Grammar Module One: Building Sentences

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1 Grammar Module One: Building Sentences I. Introduction II. The Independent Clause and Simple Sentence III. Avoiding Run-On Sentences and Comma Splices IV. Combining Simple Sentences to Make Compound Sentences V. The Subordinate Clause and the Complex Sentence VI. Avoiding Sentence Fragments VII. The Compound- Complex Sentence I. Introduction This grammar module looks at the ordering of words to make up clauses and sentences. The larger parts of written texts - the paragraphs, sections, chapters- are only as clear as the sentences of which they are made. You cannot write a paragraph clearly if you cannot write clear sentences. Clear sentences are wellordered, well-constructed sentences. This module is cumulative; the later sections are based on what is in the first sections. We recommend working through sections one to six slowly, trying the exercises in each and going on to the next when you feel ready. It takes time and practice to begin to absorb and use this information in your own writing. When you do, you will be able to not only avoid the two most common sentence structure errors in student papers, the run-on sentence and the sentence fragment, but you will also be able to put together short simple sentences and long complex ones with ease and clarity. II. The Independent Clause and Simple Sentence A sentence is made up of one or more clauses. To understand what a sentence is, it helps to understand what a clause is. To do that, you must understand what a subject and verb are. Clause A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. A clause may have other words besides these, but to be a clause, it must have the two. Subject A subject is usually a noun (person, place, thing, idea) or a pronoun (a word that substitutes for and refers to a noun: e.g. "he" for "Sam"). The subject of a sentence is the noun or pronoun that name who or what the sentence is about: Fish swim. (Fish is the subject.) He wrote the letter. (He is the subject.) Verb A verb conveys action or "states of being or mind." Fish swim. (Swim is the verb.) He seems happy. (Seem is the verb.) It is not always easy to recognize verbs which convey states of being or mind, but they are some of the most used. Examples are: to be, to seem, to have, to appear. In English, subjects usually come before verbs: The battle rages.

2 However, sometimes the subject comes after the verb: In our neighbours' yard are two big maple trees. There are several books on the table. Subject-verb order is often reversed or modified in questions: Who are you? Are you going home this weekend? In something called an "expletive construction," the subject follows the verb and the sentence begins with either "there is" or "there are." There is a book on the table. There are several books on the table. Independent Clause An independent clause has a subject and a verb, and by itself, can be a sentence: a simple sentence. All of the above example sentences are independent clauses and simple sentences. Web Link: Exercise 1 Identifying Subjects and Verbs III. Avoiding Run-On Sentences and Comma Splices An independent clause has a subject and a verb and can stand by itself as a sentence. When it does, it is called a simple sentence. In other words, a simple sentence consists of one independent clause: Birds fly. Armed with this knowledge, you can now avoid two of the most common errors in student writing, known variously as the run-on, run-together or fused sentence, and it close relation, the comma splice. Example of a Run-On Sentence: I enjoyed the anthology very much the stories still remain in my mind. Let's analyze the subject and verbs: I enjoyed the anthology very much the stories still remain in my mind. It becomes clear that the above contains two simple sentences or two independent clauses, each with its own subject-verb. It is a run-on sentence because it is written as if it were only one sentence with no punctuation to show the reader where the first clause ends and the second begins. To avoid a run-on without changing the words or adding words, you have two choices: 1. Insert a period before the second sentence: I enjoyed the anthology very much. The stories still remain in my mind. 2. Join the two clauses or simple sentences and make a compound sentence, which is a sentence made up of two independent clauses, joined correctly. Use a semi-colon for this. I enjoyed the anthology very much; the stories still remain in my mind.

3 Example of a Comma Splice: I enjoyed the anthology very much, the stories still remain in my mind. Here, a comma has been used instead of a semi-colon to combine the two independent clauses. Commas have many uses; this is not one of them. To avoid or correct a comma splice without changing the words or adding word, you have the same two choices as you have for correcting or avoiding a run-on sentence. 1. Insert a period before the second sentence: I enjoyed the anthology very much. The stories still remain in my mind. 2. Join the two clauses or simple sentences and make a compound sentence, which is a sentence made up of two independent clauses, joined correctly. Use a semi-colon for this. I enjoyed the anthology very much; the stories still remain in my mind. Web Link: Exercise 2 Correcting Run-Ons and Comma Splices IV. Combining Simple Sentences to Make Compound Sentences When two simple sentences are combined correctly to make one longer sentence, we call that sentence a compound sentence. There are three ways to do this. Use a Semi-Colon See above Use a Coordinating Conjunction The seven coordinating conjunctions are "and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so." Think "fanboys." Fanboys is made up of the first letter of each of the above conjunctions. For example: The joke was funny, and it was on me. Note the comma's place after the first simple sentence or independent clause and before the coordinating conjunction, "and". In a compound sentence, simple sentences become known as independent clauses; the two independent clauses together make up a compound sentence. (Coordinating conjunctions can be used for many different reasons. You don't always need to put a comma before and. Just remember to do so when it is joining two independent clauses to make a compound sentence.) Note the difference between the following two sentences: The joke was funny, and it was on me. The joke was funny and was on me. The first sentence is a compound sentence with two independent clauses joined by and. The second is a simple sentence consisting of one independent clause with one subject and two verbs (or one verb used twice). For the simple sentence, a comma before "and" is unnecessary.

4 Use a Semi-Colon and an Adverbial Connective Writers often confuse coordinating conjunctions with other kinds of words, such as "moreover, therefore, however, also, and furthermore," or with such phrases as "in fact, on the contrary, in addition, and as a result." These words and phrases can also be used to combine independent clauses and make compound sentences, but these words and phrases do not have the connecting power of coordinating conjunctions, and when you use one, you need to put a semi-colon before it. For example: The vote was close; nevertheless, the government prevailed. The comma which comes after "nevertheless" in the example is optional, but the semi-colon is required. Words like these have several different names: sentence connectors, transitional words/phrases, conjunctive adverbs, adverbial connectives. Here, adverbial connectives will be used. Some Adverbial Connectives Words: accordingly instead then also likewise therefore besides moreover thus consequently nevertheless finally next first nonetheless furthermore otherwise hence second however similarly indeed still Phrases: all in all in addition on the contrary as a result in any event on the other hand as an illustration in contrast on the whole for example in fact that is for instance in general to illustrate for this purpose Web Link: Exercise 3 Combining Independent Clauses to Make Compound Sentences Using Adverbial Connectives Summary Methods of combining independent clauses to make compound sentences. 1. Use a semi-colon: This program had tremendous success; the seal populations increased significantly. 2. Use a coordinating conjunction ("fanboys") preceded by a comma: This program had tremendous success, for the seal population increased significantly.

5 3. Use an adverbial connective preceded by a semi-colon: This program had tremendous success; in fact, the seal population increased significantly. V. The Subordinate Clause and the Complex Sentence While a compound sentence is made by combining independent clauses, a complex sentence is made by combining an independent clause with one or more subordinate clauses (also called dependent clauses): Example of a Complex Sentence: If I finish work early, I'll go shopping. Identifying Subordinate Clauses A subordinate clause, like an independent clause, has a subject and a verb, but unlike an independent clause, it cannot stand alone as a sentence. Subordinate clauses begin with certain words or short phrases called subordinating words (also known as dependent words, or subordinating/subordinate conjunctions). If a clause begins with a subordinating word, that clause is a subordinate clause and cannot stand alone as a sentence. Subordinating Conjunctions: after if what although in order that whatever as provided that when as if since whenever as long as so that where because than whereas before that wherever even if though whether even though unless ever since until Relative Pronouns are also subordinating words: who which whomever whom that whichever whose whoever Examples of subordinate clauses: Although the weather didn't cooperate As he was in a hurry If you really want to go who led the Metis in the North West rebellions

6 VI. Avoiding Sentence Fragments A subordinate clause must be attached to an independent clause. If it is not, it becomes a sentence structure error called a sentence fragment. The above examples of subordinate clauses are fragments; they can be corrected by combining each with an appropriate independent clause, and making complex sentences: Although the weather didn't cooperate, we had a good time. As he was in a hurry, he didn't stop to chat. If you really want to go, you have my permission. Louis Riel, who led the Metis in the North West rebellions, was hanged for treason. The most important thing to remember about all subordinate clauses is that they cannot stand alone as sentences; they must be combined with an independent clause to form a complex sentence: Although the weather didn't cooperate (sentence fragment) Although the weather didn't cooperate, we still enjoyed our picnic. Note that the subordinate clause can precede or follow the independent clause: Although the weather didn't cooperate, we still enjoyed our picnic. We still enjoyed our picnic although the weather didn't cooperate. When the subordinate clause precedes the independent clause, it is followed by a comma; the comma isn't necessary when the subordinate clause follows the independent clause. Subordinate means of lesser importance. In a compound sentence, the clauses are both independent, and both the ideas they convey are given equal emphasis. In a complex sentence, the idea in the subordinate clause is not given equal emphasis; that is why the writer chooses to put it in the subordinate clause, thereby emphasizing the idea of the independent clause: Although she was penalized for plagiarism, she was basically an honest person. The writer of this sentence wants to emphasize the idea of the independent clause - that "she was honest," and to place less emphasis on the idea of the subordinate clause - that "she was penalized for plagiarism." Although she was basically an honest person, she was penalized for plagiarism. Here, the writer is emphasizing that "she was penalized for plagiarism" and placing less emphasis on the fact that "'she was basically honest." The difference between the two sentences is subtle but clear. Web Link: Exercise 4 Correcting Subordinate Clause-Sentence Fragments

7 Other Kinds of Sentence Fragments Remember that every clause must have a subject and a verb and that every sentence must have at least one independent clause. Any group of words written as a sentence that does not have both a subject and a verb is a sentence fragment: Had never eaten so much - no subject Being nervous - no subject The chips and beer- no verb Sentence fragments like these are corrected by making sure that each has both an adequate subject and a complete verb: I had never eaten so much. The chips and beer tasted great. I was nervous. or Being nervous, I spoke far too quickly. As with the last example above, sometimes a sentence fragment can be corrected by combining it with the preceding or following sentences you have written. For example, suppose you have written: Being nervous. I spoke far too quickly. All you need to do to correct the fragment is to change the period to a comma, and attach the fragment to the simple sentence: Being nervous, I spoke far too quickly. Sentence fragments increasingly are used in writing for newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and other kinds of non-academic writing. Despite their popularity, they remain grammatically incorrect and inappropriate for academic and other kinds of formal writing. Summary and Review of Sentence Types: 1. Simple - consists of one independent clause and no subordinate clauses: You crossed my mind. 2. Compound - consists of two or more independent clauses and no subordinate clauses: You crossed my mind, but you didn't stay there. 3. Complex - consists of one independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses: If he was angry, I didn't notice it. Last but not least, we have the compound-complex sentence.

8 The Compound-Complex Sentence Compound-complex sentences consist of two or more independent clauses and one or more subordinate clauses: I like the look of dalmatians: however, I suspect that they are too high-strung to be good pets. When the weather is warm, my sister and I like to walk to work; however, when it gets cold, we catch the bus. (opening sentence of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery [who knew her way around a sentence]): Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade, but by the time it reached Lyndes' Hollow, it was a quiet, well-conducted little steam, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place, she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof. Long compound-complex sentences are sometimes incorrectly labelled as run-on or run-together sentences, but they are not if their clauses are correctly combined. If you combine your clauses correctly, your sentence is correct, no matter how long it is. Of course, you don't want all your sentences to be long (you may think Montgomery's sentence above is way too long - but it is correct), but you don't want them all to be short simple sentences either. It is best to use a judicious mix. A variety of sentence types will always be more interesting to your reader than the same type and length repeated over and over. The Academic Skills Centre, Trent University

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