Sentence Structure

Sentences are sets of words that are combined to express complete thoughts. These ‘sets of words’ make understanding written work and learning information easier.

Sentences are made up of clauses and phrases. A clause is a group of words that contain at least a subject and a verb (NB: a clause can be a sentence).

There are four sentence types: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.

 

  1. Simple Sentences

A simple sentence is made up of one independent clause. An independent clause is a group of words, consisting of at least a verb and a noun that can stand alone as a sentence and is a complete idea. A simple sentence may also contain an object. Have a look at these examples:

I saw a psychologist is an independent clause. It contains a subject (I) and a verb (saw), and expresses a complete thought.

Public safety must be the primary concern of any police force is also an independent clause that also includes an object. It contains a subject (Public safety), a verb (must be), and an object (the primary concern of any police force).

 

  1. Compound Sentences

A compound sentence is a sentence made up of two or more independent clauses joined together. You can join clauses in two different ways, using a coordinating conjunction or a semi-colon. Coordinating conjunctions consist of the following words: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So ("FANBOYS"). Have a look at these examples:

Professional athletes train at a higher intensity than other individuals, so they are fitter than them. (conjunction: so)

Public safety must be the primary concern of any police force, and officer training should focus on public safety above all else. (conjunction: and)

Professional athletes train at a higher intensity than other individuals; they are fitter than them. (semi-colon use)

Public safety must be the primary concern of any police force; officer training should focus on public safety above all else. (semi-colon use)

Note the punctuation (commas & semi-colons) used above to separate these independent clauses.

Common Grammatical Errors

  • Joining two independent clauses together with ONLY a comma is grammatically incorrect, and is called a comma splice.
  • Not using any punctuation or connecting words between independent clauses is also grammatically incorrect, and is called a run-on sentence.

 

  1. Complex Sentences

A complex sentence consists of one independent clause and one or more dependent (subordinate) clauses which provide more information to support the independent clause. A dependent clause does not express a complete idea. In a complex sentence there is normally one idea that is more important than the other. Have a look at these examples:

Healthcare professionals are people who are experts in health and are willing to help others. (bold print: independent clause; normal print: dependent clause)

Police force officers are trained in public safety and are expected to maintain law and order is society. (bold print: independent clause; normal print: dependent clause)

 

  1. Compound-Complex Sentences

A compound-complex sentence contains at least three clauses. Two of these clauses MUST be independent clauses. You can have any combination of clauses just as long as 2 or more are independent and one or more is dependent. Have a look at these examples:

I could not decide where I should work or what I should do, so at first I did nothing. (bold print: independent clause; normal print: dependent clause; coordinating conjunction: so)

I wanted to travel after I graduated from my studies at ACAP, however, I had to work and save first. (bold print: independent clause; normal print: dependent clause; note that 'however' is not a conjunction)

  • Effective writers combine short and long sentences and ensure their written work is clear and easy to understand. In spite of what people may think, using long and complicated sentences is not a sign of academic scholarship. Make sure your writing expresses your points clearly.

 

What is the ideal sentence length?

Uisng too many short sentences or sentences that are too long, complicated, or convoluted can significantly mar your written work. Ideally a sentence should be between 15-25 words, however using some slightly shorter or longer sentences can also be effective in your written work.

Print out this handy table showing the impact of sentence length on written work and keep it in your study space!

 

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