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Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLaSS): Grammar Toolkit/Sentence structure

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Sentence Basics 1

Is this a sentence?

A sentence is one complete statement about a topic, or subject.

The most important parts of a sentence are the subject and the verb. A verb is an action word; it explains what is happening in a sentence. E.g. write, swim, argue. To find the verb in a sentence, we can ask questions such as: what is the subject doing?

A subject is often a concrete or abstract concept such as book (concrete) or idea (abstract). Such words are called ‘nouns’. However, a subject could be a word like it or they, which replaces a noun from a previous sentence (a ‘pronoun’). To find the subject in a sentence, we can ask questions such as: who is doing the action?

Sentences may have many other components, but the first step to ensure you have written a correct sentence in English is to check if it has a subject and a verb.

Look at the following sentence and how it is divided into parts:

 

Students enjoy group work.

 Students

enjoy

group work.

Subject

Doer of action

(who enjoys group work?)

Verb

Action

(what do students do?)

Object

Receiver of action

 (enjoy what?) 

 

Word order

 

The image below illustrates standard word order in an English sentence (often abbreviated as SVO):

Student example

Facebook is being used to exchange information and pictures in everyday life.

[1] Conversations with friends and family. [2] Stay in touch with business colleagues. However, from an educational perspective, the social media website can be seen as a distraction. This essay…

♦The problem in sentence [1]

We can see that there is no verb in this sentence. There is also no subject.

A possible solution:

  • It allows conversations with friends and family.

♦The problem in sentence [2]

This example needs a subject, or connecting to a sentence which shares the same subject.

Some possible solutions:

  • Users can stay in touch with business colleagues.

  • Facebook is being used to exchange information and pictures in everyday life, and to stay in touch with business colleagues.

Sentence structure checklist

Further resources

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

For further explanation and a practical quiz, check the British Council page on clause (simple sentence) structure.

Or, if you want to know more about the different types of sentences in English, check this page.

Downloads

Click the link below to download a PDF version of the Sentence Structure checklist.