Grammar: Deciphering the sentence (Part 2)

Monotony bores us - so make sure that your writing style covers several sentence structures.

July 2, 2010 16:26
3 minute read.
Grammar: Deciphering the sentence  (Part 2)

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Why is it important to learn about the sentence, you may ask. Because sometimes you will be told to write a note, an essay, a letter, even a blurb about yourself. For instance, in Indianapolis, where I live, taxi drivers must now submit a short essay in writing before they are granted their proper license. That means they are judged on spelling, sentence structure and even the content of their writing. It goes without saying that they should write in complete sentences.

To review: A sentence is a group of words containing a subject and a predicate and expressing a complete thought.

Subject – a noun or a pronoun.

Complete subject – a noun or pronoun and the words that modify it

Simple Predicate – a verb or verb phrase.

Complete predicate – a verb or verb phrase and the words that modify or complete it.

Jim shot Harry. (Jim is both the simple and complete subject of the sentence. Shot is the simple predicate. Shot Harry is the complete predicate.)

The lovely lady threw a rose at me. (The lovely lady is the complete subject. Threw is the verb. Threw a rose at me is the complete predicate.)

You must always be able to identify the core noun or pronoun and the core verb or verb phrase to decipher your sentence.

Expressing a complete thought can be difficult at times, especially if one is in a hurry, but this is the very foundation of your writing. We tend to speak incompletely and get away with it in friendly conversations. Writing, unlike speaking, demands more punctilious attention to grammar, so you must be careful to complete each thought for the sake of coherence when you are writing.

I screamed. (This is a complete thought, though not a very interesting one.) When I screamed. (Not a complete sentence.) When I screamed, he jumped from the balcony. (Aha! A complete sentence and incidentally, an intriguing scene!)

If you wrote a letter or essay in simple sentences, the reader would suspect you are a little child or alas, childish. We like variety in your choice of sentence structure, so be sure you are not favoring one style too frequently. Please, do not favor simple sentences only. Monotony bores us so make sure that your writing style covers several sentence structures.

Simple sentence: The grass is deliciously green.

Compound sentence: The grass grows rapidly this spring, and we will have to cut it soon.

Compound-complex sentence: Grass that has grown for thousands of years is in danger of extinction, and we must organize scientific investigation to remedy the situation.

It is important to reread your writings before submission. Read aloud if you choose. Look for the complete thought each time. Check to see if subject and verb agree. Edit the spelling if necessary. But, most important: Does the writing make sense? Do the words hang together? Are their beauty and rhythm expressed smoothly or does the effort read jerkily? (You know, bump, bump, bump.) Edit and re-edit. Be critical with yourself, tougher than anybody else.

For review, underline the complete subject in the following sentences:

1. My teacher, a shy lady, smiled at me.
2. Who is on first today?
3. Our school will be closed Monday for a national holiday.
4. Help!
5. My father called from Israel.

Underline the complete predicate in the following sentences:

1. After a deep winter’s sleep, the bears emerged hesitantly.
2. Please avoid monotony.
3. Sherry smiled.
4. The storm blew a cold blast against our house’s walls.
5. The twilight brings a melancholy cast to my disposition.

The writer is an author, teacher and body language expert living in the US.

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