action. The predicate is the verb part that tells us what the subject is or the action they perform.

For example:

  • Cats and mice don’t see eye to eye.
  • The quick fox jumps over the fence.

When the predicate is missing

A sentence without a main verb is not considered grammatically correct. The noun phrase alone does not complete a sentence.

For example:

  • After lunch, they had a cold drink. Just what they needed in the heat.

This can be corrected by introducing a semicolon or splitting the sentence to include a predicate.

  • After lunch, they had a cold drink; just what they needed in the heat.
  • After lunch, they had a cold drink. It was just what they needed in the heat.

Stand-alone dependent clause

Dependent clauses have a subject and a predicate. However, they are incomplete and are considered grammatically incorrect.5

They are created with subordinating conjunctions like:

  • When
  • After
  • While
  • Although
  • Though
  • Unless

For example:

  • The report was accurate.

This is an independent clause that is a complete sentence on its own

  • When the report was accurate.

The use of ‘when’ at the beginning of the sentence makes it a dependent clause.

A semicolon can only be used to join two independent clauses.

For example:

  • Incorrect: They will go out; when they want to play.
  • Correct: They will go out when they want to play.

Using the present participle incorrectly

The present participle is the form of a verb that ends with the prefix (-ing) such as:

  • “Running”
  • “Walking”

The verb “be” is the most miswritten as “being” instead of “is” or “was”.

For example:

  • Incorrect: He fought passionately. The point being discrimination against minorities
  • Correct: He fought passionately. The point was the discrimination of minorities.

Sentence structure: Splitting long sentences

Long sentences are often hard to follow and may lose the message in a sea of words. Aim for 15-25 words by removing unnecessary phrases.

For example:

Hard to follow:

  • The automotive industry has experienced a wave of innovation in the last few years, but this increase in ideas has led to mass production on a global scale, further harming the environment among other unintended effects.

Correct:

  • The automotive industry has experienced a wave of innovation in the last few years. But this increase in ideas has led to mass production on a global scale. This has further harmed the environment, among other unintended consequences.

Also, avoid introductory clauses that are too long. They create redundancy, and new information might be lost in the introduction.

For example:

Too Long:

  • The old Roman Empire, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, reinvented warfare.

Correct:

  • The old Roman Empire reinvented warfare.

Sentence structure: Linking short sentences

Too many short sentences may make your work appear disjointed and incoherent.

For example:

Incoherent:

  • Brian is a mechanic. He works at the engine factory. He drives to work daily.

Correct:

  • Brian is a mechanic who works at the engine factory; he drives to work daily.

FAQs

The four types of sentence structures are:

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

Start by removing any redundant content.

Break down the sentence into shorter ones, using conjunctions and the appropriate punctuation.

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

A subject is the part of a sentence that contains the noun.

A predicate refers to the verb form in the sentence structure.

Sources

Provost, Rex. “What is Sentence Structure – Examples and Tips for Writers.” StudioBinder. January 30, 2022. https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-sentence-structure-examples/.

2 Walden University. “Grammar: Run-On Sentences and Sentence Fragments.” Accessed November 17, 2022. https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/runonsentences.

3 Grammarly. “Comma Splice.” Accessed November 17, 2022. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/comma-splice/.

4 Northern Illinois University. “Sentence Fragments.” Accessed November 17, 2022. https://www.niu.edu/writingtutorial/punctuation/sentence-fragments.shtml.

5 AskBetty. “Sentence Structure.” Accessed November 17, 2022. https://depts.washington.edu/engl/askbetty/sentence_structure.php.