Sentence Structure Study Guide: Pre-GED Language Arts, Writing (page 5)
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:
Having a solid understanding of sentence structure is crucial for doing well on the GED exam. In fact, 30 percent of the GED writing assessment addresses sentence structure. With that in mind, you should make the most of the sentence structure practice and review in this chapter as you prepare for exam day.
The Parts of a Sentence
You probably already know that a sentence expresses a complete thought and has to have a subject and a predicate. The subject is the part of a sentence that tells who or what the sentence is about. The predicate includes a verb, or action word, and tells what the subject is or does. Consider the following basic sentence:
Ella watched the news.
In the previous sentence, Ella is the subject, and watched the news is the predicate. Watched is the verb.
Keep in mind that a sentence can have more than one subject and predicate. A compound subject includes two or more subjects in the same sentence, and a compound verb includes two or more verbs. Let's take a look at the following sentence:
Ella and Simone sat on the sofa and watched the news.
In the previous sentence, Ella and Simone are compound subjects; sat and watched are compound verbs.
The previous sentences are fairly basic. In order to understand more complex types of sentences, you must also be able to recognize clauses. A clause is a group of words that contains both a subject and a verb. A dependent clause contains a subject and a verb, but cannot stand alone as a complete thought. Although the dog was barking is an example of a dependant clause. An independent clause is a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence. He did not seem fierce is an example of an independent clause.
A compound sentence includes two independent clauses joined together by a coordinating conjunction, such as and, but, or, nor, so, for, or yet. The conjunction used in a sentence should show the relationship between the two clauses, and it is preceded by a comma.
Let's take a look at the following sentence:
We thought we would be late to the movie, but we got there in plenty of time.
Notice that the previous compound sentence contains two shorter sentences, or independent clauses. The conjunction but shows that the second clause is true, despite appearing to be contrary to the information in the first clause.
A complex sentence includes a dependent clause that is connected to an independent clause by a subordinating conjunction, which shows the relationship between the two clauses. Examples of subordinating conjunctions are:
- comparison/similarity: as if
- contrast/difference: although, whereas, while, even though
- cause and effect/purpose: because, since, so that, as
- condition: if, unless, whether, because, even if
- time/sequence: before, after, while, as soon as, once
- place: wherever, where
A subordinating conjunction always introduces a dependent clause. However, the dependent clause can come either before or after the independent clause. Consider the following example:
- Because it was raining, I stayed inside all day.
- I stayed inside all day because it was raining.
Because it was raining is the dependent clause; it cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. The conjunction because indicates a cause and effect relationship between raining and stayed inside all day. Notice that either the dependent or independent clause can come first without changing the meaning of the sentence. Also, remember that a comma should be placed between clauses if the dependent clause is first.
Now that we've reviewed the basic components of complete sentences, let's go over some of the other important things to understand about sentence structure, including sentence fragments, run-on sentences, comma splices, coordination and subordination, modification, and parallelism.
A sentence fragment is a group of words that does not express a complete sentence or thought. To identify a sentence fragment, ask yourself:
- Is the subject missing?
- Is the verb missing?
- Is it a dependent clause?
Answering yes to any of these questions indicates a sentence fragment. Let's look at a few examples of sentence fragments, and what revisions are necessary to turn them into complete sentences.
Rides his bike to school.
The previous sentence fragment does not have a subject. The verb rides tells the action; however, it does not tell who or what is performing the action. To revise this fragment and make it a complete sentence, a subject must be added. For example, Jonah rides his bike to school.
My favorite actress.
This sentence fragment includes a subject, but it does not include a verb. To make this a complete sentence, an action must be added. One possible correction would be, My favorite actress wore a purple gown to the awards ceremony. Now the sentence includes a subject and a verb, and expresses a complete thought.
Whether or not we choose to go with them.
This is an example of a dependent clause. It includes a subject and verb, but does not express a complete thought. To turn a dependent clause into a complete sentence, we must add an independent clause. One way to correct this would be, The Smiths are going camping this weekend, whether or not we choose to go with them.
Although most of us probably use sentence fragments in conversation, they are not acceptable in standard written English. On the GED exam, you will be expected to recognize incomplete sentences and identify ways to revise these fragments to create proper, complete sentences. Look at the following example. Is it a sentence fragment? If so, what changes would make it a complete sentence?
Most of the students in our class.
This is a sentence fragment because there is no verb. Adding a predicate will change this into a complete sentence. Possible corrections could be Most of the students in our class have lockers in the center hallway, or Math is the favorite subject of most of the students in our class. On the GED, you will not have to identify subjects, verbs, or other parts of speech. However, you will need to be able to recognize complete sentences and make necessary corrections to them.
As discussed, a sentence fragment does not contain enough information. Run-on sentences, on the other hand, contain too much information. A run-on sentence occurs when two independent clauses have been joined together without punctuation. Remember, an independent clause contains a subject and a verb, and it expresses a complete thought, so a run-on sentence is actually two sentences that run together.
Here are a few ways to correct run-on sentences:
- Insert a period to create two complete sentences.
- Insert a semicolon to separate the independent clauses.
- Insert a comma and coordinating conjunction to create a compound sentence.
Let's take a look at the following run-on sentence:
We went to the library on Saturday the book I wanted was not available.
Notice that there are two complete sentences that are run together. Let's look at some ways to fix this run-on:
We went to the library on Saturday. The book I wanted was not available.
We went to the library on Saturday; the book I wanted was not available.
We went to the library on Saturday, but the book I wanted was not available.
Any of these revisions is correct. One similarity between these corrections is that punctuation is placed at the end of the first independent clause. If you choose to use a period to separate a run-on sentence, remember to capitalize the first letter of the second sentence, and be sure that each sentence contains a subject, a predicate, and expresses a complete thought.
Now that you've had a chance to review run-on sentences, let's put your knowledge into practice. Use what you know about run-on sentences to answer the following question.
Which correction should be made to the following sentence?
- insert a comma after afternoon
- insert a semicolon after afternoon
- insert a period after theater
- insert a comma after theater
- no correction is necessary
The movie started at 4:45 this afternoon the theater was completely full by 4:30.
In this run-on sentence, the first independent clause ends with the word afternoon. One possible correction is to insert a semicolon following afternoon. Another option is to create two completely separate sentences by inserting a period following afternoon, then capitalizing the word the. A third option is to insert a comma following afternoon and add a coordinating conjunction, such as but.
A comma splice is similar to a run-on sentence in that two independent clauses are joined together. The difference is that a comma splice occurs when a comma is used to join the clauses.
Rico scored the winning point in Friday night's basketball game he was voted MVP by his teammates.
Rico scored the winning point in Friday night's basketball game, he was voted MVP by his teammates.
Strategies for correcting comma splice errors are similar to correcting run-on sentences:
- Insert a period to create two sentences: Rico scored the winning point in Friday night's basketball game. He was voted MVP by his teammates.
- Insert a semicolon to separate the independent clauses: Rico scored the winning point in Friday night's basketball game; he was voted MVP by his teammates.
- Insert a coordinating conjunction after the comma to create a compound sentence: Rico scored the winning point in Friday night's basketball game, so he was voted MVP by his teammates.
- Insert a subordinating conjunction, causing one clause to become dependent: After Rico scored the winning point in Friday night's basketball game, he was voted MVP by his teammates.
As with run-on sentences, one similarity between these corrections is that punctuation is placed at the end of the first independent clause. Remember, if you choose to insert a coordinating conjunction after the comma, or you choose to insert a subordinating conjunction in one of the clauses, be sure to select one whose meaning accurately relates the information in the two clauses.
Let's use what you've learned to answer the following question:
Which is the best way to write the italicized portion of the following sentence? If the original sentence is correct, choose answer choice a.
- business trip, he
- business trip and he
- business trip; He
- business trip. He
- business trip he;
Mr. O'Malley packed his suitcase for a business trip, he hung his suits and ties in a garment bag.
Trip is the final word in the first independent clause. Separating the two clauses by placing a period after the word trip and capitalizing the word He is one way to correctly write the sentences. Another choice is to keep the comma, and follow it with a coordinating conjunction, such as and. Choice b inserts the conjunction, but incorrectly removes the comma. The comma and conjunction are necessary to make the sentence correct. Another option for revising the sentence is to add a semicolon after the word trip. Since this does not create two separate sentences, he does not need to be capitalized, as in choice c.
Coordination and Subordination
So far in this chapter, you have reviewed using conjunctions to correct run-on sentences and comma splices. Conjunctions can also be used to combine short, simple sentences that are related. This allows you to use a variety of sentence structures in your writing, which can make your writing more interesting. Consider the following sentences:
We needed to buy eggs and milk. Steven and I went to the store. I tried to pay for the groceries. I realized I left my wallet at home.
One way to make these sentences more interesting is to combine them using conjunctions:
We needed to buy eggs and milk, so Steven and I went to the store. As soon as I tried to pay for the groceries, I realized I left my wallet at home.
Coordination and subordination are two ways of using conjunctions to combine ideas. Coordination involves using coordinating conjunctions to combine two independent clauses. You will recall that coordinating conjunctions include:
Coordination can be used to create a compound sentence by combining the two simple sentences. In the following example, notice that a comma comes between the first independent clause and the conjunction.
Mark wanted a puppy. Mason wanted a kitten.
Mark wanted a puppy, but Mason wanted a kitten.
Coordination is also used to combine the following sentences. Notice that some words have been eliminated to prevent the sentences from sounding redundant. Also, a comma does not precede the conjunction since it does not link two independent clauses in this case.
Ling plans to go to the library. She does not plan to go to her study group.
Ling plans to go to the library but not to her study group.
Now it's your turn. Use coordination to combine the following sentences on the lines below:
Our family might go to the beach this weekend. We might go hiking.
You might have used coordination to create a compound sentence, such as Our family might go to the beach this weekend, or we might go hiking. In this case, the conjunction is preceded by a comma, and the sentence includes two independent clauses. Another possible response may have been Our family might go to the beach this weekend and go hiking. Since some of the words have been eliminated, the sentence does not contain two independent clauses. Therefore, a comma is not needed before the conjunction.
Subordination involves using subordinating conjunctions to combine sentences in a way that establishes one idea as being more important than another, thus creating a complex sentence. The idea that is less important becomes dependent on, or subordinate to, the idea that is more important. Earlier in the chapter, you learned that subordinate conjunctions include:
Notice how the following sentences sound choppy and don't flow smoothly:
Natalia rides the bus to school. She gets up before dawn. She wants a car. She won't have to get up so early.
Using subordination makes the sentences more interesting:
Since Natalia rides the bus to school, she gets up before dawn. She wants a car so that she won't have to get up so early.
Using subordination makes one of the clauses dependent. Remember that when the dependent clause comes first, it is followed by a comma. When the independent clause is first, a comma is not needed. In the previous example, the first sentence needs a comma because the first clause is dependent. The second sentence does not need a comma because the first clause is independent.
Now it's your turn. Use what you've learned about subordination to answer the following question:
Which group of words would be included in the most effective combination of these sentences?
We are trying to save money to take a vacation to Lake Tahoe next summer. We should still invest in a weekend getaway this month.
- Because we are trying
- Even though we are trying
- summer, rather than investing
- summer unless we invest
- summer, whether we
The subordinating conjunction even though combines the sentences without changing their meaning. Because indicates that a weekend getaway is the effect of saving for the trip to Lake Tahoe, which is incorrect. Rather than indicates that the weekend trip will not take place, which changes the meaning of the sentences. Unless indicates that the weekend getaway will interfere with the summer vacation, which also changes the meaning. Whether does not make sense in these sentences.
Modifiers are word or phrases that provide details and description in a sentence. Adverbs and adjectives are often used as modifiers. Typically, removing a modifier does not change the basic meaning of the sentence. Modifiers can provide details that make writing clearer and more interesting. However, improper modification can cause confusion.
Dangling modifiers do not clearly point to what they are intended to modify. In general, a modifier and the word or phrase it modifies should be placed together in the sentence. When a modifying word or phrase is not placed near what it is modifying, its meaning can be unclear. Consider the following example:
Sewing a new button on, his shirt looked like new.
Sewing on a new button is the modifying phrase, yet the dangling modifier makes it appear that the shirt sewed on the button. Since a person did the sewing, the modifying phrase should be followed by someone's name. Another way to correct the sentence would be to change the modifying phrase into a clause that includes a subject and verb.
Sewing a new button on, Lamar thought his shirt looked like new.
After Lamar sewed a new button on, his shirt looked like new.
An infinitive phrase—a set of words beginning with the word to—can also be a dangling modifier. Such phrases should modify the person or object performing the action, as follows:
To encourage employees to increase productivity, a reward program was implemented.
This modification error can be corrected by stating who implemented the program:
To encourage employees to increase productivity, the manager implemented a reward program.
Now it's your turn to practice. Rewrite the following sentence to correct the modification.
After searching the entire neighborhood, my dog was still missing.
As it is written, someone might think the dog searched the neighborhood, which is not the intended meaning of the sentence. Possible corrections could be:
After searching the entire neighborhood, I was upset that my dog was still missing.
After I searched the entire neighborhood, my dog was still missing.
Another problem with modification is a misplaced modifier. In this case, it is unclear what the modifier is intended to modify because the modifier is poorly placed in the sentence. This problem can be fixed by moving the modifier to another place in the sentence. Consider the following sentence:
Taking vitamin C tablets often can prevent catching a cold.
In this example, it is unclear whether the vitamin is taken often, or if taking the vitamin can often prevent catching the cold. Moving the modifier can clarify the meaning of the sentence:
Taking vitamin C tablets can often prevent catching a cold.
Now it's your turn to practice. Rewrite the following sentence to correct the modification.
The book was too difficult in the library.
Someone reading this sentence might think the book was too difficult while it was in the library, but it might not be so difficult somewhere else. That's not the case. One way to revise this sentence would be:
The book in the library was too difficult.
Often, sentences contain a list of words which are joined by a conjunction. Such lists of related ideas should be written using parallel structure and proper grammatical form. Parallelism makes the piece easier to read and improves the rhythm of the sentences. It also helps meanings to be expressed more clearly. Consider the following sentences:
We went to the mall, are buying a pair of shoes, and will look for a wallet.
We went to the mall, bought a pair of shoes, and looked for a wallet.
The verbs in the first sentences are in different tenses; went is past tense, are buying is present tense, and will look is future tense. The second sentence is in parallel structure because all of the verbs are in the same tense. Let's look at a few other examples:
Sierra likes to paint pictures that are bold, creative, and use a lot of colors.
Sierra likes to paint pictures that are bold, creative, and colorful.
The list in the first sentence includes two adjectives and one phrase, so the items are not in parallel form. The list in the second sentence, which includes only adjectives, shows parallelism.
Now it's your turn to practice. Use what you've learned about parallelism to answer the following question.
Which is the best revision of the following sentence?
Mrs. Perry gets vegetables at the produce market, the grocery store, and grows them in her garden.
- at the produce market, the grocery store, and grows them in her garden
- at the produce market, at the grocery store, and grows them in her garden
- in the produce market, in the grocery store, and grows them in her garden
- from the produce market, from the grocery store, and the garden
- at the produce market, in the grocery store, and from the garden
The original sentence does not show parallel structure because a preposition precedes the first item, but not the others. Also, the third item includes a verb, but the others do not. Choice e shows parallelism because each item in the list includes only a preposition and the noun.
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:
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