Grammar for Authors: Sentence Types

Happy April! Can you believe it? In just six months, we’ve made it through the basics of grammatical terms! Today we’re doing a bit more terminology and starting to discuss rules. Moving forward, we’ll go back through grammar terms, going more in-depth and learning rules related to them.

Our focus today is on the essential, oft-maligned grammatical principle called “sentences.”

Stories are made of words, but more importantly stories are made of sentences. One of the surest ways to frustrate readers enough that they’ll throw your book at the wall and never open it again is to neglect the principle of sentences. Fragments and run-ons sadly abound in everyday talk and published works alike.

Today, let’s start to fix that.

General Disclaimer: While I love grammar, I’m also new at learning it. I will do my best to explain things correctly. If you find that I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented something, please share that in the comments. Please do so kindly, though. The goal of this is for all of us to learn and become better writers, and people learn better from kindness than troll-ness. Thank you!

To understand sentence types, you will need to be familiar with independent and dependent clauses. Sentences are categorized by the amount and kind of clauses contained in them. You can read more about them in this previous post.

Note: All of these kinds of sentences can have any number of phrases; that does not influence their categorization. The presence of phrases does influence punctuation, but we’ll have to talk about that in a later post.

Simple Sentence

Definition: A simple sentence contains one independent clause and no dependent clauses.

While a simple sentence can have phrases in the beginning, middle, and end, it must have only one subject-verb pair. Here are some examples. The subjects are italicized, while the verbs are in teal.

In the second example, both Rai and Savi are performing the same verb. They are what’s called a compound subject.

In the third example, the desert is one subject, but it both came and attacked. Since the same subject performs both verbs, it is still one clause.

In the fifth example, n’t is a contraction for the adverb not, but does fall is one verb phrase.

Compound Sentence

Definition: A sentence containing two or more independent clauses.

Sometimes, we want to join two independent clauses. When we do this, we call it a compound sentence, because we are compounding two similar things together.

Compound sentences are some of the more common causes of run-ons, and that is because compound sentences need specific kinds of punctuation.

1. Join independent clauses with a comma and coordinating conjunction.

Independent clauses are bold and unwieldy: They need more than a conjunction or a comma alone to keep them together. Specifically, they might need a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

  • I was downhearted, so I read a book.
  • After school, I went to the park, but it started to rain cats and dogs.
  • Polly was a simple girl, and she loved a well-made cup of tea, yet today she could not find her kettle.
2. Join independent clauses with a semicolon.

Semicolons are stronger than commas. Thus, they are capable of performing the task of a comma and coordinating conjunction all on their own. This includes when an independent clause begins with a transition word.

  • I read the book; it made me glad.
  • He could not stay at the park; it was raining too hard.
  • Clara wanted to travel; indeed, she needed to travel.
  • Pitka wished to hear a story; however, she only wished to hear a story from Raiba.

There is a third way to join independent clauses: Namely, by adding subordinating conjunctions. However, once you have done this, you no longer have two independent clauses on your hands. You now have an independent and dependent clause, which means you have a:

Complex Sentence

Definition: A complex sentence contains ONE independent clause and ONE OR MORE dependent clauses.

If the dependent clause comes at the beginning of a sentence, it needs a comma between it and the independent clause (just like in this sentence). If the dependent clause follows the independent clause, we only need a comma if the dependent clause shows an exception or contradiction.

In the last example, the dependent clause who is a young boy comes in the middle of the independent clause Caleb loves to play football. When this happens, the dependent clause needs to be surrounded on both sides by commas. To leave it off of either end is incorrect:

  • In the morning, Caleb who is a young boy, loves to play football.
  • In the morning, Caleb, who is a young boy loves to play football.

Please, please do not leave off either of these necessary commas.

The fourth type of sentence is a combination of complex and compound sentences, and thus it is called the

Compound-Complex Sentence

Definition: Compound-Complex sentences have TWO OR MORE INDEPENDENT clauses and ONE OR MORE DEPENDENT clauses.

In these examples, independent clauses are italicized while dependent clauses are in teal.

The same rules that apply in compound and complex sentences also apply in compound-complex sentences.

And there you have it! Four sentence types, and some rules for punctuating them.

We have officially made it through our first round of grammar learning! In May, we’ll start going back through parts of speech, this time in more depth. As we go, we’ll mix in more rules and principles of usage and mechanics.

What has been your favorite part of this grammar series so far? Let us know in the comments! If you found this post helpful, please remember to click “like” and share it with your friends :)

As it’s April Fool’s Day, here are a couple grammar jokes for you (I didn’t come up with them, but I am not sure who did):

  • What is the difference between a cat and a comma? — One has claws at the end of its paws, one has a pause at the end of a clause.
  • What do you call Santa’s helpers? — Subordinate clauses.

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