The Anatomy of a Complete Sentence
Improving Sentences requires students to choose an answer which is both grammatically correct and the most effective. Remember, determining if a sentence is grammatical is the easy part, especially when you are performing well in Identifying Sentence Errors. Hence, let’s first look at the common problem areas of Improving Sentences that deal with grammar.
1. Grammatically Complete Sentences
A grammatically complete sentence must have a subject, a finite verb* and present a complete thought. Lacking any of these will result in a sentence fragment which is grammatically unacceptable since it violates the principle of clarity.
- Lack a subject
It is unclear who performs the action.
- Lack a finite verb (i.e. present or past tense form) [This is most often tested in the SAT.]
The verb contributes fundamentally to the meaning and structure of a sentence. The rest of the sentence depends largely on the verb. For example, when the subject remains the same, say Tom, the rest of the sentence will probably change if we replace the verb “loves” with “hates”.
- Subordinate clause stands alone
A subordinate clause only presents a fragment of thought. This leaves readers in doubt and hinders communication. For example, when one reads this subordinate clause, “while I was young”, one inevitably asks what happened while you were young.
The questions are how to see if a sentence lacks a subject or a finite verb and what a subordinate clause is. To solve these, learning the 3 types of sentence structures in English is essential.
The 3 types of sentences
1. Simple sentence
A simple sentence has 1 independent clause. The clause is called independent because it expresses a complete thought and can stand alone. 1 clause has 1 subject and 1 finite verb. It is possible to have 2 finite verbs when there is a coordinating conjunction. That is, there are 2 actions done by the same subject.
2. Compound sentence
A compound sentence has 2 independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. The 2 clauses weigh equally. They can both stand alone as simple sentences.
Examples of coordinating conjunctions: for, and, but, or, nor, yet, so
3. Complex sentence
A complex sentence has 1 independent clause and 1 dependent clause joined by a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. The 2 clauses weigh unequally. The subordinating one (i.e. the dependent clause) either begins with a subordinating conjunction to show its relationship with the main one (i.e. the independent clause) or a relative pronoun to provide additional information to the noun just before the relative pronoun. A dependent clause cannot stand alone since it does not express a complete thought.
Examples of subordinating conjunctions: after, before, although, because, when, while, if, unless
Examples of relative pronouns: that, who, when, where, why
(You may also like to read article 2 (2011-06-21) on “analyzing complicated sentence structures”.)
In summary, the rules are
- 1 clause: 1 subject + 1 finite verb
- For each coordinating/subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun, 1 additional subject and 1 additional finite verb are required.
If you have any questions or enquires, feel free to visit my facebook page: www.facebook.com/allylo.english.
(Next Tue: Improving Sentences cont’d)