Skip to content

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:



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   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 English 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. runon sentence

e  The television set is quite prominent in some homes, most people have more than one televsion 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. runon 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.
amazing resource internet an is the information

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


of censorship lack relates one concern a to
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

put the information internet can on anyone
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

this different or from radio it makes television
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

internet of further issue misuse to the relates a the
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

dog girl her the walking is wearing a red scarf
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Common sentence problems

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

Youtube Playlist: Watch the clips at the end of this segment for a refreshing review of sentence problems. If you can view the youtubes, it may be because you do not have a suitable flash player or browser that supports youtube html5 videos. Try copying the link and find the video directly on Youtube.

 

The following errors are caused by incorrect or missing punctuation:

  The YOUTUBE clips on these two errors highlight only two ways of correcting them.

Practice

Identifying sentence error

Management gurus

Source: Evans, D. (2000). Management Gurus. (Penguin Readers, level 4). Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited. (modified)

 

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 underlined 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:

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English sentences: simple, compound, complex

View this presentation about three main types of English sentences. Use the navigation panel on the bottom right to stop, pause or advance each slide if you wish. 

 

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.


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.

Click here for a 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 sentence

 The bus drivers went on strike last week, so many commuters had to use alternative means of transport. OR

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

Complex sentence (adverb clauses)

 Because the bus drivers went on strike last week, many commuters had to use alternative means of transport. OR

 Many commuters had to use alternative means of transport, because the bus drivers went on strike last week.OR

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.

[Show answer]

1   Compound:

The new Prime Minister is developing his own style of leadership, and his first 100 days has been hailed a success. OR Not only is the new Prime Minister developing his own style of leadership, but his first 100 days has been hailed a success.

     Complex:   

The new Prime Minister, whose 100 days has been hailed a success, is developing his own style of leadership. (adjective clause)

2   Compound:

Native and non-native English speakers have different needs, so most schools provide separate English classes for each group. OR Native and non-native English speakers have different needs; as a result, most schools provide separate English classes for each group.

    Complex:   

Native and non-native English speakers have different needs, which are met by the school's provision of separate English classes for each group.              

Compound:

Solar heating systems are economical to operate, but the cost of installation is very high.

    Complex:   

Although the cost of installation is very high, solar heating systems are economical to operrate.

Compound:

Children grow older and they become increasingly involved with their peer group; moreover, the members of the peer group are about the same age and they have similar interests. (over-coordination)

     Complex:  

As children grow older, they become increasingly involved with their peer group, whose members are about the same age and have similar interests. 

5   Compound: Children reach the final year of school and they tend to adopt adult values; these values define who they are.

     Complex:    When children reach the final year of school, they tend to adopt adult values, which 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.

a  Robert hired a tutor and the reason for this was that he might have a better chance of passing the examination.

b  The weather is fine and we will go to the beach.

c  We waited at the airport for over an hour but the helicopter never arrived.

d   There was a report in the newspaper yesterday but the newspaper report was incorrect.

e  Dr Robert Li has written many articles on the differences in regional dialects and he is Professor of Linguisitics at the National University of Singapore.

f  Waitangi Day falls on a weekday this year, so Monday will be a public holiday.

g  The President's scholarship was awarded to someone else and John had applied for the President's scholarlship.

h  He was given extra coaching but he still failed to make the grade. 

i  The President and his wife were enjoying their visit to New Zealand, and they told the press this.

j  English spelling is not always consistent with its pronunciation, and many foreigners have difficulty with it.

j  Global warming is a serious problem and all the prime ministers at the summit agree with that.

k Environmental science is one of the most popular courses in the university, and Dr Hillman teaches environmental science. 

[Show answer]

Suggested answers

a  Robert hired a tutor because he thought /so that he might have a better chance of passing the examination. (adverb clause)

If /Provided that the weather is fine, we will go to the beach.(adverb clause)

Although we waited at the airport for over an hour, the helicopter never arrived.

What was reported in the newspaper yesterday was incorrect. (noun clause) 

e  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)

Since Waitangi Day falls on a weekday this year, Monday will be a public holiday. (adverb clause)

g  The President's scholarship, which John had applied for, was awarded to someone else. (adjective/relative clause)

Althoughhe was given/Despite extra coaching, he still failed to make the grade.(adverb clause)

i  The President and his wife told the press that they were enjoying their visit to New Zealand. (noun clause)

j  Many foreigners have difficulty with English spelling, which is not always consistent with its pronunciation. (adjective/relative clause)

j  All the prime ministers at the summit agree that global warming is a serious problem. (noun clause) .

k 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.

 

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

[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 rulesof use)

Combine each set of simple sentences in two ways:a) with relative pronoun 'who/which'  and 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 particple: A ton of gutted fish landed by a UK trawler costs a ton of oil.

Now you try:

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 goverment.

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 particple:

[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 nutritious is soybeans.

b) reduced with -ing particple: One crop fetching a good market price and is very nutritious is soybeans.


Paragraph tasks

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

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 language 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.

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.

 

[Show answer]

Suggested answer:

1  Some people argue that learning a new language is best achieved by living in a foreign country. Brief visits made by a tourist provide few opportunities to learn, as the visitor can only master purely superficial phrases, such as "How are you?" or "Where's the bank?". Establishing residence for at least six months will enable the visitor to learn the simple vocabulary needed for doing many day-to-day living routines like mailing a letter or getting some plumbing repaired. To survive in a foreign country, learning such simple vocabulary and facing the language head-on are essential, instead of being satisfied with flowery tourist formalities. Also, a lot of language can be learnt from just living amongst the local people, when out shopping or on the bus travelling to work. Going to plays, flims, and public lectures, which are available in most foreign cities, is another way to hear the language spoken in the local idiom. Such events make it possible to learn to read, speak, think and even dream in a foreign language.

(Some simple sentences have been combined to form complex sentences. There is also more variety of sentence starters.)

 

2  In the past, women have been denied the right to vote, to go to school, to borrow money, and even to enter certain occupations. However, women have fought for their rights over the years, and 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 that is based on sexism.

(3 compound sentences, 1 simple sentence, and 1 complex sentence)


Correct any errors of sentence fragments, comma splices, omissions (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 Meteorologcal 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 sciencebases 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 politicans have a hand in the compilation of the Summaries for Policymakers. 

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

[Show answer]

Corrected Text

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) it (redundant reference) was established in 1988 by the World Meteorologcal Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme. It was (fragment: missing subject and verb) charged with assessing the state of the science on the question of climate change. (comma splice) It is also repsonsible for compiling inventories of the greenhouse emissions of nations, and for publishing the findings of its assessments.

The IPCC it (redundant reference) comprises the plenary panel, which meets annually, and three working groups, which are responsible for assessing three critical issues. the physical sciencebases of climate change, the particular risks facing human and natural systems, and the possible responses to limit greenhouse gas emissions.(comma splice)  There is also a secretariat and a bureau, which (missing 'which' in relative clause) is responsible for the administration of all this work.

IPPC meetings they (redundant reference) bring together scientists and political representatives from all WMO member countries.  It is preferred that the political representatives have some relevant expertise. (comma splice) The Assessment Reports are assembled by scientists, whereas the politicans have a hand in the compilation of the Summaries for Policymakers.(fragment)


Paragraph Writing

Listen to a lecture about "Computer Security" (07.48 minutes) on the reasons and causes of computer crime.

As you listen, write notes in the space provided on these points: a) Reasons for computer crime; b) Effects of computer crime on companies and/or governments and individuals; and c) Your suggestions of possible solutions.

Use your notes to write a formal paragraph summary on this topic.  Remember to use a variety of simple, compound and complex sentences. Use appropriate coordinators or subordinators to join your sentences.

Read-write challenge tasks

If you are a Stage 1 Nursing or Pharmacy student and are required to complete an English language enrichment programme for Nursing or Pharmacy 199, please do one of the following Challenge tasks for Part 2 of the programme. You will need to take a hard copy of this work (typed or hand-written in clear, legible print) to the consultation session at ELE on campus.

 Write your responses to all questions in complete sentences. Give as complete an answer as possible. Check your writing for grammatical accuracy, sentence structure, word choicespelling, and punctuation.

Use your own words as far as possible. You may use some of the technical terms but do not copy whole sentences from the text.

Use an appropriate academic writing style. Click here for an explanation.

 

 Paragraph writing (for the last question): Follow a TEE model to construct your paragraph.

Begin with a clear topic sentence [T]. Then expand the topic with 5 support details [E = examples, evidence, explanation], and conclude with a final sentence or comment related to the topic [E].


Survey the questions first before you click on the highlighted title.

Reading selection 1: Deep brain stimulation

1  What is the aim of the research?

2  In your words, explain the meaning of 'cognitive decline'.

3  How does 'deep brain stimulation ' work?

4  How significant is the research?

5  Write a short paragraph to summarise the main findings of the research. Use  the TEE model. Begin with a clear topic sentence, expand it with about five support details, and finish the paragraph with a concluding statement or comment.

 

 Reading selection 2: Electronic 'tattoos'  

1  What is the aim of the research?

2  What is the problem with conventional technology for medical monitoring?

3  Describe at least TWO advantages of the electronic 'tattoos'.

4  According to the article, what kinds of tracking can be done? Give at least TWO, with a brief explanation of each.

5   In your view, what are some potential challenges, problems or risks with the use of this technology? Use your own knowledge about the use of technology in general. Use  the TEE model. Begin with a clear topic sentence, expand it with about five support details, and finish the paragraph with a concluding statement or comment.

 

 Reading selection 3: Social networks and drug use

1  What was the aim of Menick's study at the University of California in the early 90s?

2  Write a brief definition of the term ' shared environmental factor'.

3  Write a paragraph (6-8 sentences) summarising the main findings of the study. Use  the TEE model. Begin with a clear topic sentence, expand it with about 5 support details, and finish the paragraph with a concluding statement or comment.

4  Write two short paragraphs. Use  the TEE model for each paragraph. In the first paragraph (about 4-6 sentences), write about the potential risks associated with drug use among teenagers. In the second paragraph (about 4-6 sentences), suggest at least two solutions to reduce drug use among teenagers. Use your own knowledge (from your studies in Nursing or Pharmacy) about the effects of drugs in general, but focus on the effect on teenagers in particular. 

Edit page