Sentence structure

A sentence is a set of words that is complete in itself. It typically contains a subject, conveys a statement, question, exclamation or command, and consists of a main clause.

Sentences can:

  • make statements (declaratives): The boy was at school.
  • ask questions (interrogatives): Was the boy at school?
  • give commands (imperatives): Go to school! In a command there is still the subject–verb–object relationship with the subject and object understood.
  • voice exclamations: What a great school!

Most grammatical features within the sentence cluster around the noun and the verb. The words which build sentences describe the nouns (adjectivals) and the verb (adverbials). Different types of sentences include:

Simple sentenceA single main clause and expresses a complete thought. It has a subject and a finite verb and may also have an object, for example 'Mary is beautiful.', 'The ground shook.', 'Take a seat.'
Basic simple sentenceHas a projected clause. For example ‘I think you should not put animals in cages.’
Compound sentenceContains two or more clauses that are coordinated or linked in such a way as to give each clause equal status. In the following example and is the coordinating conjunction: 'We went to the movies and bought an ice-cream.'
Complex sentenceContains a main (or independent) clause and one or more subordinate (or dependent) clauses. The subordinate clause is joined to the main clause through subordinating conjunctions such as when, while and before. For example 'we all went outside when the sun came out.', 'because I am reading a long book, my time is limited.'
Basic complex sentence with a dependent clauseHas a dependent clause following main clause. For example ‘it is cruel because the animals don't have freedom.’

High level writing includes the sophisticated use of a range of sentence types for effect. Students are able to enhance their writing by understanding how sentences are structured and using different types of sentences. Writing and speaking clearly demonstrates students' control over:

  • clause types and patterns – verbless, adjectival, adverbial, multiple, non-finite
  • dependent clause position
  • length and rhythm
  • increased elaboration and extension
  • stylistically appropriate choices.

Fundamental to this understanding is students' ability to analyse and discuss grammatical features explicitly. Studying grammatical terms focus's attention on accuracy and the development of well-structured sentences, complete sentences with accurate subject–verb agreement. Grammar needs to be integrated into authentic text study at the level of the construction of words (graphemes), the word, the sentence and the text.

Sophisticated structures

  • Extended simple sentence, for example ‘Like all living things, animals have personalities too.’
  • Complex sentences containing dependent clauses starting with ‘when’ and ‘because’ preceding main clause, for example ‘When animals are kept in captivity, their life expectancy is reduced.’ ‘Because animals need open spaces, they should not be locked in cages.’
  • Extended complex sentence with dependent clause following main clause, for example ‘For working animals such as dogs or horses, it generally isn't cruel to keep them in captivity depending on the work they are required to do.’
  • Extended complex sentence with dependent clause preceding main clause, for example ‘You may have noticed that over the last couple of years, the issue of animals’ wellbeing has been debated time and time again.’
  • Extended complex sentence with two dependent clauses – one preceding and one following the main clause, for example ‘If animals are kept in cages or zoos all their lives, they have no chance if or when they are let out into the wild.’
  • Extended complex sentence with extended (compound) non-finite dependent clause following the main clause, for example ‘Zoo keepers may argue that being kept in a cage increases the chance of survival and allows reproduction to continue.’
  • Extended complex sentence containing two non-finite dependent clauses embedded in an extended main clause, for example ‘This is why keeping animals in cages, disregarding their need for open spaces, is a terrible act of cruelty and mistreatment.
Return to top of page