Sentence structure definition: the way in which we combine words, clauses or phrases in order to convey a complete thought or idea.
What is English Sentence Structure?
English sentence structure requires at minimum a subject and a verb.
- Joe runs.
In this sentence, we have our subject (Joe) and our verb (runs).
However, most sentences in English will include a subject, verb, and object.
- Joe manages the local grocery store.
In this sentence, we have our subject (Joe), verb (manages), and direct object (store).
This basic formula is the underpinning of proper sentence structure: the ordering process of Subject > Verb > Object.
Sometimes this ordering is simply called SVO.
English Subject-Verb Agreement
A crucial element to a proper English sentence is subject-verb agreement. In English, subjects must match verbs in number, person, case, etc. This is done through conjugation.
In English sentences, singular subjects require singular verbs, and plural subjects require plural verbs.
- The student watches the teacher write notes on the board.
- Student = singular subject. Watches = singular verb.
- The students watch the teacher write notes on the board.
- Students = plural subject. Watch = plural verb.
Sometimes writers get confused about subject-verb agreement when a phrase is inserted between the subject and verb.
- Incorrect: When a group of friends are making plans together, it’s important to include everyone.
- Correct: When a group of friends is making plans together, it’s important to include everyone.
With a phrase between the subject and the verb, it can be difficult to get the subject-verb correct, but it still comes down to the same thing.
- Singular subjects require singular verb; plural subjects require plural verbs.
What is our subject in this sentence? If you strip away the extra words, you can see the subject is group, which is singular.
Our sentence could be rewritten,
- When a group is making plans together, it’s important to include everyone.
Removing the extra words and phrases allows you to see the basic sentence structure. You can add the rest in later.
For a more full discussion on subject-verb agreement, see here. See also singular nouns and plural nouns.
Four English Sentence Structures
Now that we know the basic order of an English sentence, we can look at different sentence types.
There are four primary sentence types in English. Here is a quick look at each type.
What is a simple sentence? Simple sentences are made up of a single clause containing simply one subject and one verb.
- Janet went to school.
- Christopher washed the dog.
In each of these two sentences, we have one clause, consisting of a single subject, verb, and object. Nothing too complicated.
What is a compound sentence? A compound sentence is formed when two independent clauses are joined together by a coordinating conjunction.
- Janet went to school, but her sister went to the mall.
- Christopher washed the dog, and Steve washed the car.
As you can see, each sentence is made up of two independent clauses. One is joined by the conjunction but and one by the conjunction and.
What is a complex sentence? A complex sentence is formed by combining a dependent clause and an independent clause.
If the dependent clause introduces the independent clause, it must be set off by a comma for balance.
- While Christopher washed the dog, Janet went to school.
However, when a dependent clause follows an independent clause, you do not need a comma.
- Janet went to school while Christopher washed the dog.
In this example, you can imagine that the conjunction balancing the two clauses.
What is compound-complex sentence? A compound-complex sentence is one that contains two independent clauses in addition to a dependent clause.
- John hit the ball, so Steve ran to second base without getting tagged.
- Although I don’t like studying, I need to pass this test, and I need to get an A in this class.
This is the most complicated of the four sentence types because it combines all of them.
If we examine the second example, we can see that it goes,
- Dependent Clause, Independent Clause, Conjunction + Independent Clause
What is a complete sentence? Generally speaking, in order for a sentence to be complete, it must consist of a subject and a verb, and it must express a complete thought.
- Janet walked along the sandy beaches of Miami.
If we take out Janet or walked, we would have an incomplete sentence expressing an incomplete thought.
Summary: What is Sentence Structure?
Define sentence structure: the definition of sentence structure is the order and structure governing word combinations used to form sentences.
- English sentences follow a subject > verb > object ordering.
- In English, subject and verbs must be in agreement.
- There are four sentence types in English.