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Writing Well: Sentence Basics

The next several posts in my series on writing well will address correct grammar. This post will lay out some basic definitions. (It may be a little tedious, but it contains information that will help later posts make sense.)

The purpose of writing is to communicate ideas. The basic structure for communicating an idea is the sentence. A sentence is a word or group of words that expresses a complete thought and contains at least a subject (which can be understood) and a predicate. A predicate expresses either an action or state of being. The subject is what- or whoever does the action or exists in the state in question.

A sentence can comprise clauses and other phrases. A phrase is a group of words. A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. A clause can be dependent or independent. An independent clause expresses a complete thought. A dependent clause modifies an independent clause or part of it.

A simple sentence contains only one subject and one predicate: Barack Obama is a socialist.

A complex sentence contains at least one independent clause and one dependent clause. Barack Obama is a socialist who misunderstands the Constitution.

A compound sentence contains at least two independent clauses. Barack Obama is a socialist, and he has a lot of shady associates.

A compound-complex sentence contains (you guessed it!) at least one dependent clause and two independent clauses: Barack Obama is a socialist who misunderstands the Constitution, and he has a lot of shady associates.

Every word, phrase, and dependent clause in a sentence represents a part of speech. The eight parts of speech are:

Verb: expresses an action or state of being

Noun: represents a person, place, thing, or idea

Pronoun: stands for a noun

Adjective: modifies a noun or pronoun

Adverb: modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb

Interjection: expresses emotion

Conjunction: connects words, phrases, and clauses

Preposition: introduces a prepositional phrase and indicates the relationship of its object to another element in the sentence (yeah, I know, we’ll go over this more later)

Upcoming posts will explain how to use each of these parts of speech correctly.

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

2 thoughts on “Writing Well: Sentence Basics

  1. I’m looking forward to the next few posts. Speech writers aim for good grammar at the early stages of their work. And then the colloquialisms are adopted for the big event. The resulting speech transcript looks very different to the draft. The transcripts of Tony Blair’s speeches are a case in point.
    Peter
    Presentation Skills Training

  2. While this may seem elementary to some, it’s a great refresher for those of us who have been out a school a day or two.

    Thanks Leslie!

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