English Writing: Forming Sentences

Parts of a Sentences:

Phrase:

Is a group of words that contain no subject or independent verb (though it may contain a type of verb form i.e. a gerund or an infinitive). By itself, it is NOT a complete sentence. 

Phrase Examples (Incomplete Sentences):

(Participle/Gerund) – Walking around all day long

(Infinitive) – To be or not to be

(Prepositional) – In the garden

A phrase alone is an incomplete sentence; however, when you add an independent verb (a verb that has a subject i.e. NOT an infinitive or gerund) it becomes a complete sentence:

Examples (Complete Sentences):

(Blue = Subject, Red = Independent Verb)

Walking around all day long is tiring.

To be or not to be [that] is the question.

[Note: The above sentence uses the relative pronoun that which you can learn more about here]

In the garden are many flowers.

Note: In the above examples the phrases act as the subject of the independent verb. However, if a phrase that BEGINS a sentence DOES NOT act as the subject, it often should be separated by a comma.

Examples: 

In the garden, I stand amongst the flowers.

In the garden, she and I relaxed.

Note: However, if the phrase comes AFTER the subject and verb, then no comma is needed:

Examples:

I stand amongst the flowers in the garden.

She and I relaxed in the garden.

Note: Phrases are flexible in terms of placement: they can come at the beginning, the middle, or end of a sentence. Just remember that often introductory phrases should be separated by a comma if they do NOT act as the subject of the sentence.

Exercise 1a:

Directions: Write complete sentences using introductory phrases. First use the three phrases below -you will need to invent a second clause with a subject and a verb to make them a complete sentence.  

Demos: 

In the garden, she lies on a bed of flowers. 

Walking around all day long, I can’t do it anymore. 

To be or not to be, I often ask myself. 

Now complete the following with your own independent clause:

– In the garden, …

– Walking around all day long, …

– To be or not to be, …

Excercise 1b: 

Directions: Create a completely new sentence that includes an introductory phrase in the context of introducing yourself.

Demo: In Los Angeles, I was born and raised. 

Clause:

Unlike phrases, clauses contain both a subject and a verb. There are two kinds of clauses: main and subordinate. 

Main Clause (Also Known As an independent clause):

Has a subject, a verb, and is a complete sentence.

Example – I walk to school every day.

Subordinate Clause (Also Known As a dependent clause):

Has a subject and verb, but IS NOT a complete sentence:

Example – Although I walk to school every day …

Example –after I eat breakfast.

Subordinate Clause is made by adding a subordinating conjunction word – like after or although – to the beginning of a main clause. A subordinating conjunction word turns a main clause into an incomplete thought, which is dependent on a second main clause in order to be complete.

For example:

Incomplete Thought:

– Although I walk to school every day.

Well, although you walk to school every day, what? The main clause will answer the “what?” question:

Complete Thought:

Although I walk to school every day, I hate walking.

CHART: Here is a list of some subordinating conjunction words:

After

In order that

Even though

Before

No matter

Whereas

Although

Since

Even if

Because

Unless

While

If

Until

When

Note: Some of the words in the chart are not always used as subordinate conjunction words i.e. ‘when’ in “When will we go?” is used as an interrogative to form questions. 

Four Basic types of Grammatical Sentences:

Using the two types of clauses (main and subordinate), you can make four kinds of sentences:

  • Simple Sentences (those with a single main clause):

These sentences are main clauses that include a subject, a verb, and NO subordinating conjunction word.

Example: John loves to write every day.

Exercise Two:

Write a couple simple sentences that are true about you in regards to your hobbies and everyday habits. 

Demos:

I walk to school yesterday.

I love reading novels at night.

  • Compound Sentences (those with two main clauses joined by coordinating conjunction like and, or, but etc.):

These sentences join two or more main clauses together using a coordinating conjunction word. The following table has the seven coordinating conjunction words:

and or nor but yet so for

 

Example: John loves to write, and Mary loves to read.

Note: ‘For’ used as a coordinating conjunction has the meaning of ‘because’ yet more emphatic, and it has a ‘classical English’, poetic, and formal sound to it.

Example: I want to love, for to love is a beautiful thing. 

(Two main clauses are in blue and the coordinating conjunction word is italicized)

Exercise Three:

Write a few compound sentences that are true about you. 

Note: BOTH main clauses need to have a subject AND verb to be separated by a comma. If that subject is the same in both clauses, then generally it’s best NOT to separate the two clauses by a comma (unless you want to for a specific stylistic effect).

Example:

John loves to write, and John loves to read (Wordy and Awkward)

John loves to write and to read (Better)

Exercise Four:

Write some simple sentences combining two different ideas (i.e. to read and to write) using only one subject and verb that are true about you (so ‘I’ will be the subject).

Demo: 

I read and write at night

Note: A comma splice (which is a grammatical error) is joining two main clauses with a comma WITHOUT including a conjunction word.

Example (WRONG): John loves to write, Mary loves to read.

To avoid comma splices, do the following:

  • Add a coordinating conjunction word after the comma:
    • John loves to write, and Mary loves to read.
    • John loves to write, but Mary loves to read.
    • John loves to write, yet Mary loves to read.
  • Separate the clauses with a semicolon:
    • John loves to write; Mary loves to read.
  • Separate the clauses with a period:
    • John loves to write. Mary loves to read.
  • Turn one clause into a subordinate one (main clause is in blue and subordinate in red):
    • John loves to write whereas Mary loves to read.
    • John loves to write because Mary loves to read. – Perhaps John is trying to impress Mary (❤️) with his incredible writing skills 🙂 .

Note: The above sentences are NOT EQUAL. The use of different punctuation marks creates a different stylistic effect, to learn more visit the blog English Writing: Punctuation Marks.

  • Complex sentences (those with one subordinate clause and one main clause)

You form complex sentences by using a subordinating conjunction word to join main and subordinating clauses:

Example – John loves to write while he is in bed. 

Note: If the subordinate clause comes first, then you need to separate the two clauses by a comma:

Example – Even though John loves to write, he hates to read.

Exercise Five:

Follow the proceeding two steps to write complex sentences:

1) Write some main clauses that are true about you. 

2) Use a subordinating conjunction word from the table to combine the two clauses in a way that is true about you. Try to use a variety of subordinate conjunction words:

Subordinate Conjunction Words: 

After

In order that

Even though

Before

No matter

Whereas

Although

Since

Even if

Because

Unless

While

If

Until

When

 

Demos:

I love running outdoors although I hate doing it indoors.

Even though I don’t like working out for long periods of time, I can play basketball for hours. 

I love to read fantasy novels because it stimulates my imagination. 

Before I go to bed every night, I spend an hour on YouTube. 

  • Compound-Complex Sentences:

These sentences include both a compound [two main clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction word (and, or, but etc.)] as well as a complex sentence (a main and subordinate clause together). 

Example – John loves to write, but he hates to read because he finds it boring

Exercise Six:

Write some compound-complex sentences that are true for you using two main clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction word. Make one of the two main clauses a complex sentence by adding a subordinating conjunction word to it.

Example – I love to read novels at night because it helps me go to sleep, but sometimes I stay up all night reading instead of sleeping.

NOTE: When you create sentences of more than one single main clause, you can place subordinate elements before the main clause, within the main clause, after the main clause, or even in ALL THREE PLACES in more complex structures.

Example – Although John loves to write, he finds reading to be boring because it is too passive, and when he reads, he cannot help to criticize the writer’s style.

Conjunction Adverbs (e.g. however, accordingly, also, finally etc.):

Conjunction adverbs can be used to separate overly long and complicated compound-complex sentences (known as “run-on” sentences) and to connect your ideas. Here is a table with common conjunctive adverbs:

Also However Accordingly Finally Indeed Instead Otherwise
Still Subsequently Then Therefore Next Furthermore Conversely
Consequently Likewise Besides Meanwhile Nevertheless Nonetheless Similarly 

It can be used in three ways:

  • To join two main clauses together:

[Simple or Complex Sentence] + [ ; ] + Conjunction Adverb + [Simple or Complex Sentence]

Example: I love to read; however, only when I am reading a good book

Note: Used in this way, the conjunction adverb acts like a coordinating conjunction; however, it should be separated by a semicolon and NOT a comma (although this rule is often broken in practice). 

  • To introduce a new sentence while connecting it to the previous one. 

[Conjunction Adverb] + [Simple or Complex Sentence]

Example: Also, I don’t like reading when I am really busy. 

Note: Used in this way, the conjunction adverb acts as an introductory prepositional phrase. 

  • To conclude a sentence. 

Example: I do love reading, though

Exercise 6: 

Now write a paragraph introducing yourself, including several of your hobbies, interests, and one guilty pleasure. A ‘guilty pleasure’ is something that you enjoy doing, yet you feel a little bit guilty, or embarrassed, by it. 

Example:

Hi there! When introducing myself, I’m not sure where to begin – or end for that matter. Well, the story started in Los Angeles, took a twist and wound up in Utah, and then went on an adventure all over the world. Speaking of, I love to travel; when traveling, I feel: free. I’ve traveled mostly through the Middle East and the Hispanic world – Spain, the Carribean, and South America – although I have been to other regions, too i.e. South East Asia and East Africa. In the Middle East and the Hispanic world, I was able to cultivate my foreign language skills: I speak Arabic and Spanish fluently – and am currently learning to speak Portuguese and Swahili. Which brings me to my next passion: learning foreign languages. When learning a new language you get to get a glimpse into ‘A Whole New World’ (to shamelessly quote a corny line from a popular Disney movie) of culture, attitude, and personality. You know, I literally was singing to myself that ‘A Whole New World’ song while doing my first scuba dive under the Red Sea; the underwater kingdom truly is a magical one! I got into diving while looking for a fun hobby living in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, and I have been doing it ever since! The hobbies of scuba diving and martial arts would make me a pretty bad ass modern military ninja I’d like to think! Which brings me to my guilty pleasure: watching MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). Although it includes a lot of blood, guts, and gore; I admit, I can’t get enough of watching two men in a cage trying to knock each other out! 

Ok, well I think that’s enough about me already: now it’s time to hear about you! And remember, try to use a variety of different sentence structures and punctuation marks

 

3 Comments

  1. Tsubasa

    I’d like to know the meaning of “yet” as a coordinating conjunction. Only way I can use it is….”I haven’t finished my homework YET.”
    Maybe it’s more functional than I think!

    Reply
    1. Julie Petri

      Paragraph about myself: “If being myself I still don’t know who I am, then is probably impossible for other people to know me. However, if you want me to tell three things that are really important in my life, I would say: my family, books and food. My family – and that includes my boyfriend – because they are the only human beings that I love more than animals. Books because reading is the thing that I most like to do. Food because it is the only thing that really makes me feel good with myself; that’s why I always choose to eat something healthy instead of something really tasty that will make me feel like crap inside. But if I want to fill my stomach with candy, then fine. After all, everybody has a guilty pleasure, right?”

      Reply
    2. edunn479 (Post author)

      Hey Tsubasa! Yes, it is more functional than you think. Yet – as a coordinating conjunction word – has the same meaning as ‘however’ and/or ‘nevertheless’. However, when ‘yet’ is used along with the present perfect tense – i.e. ‘I haven’t finished my homework yet.” – it has the meaning of ‘until now’.

      Reply

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