English Review of Sentences

Overview

A sentence is a group of words that form a complete thought.  There are different types of sentences depending on what they contain.

Complete Sentence

Students are often asked to write answers to essay questions in complete sentences.  A complete sentence has a noun that acts as a subject, and a verb that is either an action or a state of being.  Suppose students are reading a book chapter in chemistry about the periodic table.  They are asked to use complete sentences to describe it.  One student might write “The periodic table contains metals, nonmetals, and transition elements.”  Notice that the sentence has a subject and a verb.  

Phrases and Clauses

Phrases cannot stand alone, because they do not contain a complete thought.  If the phrase is the yellow cat, what is it doing?  Is it sitting on the step, or is it chasing a squirrel?  Similarly, suppose the phrase is “flying an airplane.”  Who is flying the airplane and where is it going?  The answer might be different if the pilot is flying the airplane along the Polar Route, or the hijacker is flying the airplane into the desert.  If the sentence isn’t complete, there’s not enough information.

Kinds of Sentences

Sentences are classified based on the amount of information they contain.  A simple sentence has only a noun and a verb, with one clause.  “The cat ran across the backyard.”  The phrase “across the backyard” describes one thing, where the cat ran.  A compound sentence has two or more separate clauses, such as “The cat ran across the backyard, and the dog barked. “  Those clauses are joined by a conjunction, such as or, and, or but.  A complex sentence has one relative clause, such as “The cat, which was carrying a squirrel in its mouth, ran across the backyard.”  A complex-compound sentence has at least one relative clause, as well as two separate clauses.  “The dog, which was lying in the sun while gnawing a bone, barked; and the cat streaked across the backyard, when the car revved its engine.”

Purposes of Sentences

Declarative sentences tell a complete thought.  The dog barked.  The sun rose.  The bell tolled.  They end with a period, and are the most common types of sentences.  Interrogative sentences ask questions, and end with question marks.  Why is the sky blue?  What is the weather like?  Where are you going?  Exclamatory sentences show excitement, and end with exclamation points.  That was the best movie of the year!  I hate weeds!  Spring is coming!  Imperative sentences are commands, and usually omit the subject “you.”  Make it so.  Drive on.

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