Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part One



The art of writing resembles any trade that begins with the basics and evolves into skillful applications of them. A key component of precise and eloquent composition is understanding sentence structures.

English comprises four foundational sentence constructions: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. In part one of our discussion, we’ll review simple and compound sentences.

Simple Sentence

A simple sentence has one subject and one verb. It does not have a dependent (subordinate) clause, one that cannot stand alone as a sentence (e.g., when the boys return). Simple sentences also may include parts of speech such as direct and indirect objects, adjectives, adverbs, and infinitive and prepositional phrases.

Dogs (subject) bark (verb).
Regina (subject) gave (verb) her sister (indirect object) a card (direct object).
Antonio (subject) painted (verb) his old bike (direct object) red (adjective) yesterday (adverb).
Inga’s brown dog (subject) likes (verb) to sleep (infinitive phrase) on his side (prepositional phrase).

The subject (indicated by a single underline in the three sentences that follow), the verb (bold), or both may be compound in a simple sentence:

The moon and the stars came into view.
The pitcher threw six innings and hit a double.
The king and the queen each raised a hand and waved.

We can change syntactical positions in a simple sentence:

Above the law they are not.
There was no response to the question. (In this sentence, the word there is an expletive, a filler word for emphasizing the phrase no response to the question; without the expletive, the simple sentence would be No response to the question was given.)
Her parting glare he ignored.

Simple sentences can be further categorized as statements, commands, requests, questions, and exclamations:

Statement: You write well.
Command: Write well.
Request: Would you please write well?
Question: Do you write well?
Exclamation: You write well!

Compound Sentence

A compound sentence has at least two main (i.e., independent) clauses joined by a conjunction and a comma or by a semicolon:

Antonio painted his old bike red yesterday, and he will paint his scooter the same color tomorrow.
She writes well, but she is still improving at math.
The dreams of my youth have passed; the hopes of my future await.

For strong technique, we want to avoid compound sentences with loose and protracted constructions. This can sometimes happen when we string multiple clauses together.

Loose/Protracted: Angelique went to the store, and then she stopped at the post office, and next she picked up the kids.
Better (simple sentence with a compound predicate, i.e., verb or verb phrase): Angelique went to the store, stopped at the post office, and picked up the kids.

Loose/Protracted: The book was on the table, and Jason saw it, and he picked it up and started reading it.
Better (two independent clauses joined by a semicolon): Jason saw the book on the table; he picked it up and started reading it.

Loose/Protracted: They owned the team, and they were ambitious people, and they invested profits back into the franchise.
Better (consolidated simple sentence): The ambitious team owners invested profits back into the franchise.

In Part Two of “Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures,” we will explore how to recognize and use complex and compound-complex sentences. Also watch for Part Three, in which we’ll look at how to apply the four sentence types to achieve style and effect in our writing.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, identify whether each example is a simple sentence or a compound sentence.

1. I want to learn how to play the piano this year.
a. Simple
b. Compound

2. Next to greatness they will be, and behind mediocrity they will be not.
a. Simple
b. Compound

3. The jury has convened; the hour of decision is near.
a. Simple
b. Compound

4. Make sure you get to school on time!
a. Simple
b. Compound

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I want to learn to play the piano this year.
a. Simple (The sentence has a subject, a verb, and a direct object, the infinitive phrase to learn to play the piano this year.

2. Next to greatness they will be, and behind mediocrity they will be not.
b. Compound (The sentence has two independent clauses joined by a comma and the coordinating conjunction and.

3. The jury has convened; the hour of decision is near.
b. Compound (The sentence has two independent clauses joined by a semicolon.) 

4. Make sure you get to school on time!
a. Simple (The sentence has a subject, the understood you; a verb; and a direct object, the verb phrase get to school on time. This simple sentence is a command.)

Posted on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at 11:00 pm

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8 Comments on Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part One

8 responses to “Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part One”

  1. Abigail Volcy says:

    Are these sentences punctuated correctly?
    When I went outside the classroom, I saw my sister and gave her the book.
    When I went to the concert last Tuesday, I saw my old friend and gave her my new number. She was happy to see me.

  2. Abigail Volcy says:

    Is this sentence punctuated correctly?
    Heublien, a Hartford, Connecticut based-company, is moving to another state.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    “Me, too.” or “Me too.” Which is correct? What are the rules for the comma in this case?

  4. Cathie McCain Perry says:

    4. Make sure you get to school on time!
    a. Simple (The sentence has a subject, the understood you; a verb; and a direct object, the verb phrase get to school on time. This simple sentence is a command.)

    I would have identified this as a complex sentence:
    (understood you) Make sure / (that) you get to school on time.

    Isn’t the second part of the sentence a noun clause functioning as the direct object for the introductory command/request clause?

    • We appreciate that you read and studied the post carefully. Although this sentence may resemble a complex sentence, perhaps due to the understood that, upon further inspection, it is not. In a complex sentence, the dependent clause serves as a sentence modifier (Becoming Savvy with Sentence Modifiers. Sentence Structures: Part Two). Sentence modifiers can be moved: e.g., “When we go to school we will receive the assignment”; “We will receive the assignment when we go to school.” In the quiz question you identify, the dependent clause “that you get to school on time” is not a sentence modifier but rather the direct object of the simple sentence. If it were a sentence modifier, we could write it as “That you get to school on time you make sure,” but that is stilted and awkward.

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