Putting It All Together: Constructing Sentences

Congratulations. Now that you've examined words, phrases, and clauses, you can put 'em all together and — voilà! — make sentences. Or can you? The truth is, you need a few additional facts.

Grammarians get technical with sentences, just as they do with the parts that make up the sentences. Sentences are classified in both the way they're arranged (this is called sentence type) and in the way they function.

Surveying Sentence Types

You can determine the type of sentence by looking at what kind of clauses the sentence has and how many clauses the sentence has. Sentence types come in one of four categories: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.

A simple sentence has one independent clause and no subordinate clause:

The man on the dapple gray horse confidently rode into town.

This sentence has one subject (man) and one verb (rode).

A simple sentence may have compound subjects or verbs, but it has only one complete thought (one independent or main clause).

A compound sentence has at least two independent clauses (two main clauses) but no subordinate clause (no dependent clause):

The man on the dapple gray horse confidently rode into town, and the townspeople began to fear for their lives.

This sentence has two independent clauses joined by and.

Remember that independent clauses are joined by a comma plus one of the boysfan words (but, or, yet, so, for, and, or nor) or by a semicolon.

A complex sentence has one independent clause (main clause) and one or more subordinate clauses (dependent clauses):

Although he had been warned not to come, the man on the dapple gray horse confidently rode into town.

This sentence has one independent clause (the man on the dapple gray horse confidently rode into town) and one subordinate clause (although he had been warned not to come).

Using complex and compound-complex sentences helps to keep your writing from being monotonous. A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses (main clauses) and one or more subordinate clauses (dependent clauses):

Although he had been warned not to come, the man on the dapple gray horse confidently rode into town, and the townspeople feared for their lives.

This sentence has one subordinate clause (although he had been warned not to come) and two independent clauses (the man on the dapple gray horse confidently rode into town and the townspeople feared for their lives).

Fathoming Sentence Function

Sentences function in four different ways; they can be declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory.

A declarative sentence makes a statement:

Tomorrow we can talk about our weekend plans.

An interrogative sentence asks a question:

Do you think we can talk about our weekend plans tomorrow?

Sometimes you have a combination of sentence types.

I'll see you tomorrow, won't I?

The first part is a declarative sentence, and the second part is called a tag question.

An imperative sentence issues a command, makes a request, or gives instructions:

Come here so we can talk about our weekend plans.

An exclamatory sentence expresses strong emotion:

How I hope we can be together this weekend!

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