Sentence Structure and Grammar Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 30, 2011

Sentence Structure and Grammar

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. - E. L. DOCTOROW (1931–  )AMERICAN NOVELIST

This lesson focuses on the various types of sentences and pays particular attention to common sentence errors such as sentence fragments and comma splices.

Now that you've completed a review of the big four (and most important) parts of speech, this lesson provides a quick review of how those parts of speech function in correct sentence structures.

Don't be put off by technical grammatical terms. Correct sentence structure is simply the term for the ways in which sentences are constructed in proper English. However, you need to remember that spoken English is often more informal than written English. Think of how many times you answer a question by saying, "Yeah, okay." Or you answer with an incomplete phrase like "Not me." Those are incomplete sentences that are acceptable in conversation, but that may not qualify as correct sentences in formal writing. So be aware that when you are writing, 99% of the time you must obey the formal rules of sentence structure.

Basically, sentences are made up of words put together to communicate ideas. Every grammatically correct sentence must have a subject (the noun doing the action) and a predicate (the verb describing the action). Once words are combined to communicate ideas, they are called clauses. And clauses can be either independent clauses, which are clauses that express a complete idea, or they can be dependent (or subordinate) clauses, which are clauses that do not express a complete idea but that contribute to (or modify) the independent clause in a sentence. Once you understand these basic definitions, you should have no problem constructing sentences that convey your ideas grammatically.

Three Kinds of Sentences

There are three kinds of sentences: simple, compound, and complex. Look at the following samples to see how the three types of sentences differ from each other.

  1. Simple sentence: Fido loves to greet visitors. Simple sentences contain one independent clause that expresses a complete thought.
  2. Compound sentence: Fido loves to greet visitors, and he often slobbers all over them. Compound sentences contain two (or more) independent clauses and no dependent clauses.
  3. Complex sentence: Because Fido is such a happy dog, many neighbors don't mind his slobbering. Complex sentences contain one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

Compound-complex sentences are also possible. They combine the two categories, and can contain two or more independent clauses as well as one or more dependent clause. Here is an example of a compound-complex sentence:

Because Fido is such a happy dog, he often slobbers on visitors, and he frequently jumps up frantically to kiss them as well.


Here are a few simple sentence structure rules:

  • Simple sentences are not necessarily short, but they must contain only one independent clause.
  • In compound sentences, the two (or more) independent clauses must be related in thought.
  • In complex sentences, the dependent clause clarifies the relationship between ideas. Often, these dependent clauses start with words like because, when, who, or where.
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