Mastering the use of one‟s own language, both
written and verbal, is probably the single most
effective thing one can do to ensure their
academic, professional, and personal success.
Sentence parts include:
• clause (main, subordinate, relative, noun)
Sentence structures include:
Sentence types include:
• A declarative sentence is used to make a statement.
• An interrogative sentence is used to pose a question.
• An imperative sentence is used to give a command or to
implore or entreat.
• An exclamatory sentence is used to express astonishment or
Most of the sentences we speak or write are declarative sentences.
• It's lunch time.
• We are going to the game on Friday.
• My car is out of gasoline.
• My parents keep telling me that I should make good grades so I
can get a job or go to college.
• We frequently ask questions, perhaps not as frequently as we
• What time does the movie start?
• How many people from your graduating class went to college?
• Is there a reason why these dirty clothes are in the middle of the
• What are they serving in the cafeteria today?
People who have authority use imperative sentences. Sometimes,
people who don't have authority use imperative sentences. The
results may differ.
• Wash the car.
• Clean up your room.
• Martin, report to the counsellor.
• Please donate to the community charity fund.
We say that sentences must have a subject and a verb. Note that
some of the above sentences do not seem to have a subject. The
subject is implied, and the implied subject is you. You wash the car.
You clean up your room. “You” is a second person pronoun. It isn't
possible to make a command statement in first person or third
Exclamatory sentences are rarely used in expository writing. Spoken
exclamations are often a single word or an incomplete sentence.
Grammarians indicate that formal exclamatory sentences begin with
the word what or with the word how. Most of the exclamations we
encounter are informal.
• What a beautiful night!
• How happy we were when the dawn came and our flag was still
• What did you do to your hair?! (exclamation formed as a
• I just won 500 dollars! (exclamation formed as a declarative
Before we continue, it is important to distinguish between the “parts
of speech” and the “parts of a sentence.”
In examining parts of speech we focus on words and phrases and
their relationships to each other.
In examining parts of a sentence we focus on words and phrases
and their relationships to the thought, or thoughts, being expressed
in the sentence.
Parts of a sentence include the subject, predicate, object, clause,
A sentence can be defined as a group of words containing a
subject and a predicate and expressing a complete thought.
Parts of a Sentence
Subject: The subject or of a sentence is the noun, pronoun or noun
phrase that precedes and governs the main verb. The subject is
what (or whom) the sentence is about. (The party who performs the
action, or being described.)
Predicate: Tells something about the subject. It is the verb and any
complement of the verb, which can include the object, adverbial, etc.
(The action or description.)
Object: Part of the predicate, the object is the person or thing that is
created, affected or altered by the action of a verb, or appreciated or
sensed by the subject of the verb. (The party that is acted upon.)
Clause: A group of words containing a subject and verb. If the
clause completes a thought, then it is an independent clause (aka
main or principle). If a clause does not complete a thought, then it is
a dependent clause (aka subordinate).
Phrase: A phrase is a group of words acting together as a single
part of speech. A phrase does not contain both a subject and a verb.
An independent clause includes a subject and a verb.
An independent clause is a clause that is not introduced by a
An independent clause is the main idea of the sentence and is not
dependent on another clause for meaning and context. It does not
modify anything, and it can stand alone as a complete sentence.
Independent clauses are sometimes called principal or main
Example: The hungry boy whispered to his sister because his
The underlined portion of the above sentence is an independent
A subordinate clause is usually introduced by a subordinating
element such as a subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun. It
depends on the rest of the sentence for its meaning. It does not
express a complete thought, so it does not stand alone. It must
always be attached to a main clause that completes the meaning.
Subordinate clauses normally act as single part of speech. They can
be either noun clauses, adjective clauses, or adverb clauses.
They are sometimes called dependent clauses because they
"depend" on a main clause to give them meaning.
The italicised clauses above are subordinate clauses. The first one is
an adjective clause because it describes a noun (the word clause).
The second one is an adverb clause which describes a verb (the
Example: The hungry boy whispered to his sister because his throat hurt.
The Relative Clause
A relative clause (aka adjective or adjectival clause) is a type of subordinate
clause that has three characteristics:
1. It will contain a subject and verb.
2. It will begin with a relative pronoun [who, whom, whose, that, or which]
or a relative adverb [when, where, or why].
3. It will function as an adjective, answering the questions What kind? How
many? or Which one?
The relative clause will follow one of these two patterns:
relative pronoun or adverb + subject + verb
relative pronoun as subject + verb (Some grammarians
argue that this structure produces an incomplete thought.)
The underlined portion of the above sentence is a dependent clause.
Examples of Relative Clauses
… which Francine did not accept.
which = relative pronoun; Francine = subject; did not accept = verb [not,
an adverb, is not officially part of the verb].
…where George found Amazing Spider-Man #96 in fair condition.
where = relative adverb; George = subject; found = verb.
…that dangled from the one clean bathroom towel.
that = relative pronoun functioning as subject; dangled = verb.
…who continued to play video games until his eyes were blurry with
who = relative pronoun functioning as subject; played = verb.
Avoid Creating a Sentence Fragment.
A relative clause does not express a complete thought, so it cannot stand
alone as a sentence. To avoid writing a fragment, you must connect each
relative clause to a main clause.
Read the examples below. Notice that the relative clause follows the word
that it describes.
To calm his angry girlfriend, Joey offered an apology which Francine
did not accept.
We tried our luck at the same flea market where George found Amazing
Spider-Man #96 in fair condition.
Michelle screamed when she saw the spider that dangled from the one
clean bathroom towel.
Brian said goodnight to his roommate Justin, who continued to play
video games until his eyes were blurry with fatigue.
Punctuating Relative Clauses: Restrictive or Non-Restrictive?
Punctuating relative clauses can be tricky. For each sentence, you will have
to decide if the relative clause is essential or nonessential and then use
Restrictive (aka essential) clauses do not require commas. A relative
clause is restrictive when you need the information it provides.
Consider this example:
The children who skateboard in the street are especially noisy in the
Children is non-specific. To know which ones we are talking about, we must
have the information in the relative clause. Thus, the relative clause is
restrictive and requires no commas.
If, however, we eliminate children and choose more specific nouns instead,
the relative clause becomes nonessential and does require commas to
separate it from the rest of the sentence. Read this revision:
Matthew and his sister Loretta, who skateboard in the street, are
especially noisy in the early evening.
Any clause (grouping of subject and verb) that functions as a
noun in the larger sentence becomes a noun clause.
Consider this example:
You really do not want to know the ingredients in Aunt
“ingredients” = noun.
If we replace the noun ingredients with a clause, we have a noun
You really do not want to know what Aunt Nancy adds to her
“what Aunt Nancy adds to her stew” = noun clause.
Sidebar Beginning a Sentence with Because
The notion that one should not begin a sentence with because retains a
mysterious grip on people's sense of writing proprieties. This might come
about because a sentence that begins with because could well end up a
fragment if one is not careful to follow up the subordinate clause with an
Because is a subordinating conjunction - used to introduce a subordinating
clause. A subordinating conjunction can begin a sentence by introducing a
subordinate clause. As long as the thought is then completed by an
independent clause, the sentence will be grammatically correct.
Because the students studied grammar.
Because the students studied grammar, their writing improved.
Although it is true that beginning a sentence with because might produce a
dependent clause fragment, similar taboos have never been associated
with other subordinating conjunctions such as Although, If, When, While,
and Since. It is unclear why the word because has been singled out for this
Differentiating Subjects from Objects
A subject acts, and an object is acted upon.
Subject and Object Pronouns:
In English, we have different pronouns to signify the distinction
between those grammatical categories. In other words, "I" is a
subject while "me" is an object while "my" shows possession; "we" is
a subject while "us" is an object and "our" shows possession.
Clause: “cows eat grass”
Differentiating Clauses from Phrases
This example is a clause because it contains the subject "cows"
and the verb "eat grass."
Phrase: “cows eating grass”
This example is a phrase because it does not contain a subject
and a verb. In this case, “eating grass” serves as an adjective
phrase that is part of a larger noun phrase. The reader is left
wondering, “What about the „cows eating grass‟?” While this
noun phrase could be a subject, it has no verb attached to it.
The adjective phrase "eating grass" show which cows the writer
is referring to, but there is nothing here to show why the writer is
mentioning cows in the first place.
Parenthetical Clauses and Phrases
A parenthetical clause or phrase provides additional information for
the reader, but it is information that could be left out of the sentence
without altering its basic message.
Example: The practice of teaching grammar, originally pursued by
only a few English teachers, has now become standard practice in
all Grade 12 courses.
Example: The teachers in the Bjork board, although understaffed
and under funded, manage to maintain orderly and effective
In each of the above examples, the words between the commas
could be left out without changing the core meaning of the sentence.
Including a parenthetical clause allows the writer to add ancillary
information without writing a separate sentence. After all, if separate
but related concepts were always separated out into their own
sentences, one‟s writing would become extremely choppy and
Restrictive versus Non-restrictive Clauses
Restrictive clauses: A restrictive clause will limit the possible
meaning of a preceding subject.
Example: The suspect who has red hair committed the crime.
Note how the subject "suspect" in this sentence is restricted, or
clearly identified, by the restrictive clause. It is not just any suspect
who committed the crime, it is the suspect with red hair.
Non-Restrictive Clauses: While non-restrictive clauses will tell us
additional information about a preceding subject, they do not limit or
specifically identify that subject.
Example: The suspect in the lineup, who owns a red car,
committed the crime.
Note how the subject "suspect" in this sentence is not restricted or
identified. Rather, we just learn additional information about the
suspect: apparently, he owns a red car.
More Examples of Restrictive Clauses
• Students who cheat only harm themselves.
• The baby wearing a yellow jumpsuit is my niece.
• The candidate who had the least money lost the election.
More Examples of Non-restrictive Clauses
• Fred, who often cheats, is just harming himself.
• My niece, wearing a yellow jumpsuit, is playing in the living room.
• The Green party candidate, who had the least money, lost the
Punctuating Restrictive versus Non-restrictive Clauses
Restrictive clauses are dependent clauses that begin with relative
pronouns (who, whom, that, whoever, whomever, whichever) and
are not surrounded by commas.
The elephant that trampled the village was drunk on fermented
Non-restrictive clauses are dependent clauses that begin with
relative pronouns (who, whom, which, whoever, whomever,
whichever) and are surrounded by commas.
Andy, who always admired John Lennon, was very sad to hear he
Appositives are punctuated in a similar manner to parenthetical
phrases or clauses. However, an appositive serves specifically as a
noun or pronoun – often with modifiers. Appositives are placed
beside another noun or pronoun in order to explain or identify it.
Essentially, appositives serve to rename or restate another noun in
Example: The law teacher, a grammar enthusiast, emphasized the
need to learn sentence structure and the parts of speech.
Punctuation: If the sentence would be clear and complete without
the appositive, then commas are necessary. In these cases, we
would place one comma before and one comma after the appositive.
In some cases, however, the noun being explained would be too
general to be understood without the appositive. If the appositive is
essential to the meaning of the sentence, then we do not place
commas around the appositive.
Example: The popular English prime minister Winston Churchill
was well known for his eloquent and inspirational speeches.
Differentiating Sentence Types
Simple: A simple sentence contains one independent clause.
Example: We have only one week to study for the test.
Compound: A compound sentence contains more than one
Example: We were frightened, but the mandatory English proficiency test
was not nearly as hard as we imagined.
Complex: A complex sentence contains one independent clause and
at least one dependent clause.
Example: Although he is a law teacher, Mr. Lightstone insists on teaching
Compound-complex: A compound-complex sentence contains more
than one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
Example: If he is the nominee for the Democratic Party, Barack Obama will run
against John McCain, but it won't be an easy contest to win.
Differentiating Sentence Types
Hints on differentiating between sentence types:
i) Focus on spotting subordinating conjunctions. They tell you right
away whether a sentence is complex or not. They can, however, be
hidden within the middle of a sentence. For example: “I didn't to go to
work today because I was feeling sick.” There are actually two
clauses within this sentence: "I didn't to go to work today" and
"because I was feeling sick." Thus, this is a complex sentence. It
would be much easier to spot if the subordinating clause came
before the main clause. For example: “Because I was feeling sick, I
didn't to go to work today.”
ii) Remember that the smallest sentence possible consists of a noun
and a verb. For example, “Jill fell,” “I ran,” “She hid,” etc. Why do I
mention this? I point this out because we must always be aware that
just two little words can at times produce a main clause within a
larger compound or a compound-complex sentence.