Sentence Structure: Grammar Review Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Sentence Structure: Grammar Review Practice Exercises.

As a student, and even later in life as an adult, you need to know how to write coherent (sensible) sentences and paragraphs. And being able to do so well is especially desirable, particularly if you aim to excel in your education and achieve your career goals. What, you may ask, does writing well have to do with my potential level of success? A lot, if you think about it. Take school, for example. What good teacher lets you write your essays in any way you want, using slang, poor grammar, or misspellings? If your grade on a test or an essay is based on your teacher being able to understand your message, then it would be in your best interest to write well, wouldn't you agree? Now, that same teacher has to read not only your essay, but the essays of all the other students—probably numbering anywhere from 20 to more than 100, depending on the grade level. When your essay is well written, it stands out to your teacher, like a breath of cool, fresh air. If you think that this is not important, think again! It can mean the difference between receiving an okay grade and a terrific grade! Which would you like to have?

Now let's see how you can apply what you've learned to make some awesome sentences and paragraphs! First, let's look at some basic sentence structure.

Basic Sentence Structure

Every sentence must have a subject and a verb called a predicate. The subject of a sentence is who or what the sentence is about. For instance:

    Isaac went to baseball practice.

In this sentence, the proper noun Isaac is who the sentence is about, so it is the subject. A subject can also be a common noun.

    The ice cream cone melted.

Or it can be a pronoun.

    He was tired after his long day at school.

The predicate, or verb, moves the sentence along and tells you what the subject is doing or what condition the subject is in. For instance:

    Isaac went to baseball practice.

You know what Isaac did—he went.

    The ice cream cone melted.

You know what happened to the ice cream cone—it melted.

Sometimes, sentences have more than one subject, known as a compound subject, or more than one verb, known as a compound verb. For instance:

    Halley and Jon are starring in this year's school play.

The compound subject is Halley and Jon.

    Snickers, my cat, climbed the fence and walked along the top of it.

The compound verbs are climbed and walked.

    Jan and Martin played cards and ate pizza last night.

This sentence has a compound subject—Jan and Martin—and two compound verbs—played and ate.

Fuel For Thought

In more complex sentences, finding the subject can be tricky. An easy way to find it is to ask yourself who or what performed the action of the verb. The subject(s) will answer that.

    Many people, if given the chance to do so, would jump at the opportunity to travel abroad.

The verb in this sentence is jump. Ask yourself, Who or what would jump? The answer, people, is the subject.

Sometimes, sentences have a subject that is not written. Look at this example.

    Wash the dishes before watching television.

When you have a sentence that is telling you to do something (an imperative), the subject is implied or understood to be you. So, the sentence really means (You) wash the dishes before watching television. To make this even more confusing, even if someone's name is mentioned in the imperative sentence, the subject is still you.

    Kelly, wash the dishes before watching television.

This really means:

    Kelly, (you) wash the dishes before watching television.

The subject, again, is you.

Fuel For Thought

Finding a subject in a question can be tricky, too, because the subject often follows the verb in this sentence form. The easiest way to find the subject is to turn the question into a statement, which brings the subject before the verb. Here's an example.

    What time does Nicholas go to swim practice on Thursdays?

Now, change the question into a statement and identify the verb.

    Nicholas goes to swim practice on Thursdays at _____.

Ask yourself, Who goes? Nicholas is the subject.

Last, another tricky situation is finding subjects in sentences that start with the words here and there. Let's look at this sentence:

    There are no monsters in your closet or under your bed.

The verb is are, but if you try to ask yourself, Who or what . . . are?, it appears as though there is the answer (there are). This is incorrect, though, because here and there are adverbs, not nouns. So, you have to rearrange the sentence to move or eliminate the word there.

    No monsters are in your closet or under your bed.

Now, you can easily tell that the subject is monsters.

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