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Sentence Structure


Why study sentence structure?

A system of rules govern the way English sentences are constructed. Understanding how the different clause elements work to form a variety of sentence structures will give you more control over your writing.

A formal grammatical sentence has the following basic clause elements in a standard word order: 

Subject

Verb

Object

Complement

Adverbial
(identifies topic/theme)                       (expresses action/sensation/state of being)(identifies who/what is affected by the verb) (gives information about the subject/object/verb)(adds information about the event/situation: how, where, when)
Stephen Hawkingis the authorof A brief History of Time.
The bookwas published  in 1988.
What Hawking wrotewas revolutionary. 
A Brief History of timewas organised  in a linear fashion.
The bookbecamea multi-million bestseller.  
The bookmadeHawkingfamous. 
Hawking said that he was surprised by the book's success. 

 

In this unit, we will explore

  • the pattern of words that are put together to construct grammatical sentences
  • some common sentence problems
  • a range of sentences to increase variety and achieve a more mature and sophisticated academic writing style

Test yourself

 

Quiz 1 Can you identify grammatically correct sentences?

Write 'correct' or 'incorrect' in the blank space after each sentence:

Television and Children

a.  Over the past thirty years or so, the influence of television has been increasing. correct

b.  In the United States, 99 percent of all homes have a television set turned on. correct

c.  For example, the number of homes who have a television set turned on. sentence fragment

d.  The television set is quite prominent in some homes most people have more than one television set. run-on sentence

e.  The television set is quite prominent in some homes, most people have more than one television set. comma splice

f.  That two-thirds of children 8 years or older have a TV set in their bedroom. sentence fragment

g.   Although there are some obvious benefits to watching television. sentence fragment

h.  For example, many crime dramas and children's cartoons contain violence. correct

i.  The type of television programme which contains the most violent acts. sentence fragment

j.   The type of television programme which contains the most violent acts is television drama. correct

k.  So the crime rate in the city has risen significantly. sentence fragment

l.  The crime rate has risen significantly in the last three years thus the government has to act by imposing harsher laws. run-on sentence

m.  For example, crime dramas and children's cartoons. sentence fragment

n.   Television can be an instrument of teaching and learning, its use of multi-media technology opens up many possibilities. comma splice

  How did you do? Go to the first 'Review' tab and learn about these common sentence errors:  sentence fragments, run-ons and comma splices. Then try this quiz again.

Quiz 2 Reconstruct the sentences below by dragging each word in the correct order and placing it on the lined spaces.
is amazing internet resource information the an

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


concern one relates a censorship lack to of
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

can the anyone put internet information on
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

different or from radio television it this makes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

a of internet the relates misuse to the further issue
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

dog her the girl wearing a red scarf walking is
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Common sentence problems

Why do some sentences fail to communicate? Here are some examples of sentence failure.

Watch the clips below for a refreshing review of sentence problems and how to correct them.

Common sentence problems


Common sentence problems   [open in new window|view inline]


Incorrect or missing punctuation   [open in new window|view inline]

Practice

Identifying sentence error

Management gurus

Modified from: Evans, D. (2000). Management Gurus. (Penguin Readers, level 4). Essex, UK: Pearson Education Limited. 

1. 'Guru' an Indian word for a religious teacher.

2. A guru is a person who thinks deeply about life, in India, gurus are admired and loved by society.

3. Because they are wise and full of ideas.

4. In the USA and Europe, the word has a slightly different meaning it is a word that often describes people who write and talk about business and management.

5. In recent years, the ideas of management gurus, they have had a big effect not just on business, but also on politics, schools, hospitals and everyday life styles.

6. Management gurus are interested in knowing how to make more profit and understand why people do not work harder.

7. Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management, was an excellent student and a fine sportsman at school, who loved tennis.

Placing Relative Clauses Correctly

Relative clauses (which-clauses) are commonly used to form complex sentences. One of the problems with relative clauses is incorrect placement of the relative clause:

A permanent magnet and an electromagnet cause the receiver to vibrate, which are located at the edge of the diaphragm.

A permanent magnet and an electromagnet, which are located at the edge of the diaphragm, cause the receiver to vibrate.

 

Now you try. Rewrite these sentences by positioning the bolded relative clauses correctly. 

1. The final design is a vehicle with the dimensions 300 mm by 350 mm by 300 mm, which is chosen to complete the challenge.

2. The basic building materials would be plastics and metals, which are used for the construction of the device.

3. The robotic device must be able to travel across the pond to pick up the packages, which is 2 metres wide.

4. The new factory to be built is still not large enough, which is an improvement on the old one.

5. The fire spread rapidly through the interior of the aeroplane, which started in the cargo cabin.

6. The experiments proved the scientists' hypothesis, which were repeated many times.

7. The minister apologised to the Prime Minister who used taxpayers' money for private expenses.


      

[Show answer]

Answers: Note that the relative (which) clauses are enclosed within commas.

1) The final design, which is chosen to complete the challenge, is a vehicle with the dimensions 300 mm by 350 mm by 300 mm.

2) The basic building materials, which are used for the construction of the device, would be plastics and metals.

3) The robotic device, which is 2 metres wide, must be able to travel across the pond to pick up the packages. 

4) The new factory, which is an improvement on the old one, to be built is still not large enough. 

5) The fire spread, which started in the cargo cabin, rapidly through the interior of the aeroplane.

6) The experiments, which were repeated many times, proved the scientists' hypothesis.

7) The minister, who used taxpayers' money for private expenses, apologised to the Prime Minister.


Sentence variety

At university, you are expected to demonstrate that you can use a wide range of sentences skillfully to express different ideas and relationships between these ideas. If you tend to start a sentence or combine sentences in a certain way, you may find this unit on sentence types useful for increasing your sentence range. It is not about writing long sentences. It is about building ideas meaningfully and logically. Study these two versions of a text and decide which communicates more effectively: 

Version 1Version 2

Reducing harm to young people from drug use is a collective responsibility. Young people share this responsibility with schools, parents and families. The wider community is also involved. They contribute in an important way. Young people can develop into confident members of society. They also become secure in their identities and a sense of belonging. 

Reducing harm to young people from drug use is a collective responsibility, which is shared with parents, families, schools and the wider community. Through their involvement, young people can develop into confident members of society, and become secure in their identities and sense of belonging. 

  • Choppy style
  • Mainly simple sentences
  • More fluid style
  • Sentences combined in a meaningful way

English sentences: simple, compound, complex

View this presentation about three main types of English sentences. 

The following chart of logical organisers or transition words can be used to create compound and also complex sentences. Used appropriately and correctly, these linking devices can also improve cohesion between sentences and comprehensibility in extended writing.

Click here to view a Summary Chart of Coordinators and Subordinators.

 

Summary Chart of Coordinators and Subordinators

 

Logical relationships

Compound sentences use

Complex sentences use

Simple conjunctions

Transition words

Subordinating conjunctions

Addition

and

additionally

also

another

furthermore

in addition

moreover

 

Alternative

nor

or

alternatively

instead

otherwise

either…or…

neither…nor…

 

Clarification/rephrasing

 

especially

in essence

in other words

including

namely

that is

to clarify

 

Comparison (showing similarities)

and

both

likewise

similarly

just as

Contrast (showing differences)

but

by comparison

by contrast

conversely

however

in comparison

in contrast

on the contrary

on the other hand

whereas

while

Concession

yet

however

nevertheless

nonetheless

although

despite the fact that

even though

in spite of the fact that

(NB: despite and in spite are followed by a noun phrase, not a clause)

Condition

  

if

in case

provided (that)

unless

when

Cause/reason

so/for

as a consequence

as a result

consequently

hence

therefore

thus

if

when

Emphasis

 

as a matter of fact

in fact

indeed

more importantly

 

Example

 

for example

for instance

to illustrate

 

Summary/conclusion

 

finally

in conclusion

in short

in summary

overall

to conclude

to sum up

 

Time/sequence/listing

 

above all

first

importantly

first and foremost

first and most

the first….the next

then

after

before

since

when

while

 

 


Special note about using relative clauses to form complex sentences.

Relative clauses are introduced by these relative pronouns: who, which, that, whom, whose. They are commonly used in academic writing.

Summary of relative clauses and rules of use

Practice

Combine each set of simple sentences into a compound sentence and a complex sentence (containing either an adverb clause, adjective clause, or a noun clause).

ExampleThe bus drivers went on strike last week. Many commuters had to use alternative means of transport.

Compound sentenceThe bus drivers went on strike last week, so many commuters had to use alternative means of transport.
 The bus drivers went on strike last week; therefore, many commuters had to use alternative means of transport. (note the punctuation)

Complex sentence: Because the bus drivers went on strike last week, many commuters had to use alternative means of transport.
(adverb clauses) Many commuters had to use alternative means of transport, because the bus drivers went on strike last week.
 When the bus drivers went on strike last week, many commuters had to use alternative means of transport.
  

 Now you try. Remember that you may have to remove unnecessary repetition.

  1. The new Prime Minister is developing his own style of leadership. His first 100 days was hailed a success.

  2. Native and non-native English speakers have different needs. Most schools provide separate English classes for each group.

  3. Solar heating systems are economical to operate. The cost of installation is very high.

  4. Children grow older. They become increasingly involved with their peer group. The members of the peer group are about the same age. They have similar interests.

  5. Children reach the final year of school. They tend to adopt adult values. The adult values define who they are.

      

Change these compound sentences (mainly and/but/so combinations) into complex sentences. Introduce variety by using different types of clauses: adverb, adjective (which/who/whose-clauses) or noun clauses.

Example: There was absolute silence and the pianist started to play.
Better: The pianist did not start to play until there was absolute silence.(adverb clause)

Now you try:

  1. Robert hired a tutor and the reason for this was that he might have a better chance of passing the examination.
  2. The weather is fine and we will go to the beach.
  3. We waited at the airport for over an hour but the helicopter never arrived.
  4. There was a report in the newspaper yesterday but the newspaper report was incorrect.
  5. Dr Robert Li has written many articles on the differences in regional dialects and he is Professor of Linguistics at the National University of Singapore.
  6. Waitangi Day falls on a weekday this year, so Monday will be a public holiday.
  7. The President's scholarship was awarded to someone else and John had applied for the President's scholarship.
  8. He was given extra coaching but he still failed to make the grade. 
  9. The President and his wife were enjoying their visit to New Zealand, and they told the press this.
  10. English spelling is not always consistent with its pronunciation, and many foreigners have difficulty with it.
  11. Global warming is a serious problem and all the prime ministers at the summit agree with that.
  12. Environmental science is one of the most popular courses in the university, and Dr Hillman teaches environmental science. 

      

[Show answer]

Suggested answers

  1. Robert hired a tutor because he thought /so that he might have a better chance of passing the examination. (adverb clause)
  2. If /Provided that the weather is fine, we will go to the beach.(adverb clause)
  3. Although we waited at the airport for over an hour, the helicopter never arrived.
  4. What was reported in the newspaper yesterday was incorrect. (noun clause) 
  5. Dr Robert Li, who is Professor of Linguisitics at the National University of Singapore, has written many articles on the differences in regional dialects. (adjective/relative clause)
  6. Since Waitangi Day falls on a weekday this year, Monday will be a public holiday. (adverb clause)
  7. The President's scholarship, which John had applied for, was awarded to someone else. (adjective/relative clause)
  8. Although he was given/Despite extra coaching, he still failed to make the grade.(adverb clause)
  9. The President and his wife told the press that they were enjoying their visit to New Zealand. (noun clause)
  10. Many foreigners have difficulty with English spelling, which is not always consistent with its pronunciation. (adjective/relative clause)
  11. All the prime ministers at the summit agree that global warming is a serious problem. (noun clause) .
  12. Environmental science, which Dr Hillman teaches, is one of the most popular courses in the university, (adjective/relative clause)

 


The following text has a choppy writing style, consisting mainly of simple sentences. Improve the sentence range by combining some sentences to make compound or complex sentences.

 The Telephone

[1] A telephone is an instrument. [2] It enables people to talk to each other over long distances. [3] It has two parts: (a) the transmitter and (b) the receiver. [4] The transmitter functions as an 'electric ear'. [5] The transmitter lies behind the mouthpiece of the telephone. [6] The transmitter incorporates a diaphragm. [7] The diaphragm acts like the eardrum in the human ear. [8] Behind the diaphragm are tiny grains of carbon. [9] The grains respond to pressure from the vibration of the diaphragm. [10] To respond to the pressure, the grains regulate the amount of electric current flowing through them.

Modified from: Williams, R. (1978). Spotlight: Technical English for Asia. Hongkong: Longman. 


      

[Show answer]

Suggested answer:

A telephone is an instrument that enables people to talk to each other over long distances. [complex]  It has two parts: (a) the transmitter and (b) the receiver.[simple] The transmitter functions as an 'electric ear' and lies behind the mouthpiece of the telephone. [compound] It incorporates a diaphragm, which acts like the eardrum in the human ear.[complex]  Behind the diaphragm are tiny grains of carbon which respond to pressure from the vibration of the diaphragm by regulating the amount of electric current flowing through them.[complex]

 


Combine sentences with relative clauses (Review the resource on relative clauses and rules of use)

Combine each set of simple sentences in two ways:
a. with relative pronoun 'who/which'
b. reduced relative clause with -ing or -ed participle.

Example 1:Car owners live in the same area. They should be encouraged to form car pools.
a. with relative pronoun: Car owners who live in the same area should be encouraged to form car pools.
b. reduced with -ing participle: Car owners living in the same area should be encouraged to form car pools.

Example 2:

A ton of gutted fish is landed by a UK trawler. It costs a ton of oil.
a. with relative pronoun: A ton of gutted fish which is landed by a UK trawler costs a ton of oil
b. reduced with -ed participle: A ton of gutted fish landed by a UK trawler costs a ton of oil.

Now you try:
(Check your answers below)


1. Vehicles have been abandoned. They will be towed away by the police.

a. with relative pronoun:


b. reduced with -ed participle:


2. Families already own property. They are not eligible to purchase flats.

a. with relative pronoun:


b. reduced with -ing participle:


3. They are not eligible to purchase flats. These flats have been subsidized by the government.

a. with relative pronoun:


b. reduced with =ed participle:


4. One crop fetches a good market price and is very nutritious. The crop is soybeans.

a. with relative pronoun:


b. reduced with -ing participle:


      

[Show answer]

1.  Vehicles have been abandoned. They will be towed away by the police.

a. with relative pronoun: Vehicles which have been abandoned will be towed away by the police.
b. reduced with -ed participle:Abandoned vehicles have been abandoned will be towed away by the police.

2.  Families already own property. They are not eligible to purchase flats.

a. with relative pronoun:Families which already own property are not eligible to purchase flats.
b. reduced with -ing participle:Families already owning property are not eligible to purchase flats.

3.  They are not eligible to purchase flats. These flats have been subsidized by the goverment.

a. with relative pronoun:They are not eligible to purchase flats which have been subsidized by the goverment.
b. reduced with =ed participle: They are not eligible to purchase flats subsidized by the goverment.

4. One crop fetches a good market price and is very nutritious. The crop is soybeans.

a.  with relative pronoun:One crop which fetches a good market price and is very nutritiousis soybeans.
b. reduced with -ing particple:One crop fetching a good market price and is very nutritious is soybeans.

Challenge tasks

Improve the sentence range of these paragraphs by combining some sentences.

1. Inequality at work

In the past, women have been denied the right to vote. They have been denied the right to go to school. They have been denied the right to borrow money. They have even been denied the right to enter certain occupations.   However, women have fought for their rights over the years. Now gender equality is protected by a number of laws and rulings in many countries of the world. Nevertheless, inequalities still remain. Underlying these inequalities is prejudice against women. This prejudice is based on sexism.

 


      

2. Learning a new language

Some people argue that learning a new language is best achieved by living in a foreign country. One should establish residence for at least six months. A tourist only makes brief visits. These brief visits provide few opportunities to learn. One can only master purely superficial phrases. Examples are "How are you?" or "Where's the bank?".  Many day-to-day living routines require the learning of some simple words. For example, one needs words to mail a letter. One may also need to know how to get some plumbing repaired. These simple words are essential for survival in a new country. This survival instinct forces one to face the language head-on. One should not just be satisfied with flowery tourist formalities. A lot of languages can be learnt from just living amongst the local people.  This can happen when out shopping or on the bus travelling to work. One can go to plays, films, and public lectures. These events are available in most foreign cities. They provide opportunities to hear a language spoken in the local idiom. It is possible to learn to read in a foreign language. It is possible to learn to speak. It is possible to learn to think. It is even possible to dream in a foreign language.


      

Correct any errors of sentence fragmentscomma splicesomissions (e.g. 'which' in relative clauses and redundant references.

Climate Change: A Global Response

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) it was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme. Charged with assessing the state of the science on the question of climate change, it is also responsible for compiling inventories of the greenhouse emissions of nations, and for publishing the findings of its assessments.

The IPCC it comprises the plenary panel, which meets annually, and three working groups, which are responsible for assessing three critical issues. The physical science bases of climate change, the particular risks facing human and natural systems, and the possible responses to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  There is also a secretariat and a bureau, is responsible for the administration of all this work.

IPPC meetings they bring together scientists and political representatives from all WMO member countries, it is preferred that the political representatives have some relevant expertise.  The Assessment Reports are assembled by scientists. Whereas the politicians have a hand in the compilation of the Summaries for Policymakers. 

Modified from: Morgan, G., &  McCrystal, J. (2009). Poles Apart: Beyond the shouting, who's right about climate change?  Auckland, NZ: Random House. 


      

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