Sentence Structure: GED Test Prep

Updated on Jul 5, 2011

Sentence structure refers to the way we compose sentences: how we string subjects, verbs, objects, and modifiers together in clauses and phrases. Awkward or incorrect placement of phrases and clauses can result in sentences that are confusing or unclear, or say things that you don't mean. Sentence structure is also important to style. If sentence structure is too simple or repetitive, the writing becomes monotonous for the reader. (Sentence variety will be addressed in the review for Part II.)

Subjects, Predicates, and Objects

When we write, we express our ideas in sentences. But what is a sentence, anyway?

The sentence is our basic unit of written expression. It consists of two essential parts—a subject and apredicate—and it must express a complete thought. The subject of a sentence tells us who or what the sentence is about—who or what is performing the action of the sentence. The predicate tells us something about the subject—what the subject is or does. Thus, in the following sentence:

The phone is ringing.

The word phone is the subject. It tells us what the sentence is about—who or what performs the action of the sentence. The verb phrase is ringing is the predicate. It tells us the action performed by (or information about) the subject.

The subject of a sentence can be singular or compound (plural):

I slept all day. singular subject         Kendrick and I worked all night. compound subject (two subjects performing the action)
The predicate can also be singular or compound:
I bought a present. singular predicate         I bought a present and wrapped it beautifully. compound predicate (two actions performed by the subject)

In many sentences, someone or something "receives" the action expressed in the predicate. This person or thing is called the direct object. In the following sentences, the subject and predicate are separated by a slash (/) and the direct object is underlined:

I / bought a present. (The present receives the action of being bought.)
Jane / loves ice cream. (Ice cream receives the action of being loved by Jane.)

Sentences can also have an indirect object: a person or thing who "receives" the direct object. In the following sentences, the direct object is underlined and the indirect object is in bold:

I / gave Sunil a present. (Sunil receives the present; the present receives the action of being given.)
The reporter / asked the president a question.
(The president receives the question; the question receives the action of being asked.)

Independent and Dependent Clauses

A clause contains a subject and a predicate and may also have direct and indirect objects. An independent clause expresses a complete thought; it can stand on its own as a sentence. A dependent clause, on the other hand, cannot stand alone because it expresses an incomplete idea. When a dependent clause stands alone, the result is a sentence fragment.

Independent clause: She was excited.
Dependent clause: Because she was excited.

Notice that the dependent clause is incomplete; it needs an additional thought to make a complete sentence, such as:

She spoke very quickly because she was excited.

The independent clause, however, can stand alone. It is a complete thought.

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