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Grammar is one hell of a subject. I understand that languages have evolved through the ages, adopting all sorts of punctuation, pronunciation, construction, etc. And English isn’t an exception. It’s one of the most complex languages there is; specially when it comes to its grammar rules and variations.
On today’s entry, I would like to share some of my knowledge on how to build great sentences. With a little help of an amazing book I found in the deepest corners of a bookstore. Kathleen Sears “Grammar 101.” Now, quick disclaimer, I’m not the master of grammar, I owe it to my beta readers and critique partners who’ve helped along the way.
Before we start, you first must understand the basics of:
- Colons, Semicolons, dashes, etc.
- Main parts of speech: noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.
- Tenses and forms.
- Participles, gerunds, infinitives, subjects and predicates.
- And much more.
Studying these terms will get you on your way. I’m not going to explain all of them in this entry, since I have a clear goal with this type of content: helping you write great sentences.
Ever since I started writing my first novel in English, I had to be more careful with grammar. So, I thought that sharing my own experience would be a great idea.
My personal rule is trying to write as simple as possible. Don’t use BIG words or Thesaurus-your-way-out of every sentence. This will make your writing feel unoriginal and boring. If your intention is to write something creative and less technical, then I strongly suggest sticking to this rule.
Here we go!
Phrases are commonly known for not having a verb and a subject. The most common ones are the prepositional phrases, which start with a preposition. For example:
Through a wonderful world.
After the accident.
During the show.
For Bill and Stacy.
“This type of phrases act as adjectives (they describe the nouns or pronouns; they also answer the question which one? Or What kind of?”)
There are 5 type of phrases, in addition to the prepositional phrase.
Answers the question: where?
Michael and Veronica will meet at Times Square this afternoon.
Running from the mad dog, John and Helen screamed for help to a police officer nearby.
This type of phrase needs a verb that ends with -ing and words to compliment it. The bolded words make the participial phrase.
It answers the question: which ones?
My friends from school are going to watch a game.
To run from the bad guys is what I need to focus on right now.
This type of phrase needs the word to + a verb.
Any words that modify the appositive phrase. Usually it’s a noun that identifies another noun or pronoun.
My cousin, a handsome-young graduate from Boston´s University, is having a dinner party this Saturday.
Graduate is an appositive that identifies cousin, so the words that go with it: a handsome-young make the appositive phrase.
A clause has a verb and its subject. Is a little more complicated than a phrase. To understand it better, a clause could stand alone as a single sentence, for example:
The dog dashed towards the sofa.
When two independent clauses are in the same sentence structure joined by and, but, for, or, nor, so, or yet are separated by a comma.
The dog dashed towards the sofa, and John jumped to his feet.
To complicate things a bit, there are two types of clauses:
Subordinate clause: divided in adjective, noun, and adverb clauses.
Restrictive and non-restrictive clause.
I’ll try not to confuse you, so I’ll keep it as simple as possible. A subordinate Clause has a verb and a noun but doesn’t work as a stand-alone sentence.
When the car crashed on the building and destroyed everything.
What happened next? It doesn’t explain anything. A subordinate clause needs help from another clause to make sense. Here’s where these three come to the rescue:
- Adjective clause: it answers the questions which ones? or what kind of?
The girl, whom I met the other day, moved to L.A with her parents.
Whom I met the other day is the adjective clause.
- Noun Clause: answers the question whom? Who? Or What? Acting as a noun.
John, Linda, and Blair couldn’t figure out what to do with their oral presentation.
Couldn’t figure out with their oral presentations is the noun clause. It has a verb and a subject but can’t stand alone in a sentence.
- Adverb Clause: answers when? Where? How? Why? To what extend? With what goal or result?
The detective interrogated Fred because he’s a primary suspect.
Because he’s a primary suspect is the adverb Clause.
Note: if you use the adverb clause at the beginning of your sentence you must separate it from the main clause.
Because he’s a primary suspect, the detective interrogated Fred.
Restrictive Clause: a clause that needs to be in a sentence for it to make sense.
The toy that Sandra and Bill bought for their son disappeared.
That Sandra and Bill bought for their son is a necessary clause for the sentence to make sense.
Non-Restrictive Clause: a clause that shows extra information and its not necessary in a sentence.
The toy, that disappeared last Friday, was found.
That disappeared last Friday is extra information that isn’t necessary to understand what happened.
Let’s get down to business! This is what you came for! Now that you understand words, phrases, and clauses, its time to build awesome sentences, or can you?
Unfortunately, these aren’t Lego bricks, we can’t just add words, phrases, and clauses together and sing Hurray! We wrote a brilliant sentence, sometimes it takes more than that. For this content’s purpose, I’m going to describe the different categories of a sentence. I’ll complicate things a bit in a future entry, talking about modifiers, prepositions, and the nightmare on paper street, parallelism.
Having said that, these’re 4 types of sentences you can build:
- Simple: a single independent clause that works as a stand-alone sentence. The cat purred as her owner patted it on its head. It has a Subject + Verb and has no subordinate clauses attached to it.
- Compound: has at least two independent clauses and no subordinate clause. Both are joined with a comma + the boysfan words: but, or, yet, so, for, and, or nor. The cat purred as her owner patted it on its head, and the dog laid sadly on the kitchen’s floor.
- Complex: has one independent clause, and one or more subordinate clauses. Because he’s his best friend, they went camping together.
- Complex-Compound: helping your writing from becoming monotonous. Has at least two independent clauses and two or more subordinate clauses. Although she’s allergic to cats, Laura insisted in patting her pet, and her mother looked at her furiously.
There you go! Now you know how to build great sentences! Time for some practice, write down two of each type of phrases; then move along with two of each subordinate clause; finishing with five or more sentences for each category. You can do it! See you next time!
Check out this cool video! It will also help you work on your grammar!