write The Write Place: Guides for Writing and Grammar .............................Home
 

Sentence Basics and Sentence Patterns

The Clause
The basic building block of any sentence is a "clause." Clauses are made up of a SUBJECT and a VERB.

He went home.
SUBJECT + VERB

Independent Clauses
When a clause forms a complete thought and can stand alone as a complete sentence, then it is called an "independent clause."

The dog barked at the mail man. (complete thought, independent clause)
------ S ------ V ---

Dependent Clauses
When a clause has a word in front of it like "when" or "after" or "before" or "that," the clause no longer forms a complete thought and is now dependent or subordinate. These kinds of clauses are called "dependent clauses":

When the dog barked at the mail man (incomplete thought, dependent clause)
I noticed that he went to sleep.

Notice that these dependent clauses ("When the dog barked" and "that he went to sleep") don't form complete thoughts or sentences that could stand by themselves. The words that turn independent clauses into dependent clauses are called "subordinate conjunctions" and "relative pronouns" (follow these links for more information).

Dependent and independent clauses form the main parts of the basic sentence patterns of the English language. Being able to identify these larger structures to sentences will help you when you punctuate.

More on clauses | Recognizing independent clauses quiz | Dependent Clauses

The Four Sentence Patterns

Simple Sentence
Has only one independent clause.

Bill caught a big fish.

Compound Sentence
Has two (or more) independent clauses put together in one sentence.

Bill caught a big fish, and Tom caught only perch.
(independent clause) --- + ---(independent clause)

Complex Sentence
Has one dependent clause together with one independent clause within one sentence.

Although Bill caught a big fish, Tom caught only perch.
(dependent clause) ----------------- + --- (independent clause)
Bill caught a big fish after Tom caught a perch.

Compound-Complex Sentence
Has at least one dependent clause and at least two independent clauses within one sentence.

When Bill caught a big fish, Tom caught a perch, and they both celebrated.
(dependent clause) ------------- + (independent clause) -- + -- (independent clause)

More on Sentence Patterns

It can be good practice for you to read passages and identify independent and dependent clauses. In the following passage, dependent clauses are marked in red, and independent clauses are marked in blue:

"Listen to your feelings"-from Writing with Style by John Trimble

Pick a subject that means something to you, emotionally as well as intellectually. As in romancing, so in writing: you're most effective when your heart is in it. If you can't honestly say, "Now this is something I really think is important," you're a fool to write on it. Take a stroll around the neighborhood; find a coffeehouse or park bench and brood awhile; call up a friend and vent. Do whatever you need to do to figure out what you'd really enjoy tangling with, because it's going to define your life for a major hunk of time, isn't it? Eventually, you'll come up with a subject, or a new angle on the old subject, that ignites your interest.

If you feel in good spirits, you might consider writing what's called an "appreciation"-of a person, an event, a character, a book, a locale, or whatever. Share your sense of delight; let yourself sing. If, on the other hand, you feel combative, consider writing a salty dissent a la Maureen Dowd or H. L. Mencken. Whatever your inclination, turn you feelings to account--work in harmony with them, actively tap them. If you ignore your real feelings, which is perilously easy to do, or if you try to write with just your head, the result will be phony, bloodless prose, and the labor of writing may be excruciating. You'll feel like you're performing an intellectual minuet.

 

Look at these examples of the four sentence patterns from the passage above:

Simple Sentence:
Pick a subject that means something to you, emotionally as well as intellectually.

Compound Sentence
Share your sense of delight; let yourself sing.

Complex
If, on the other hand, you feel combative, consider writing a salty dissent a la Maureen Dowd or H. L.

Compound-Complex
If you ignore your real feelings, which is perilously easy to do, or if you try to write with just your head, the result will be phony, bloodless prose, and the labor of writing may be excruciating. You'll feel like you're performing an intellectual minuet.

 

 

HTML Hit Counter
Free Web Counter
(Since 1/12/16)  

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License | Contact Lirvin | Lirvin Home Page | Write Place Home