Friday, March 02, 2012


One of the most prevalent problems I see among English speakers today is that far too many of them have trouble recognizing and writing complete sentences. Much of it comes from all they're surrounded by, of course, from poor role models in real life, poor speaking skills on the parts of news and weather people (who seem to be allergic to verbs!), and everything in between.

Come here, James. (<~~a complete sentence; a command)

When James came home. (<~~an incomplete sentence)

James came home last night. (<~~a complete sentence)

Students should be able to recognize these and others by the time they exit fourth grade, but far too many cannot. If they cannot recognize them in print or in their own handwriting, how will they ever learn to write in complete sentences? This is definitely something on which parents can work with their children. And here are some websites that can help:
·                     GrammarBytes
·                     Guide to Grammar and Writing

A sentence has five necessary elements: a subject, a main verb, a capital letter at the beginning, proper punctuation at the end - and it must make sense on its own. That is, it cannot depend on another phrase or clause to help it make sense.

Sentences can be classified in two different ways: by their structure and by their function. First, I'll focus on sentences as defined by their functions.

Most commonly used are declarative sentences, those sentences that make a statement of some kind:

·                     James hit the baseball hard.

Other sentences are interrogative sentences, those that ask questions:

·                     Did James hit the baseball as hard as he could?
·                     When will James be up to bat?

Still others are imperative sentences - commands:

·                     Hit it, James.
·                     Run faster.
·                     Sit down.

And finally there are exclamatory sentences:

·                     What a game!
·                     How fantastic was that home run!
·                     Wow!

Most of the time, we use declarative sentences, but clearly, we use the other three periodically, too. Once students learn to identify and understand declarative sentences, it's usually not difficult for them to recognize the other three types.

If parents want to help their children gain proficiency in this area, one thing they can do is go to English Zone and click on Grammar Blast - Grade 4. In this area there are various quizzes, at least three of which deal with children's ability to recognize complete sentences.

Another way to classify sentences is by their structure, rather than their function. In order to be able to identify sentences by structure, it's a good idea that students know the differences between clauses and phrases.

·                     Clause must have a subject and a verb; can be dependent (subordinate) or independent (main).
·                     Phrase – does not have a subject and verb (there may be a noun or pronoun, or there may be a verb form, but they do not function as normal subject-and-verb combinations do); is always dependent (cannot be a sentence by itself).

Structurally, sentences fall into four categories: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. It's simply a matter of which clauses are put together in what combinations.

·                     Simple sentence: one independent clause; can have as many or as few phrases as the writer likes, but there is only one clause.
·                     Compound sentence: two independent clauses, joined by a comma and one of the coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) or joined by a semicolon.
·                     Complex sentence: one independent clause and at least one dependent clause; dependent clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns, interrogative pronouns, and any other subordinating words.
·                     Compound-complex sentence: two independent clauses, joined correctly, and at least one dependent clause.
Here are some examples of these types of sentences:
1. Simple: Three cats live in my house.
2. Compound: Three cats live in my house, and I must now cover all upholstered furniture with sheets!
3. Complex: Three cats, which I love dearly, live in my house.
4. Compound-complex: After I adopted this lovely cat family, my house was again filled with joy, and my heart was, too.

Here is an entire webpage devoted to explaining clauses, and there is a quiz at the end if you want to test yourself! ~~>

Questions? Please post them in the comments or send me an email.

1 comment:

Marilynn said...

Here's an additional website for superb help with English -- grammar, diagramming, and/or writing: (Copy and paste that URL into your browser.)