The sentence is the basic structure of a language. The minimum requirement for a sentence is a subject and a verb. However, note that a sentence must start with a capital letter, end with a full stop, exclamation mark, or question mark and importantly must express a complete idea. Therefore, there are FIVE points that must be satisfied before a sentence can truly be called a sentence. This will become clear as we work through the following examples and exercises:
• Initial Capital letter
• Full stop, exclamation mark, or question mark
• Express a complete idea
the yellow, broken down old car
Do you think this is a sentence? Let’s take a close look – Where is the noun – ah, yes the ‘car’ Where is the verb – mmm, can’t see one. Does it express a complete idea – NO! And what about punctuation – mmm ... no Capital letter or full stop. No, this is definitely not a sentence.
fell over himself with laughter -
Who fell over himself with laughter? We don’t know, do we? Again this cannot be a sentence.
The cat died. What about this one?
Yes, this is a complete sentence. It has a subject and a verb as well as an initial Capital letter and full stop, and it makes a complete idea.
And finally this one, what do you think? Well, it has got an initial capital letter, a full stop and a verb, but where is the subject and complete meaning? It all depends on why you are using the word ‘sit’. If you are giving an order or a command to someone, or even to your dog, then it is a complete sentence. The subject is not mentioned but it is understood, and because it is an order it has a complete meaning.
The ‘sentence fragment’
I guess we have all seen this from the grammar checker when we are writing on the computer. All this means is that we have written an incomplete idea but mistakenly used it as a sentence.
- Tom kicked
- Sheila eats
- He will write
None of the above is a complete sentence. Each one needs an ‘object’ to make a complete meaning and therefore a sentence. Who or what did Tom kick? Sheila eats what or when? He will write what or when?
When a clause has a subject, verb and a complete meaning it is said to be independent i.e. it is strong enough to stand on its own. Every sentence must have an independent clause. Each one of the following three sentences is now an independent clause.
- Tom kicked the policeman.
- Sheila eats muesli for breakfast.
- He will write when he gets the time.
A Dependent Clause
(Subordinate Clause) begins with a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun and will contain both a subject and a verb. However, it will not form a complete sentence, but instead It will make the reader want additional information to complete the meaning. (See a list of subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns at the end of this article). Let’s have a look at a couple of examples:
I went for a long walk
This is an independent clause because with a full stop it satisfies the five requirements of a sentence.
Now look ... After I went for a long walk.
Just by starting the clause with the subordinating conjunction ‘after’ it no longer has a complete meaning. What happened after i went for the walk? More information is needed.
If you want to be a good writer, make sure you understand, and can handle, sentences, phrases, independent clauses, dependent clauses and fragments.
A Run-on Sentence
A run on sentence is where two independent clauses are joined only by a comma. This is not accepted in good grammar because each sentence has its own meaning and therefore needs something stronger than a comma to emphasise the differences and therefore the reasons for joining them into one sentence. The remedies for this can be:
- to leave the two clauses as separate sentences, or
- use a comma with a coordinating conjunction, or
- to insert a semi-colon. Any of these three remedies are acceptable.
after, although, as, because, before, even, if, even, though, if, in, order, that, once, provided, that, rather, than, since, so, that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, whereas, wherever, whether, while, why
for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so
that, which, when, whoever, who, what, whom, whomever, whose, where, why
Vocabulary Test Phrase Definition
- minimum requirement
- a a clause that has a full meaning
- subject b a group of words in a sentence that has a subject and a verb
- verb c a word to join the independent clause to a dependent clause
- complete idea d a full stop
- fragment e the smallest amount to do the job properly
- clause f a group of words in a sentence that has a subject and a verb but doesn’t function as a sentence by itself.
- independent clause g a group of words starting with a Capital, has a subject, verb and full stop, and has a complete meaning.
- dependent clause h a word used to link more information to the subject
- sentence i the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something
- subordinate conjunction j a piece of no special shape
- relative pronoun k the word that says something about the action of the subject or its state of being
- period l a group of words in a sentence that has a subject and a verb and can function as a sentence.