Sentence Structure: GED Test Prep (page 2)
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.
What makes a dependent clause dependent is a subordinating conjunction such as the word because. Subordinating conjunctions connect clauses and help show the relationship between those clauses. Here is a list of the most common subordinating conjunctions:
When a clause begins with a subordinating conjunction, it is dependent. It must be connected to an independent clause to become a complete thought:
I never knew true happiness independent clause until I met you. dependent clause
After Johnson quit, dependent clause I had to work overtime. independent clause
A sentence with both a dependent clause (DC) and independent clause (IC) is called a complex sentence. Both of the previous sentences are complex sentences.
A very common grammar mistake is to think that words such as however and therefore are subordinating conjunctions. However and therefore belong to a group of words called conjunctive adverbs. These words also signal relationships between parts of a sentence. When they are used with a semicolon, they can combine independent clauses.
Here are some examples:
I didn't go to the party; instead, I stayed home and watched a good film.
Samantha is a fabulous cook; indeed, she may even be better than Jacque.
I need to pay this bill immediately. Otherwise, my phone service will be cut off.
Compound Sentences and Coordinating Conjunctions
When two independent clauses are combined, the result is a compound sentence like the following: He was late, so he lost the account.
The most common way to join two independent clauses is with a comma and a coordinating conjunction: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet. Independent clauses can also be joined with a semicolon if the ideas in the sentences are closely related.
- I am tall, and he is short.
- [IC, coordinating conjunction + IC]
- I am tall; he is short.
- [IC; IC]
- I was late, yet I still got the account.
- [IC, coordinating conjunction + IC]
Expressing complete ideas and clearly indicating where sentences begin and end are essential to effective writing. Two of the most common grammatical errors with sentence boundaries are fragments and run-ons.
Incomplete Sentences (Fragments)
As we stated earlier, a complete sentence must (1) have both a subject (who or what performs the action) and a verb (a state of being or an action), and (2) express a complete thought. If you don't complete a thought, or if you are missing a subject or verb (or both), then you have an incomplete sentence (also called a sentence fragment). To correct a fragment, add the missing subject or verb or otherwise change the sentence to complete the thought.
Incomplete: Which is simply not true. [No subject. (Which is not a subject.)]
Complete: That is simply not true.
Incomplete: For example, the French Revolution. [No verb.]
Complete: The best example is the French Revolution.
Incomplete: Even though the polar icecaps are melting. [Subject and verb, but not a complete thought.]
Complete: Some people still don't believe in global warming even though the polar icecaps are melting.
A run-on sentence occurs when one sentence "runs" right into the next without proper punctuation between them. Usually, there's either no punctuation at all or just a comma between the two thoughts. But commas alone are not strong enough to separate two complete ideas. Here are some examples of run-ons:
Let's go it's getting late.
Whether or not you believe me it's true, I didn't lie to you.
There are five ways to correct run-on sentences:
- With a period
- With a comma and a coordinating conjunction: and, or, nor, for, so, but, yet
- With a semicolon
- With a dash
- With a subordinating conjunction to create a dependent clause: although, because, during, while, etc.
Here's a run-on sentence corrected with each of these techniques: