Back to the Basics: Sentence Structure

Today we’re going back to basics and discussing proper sentence structure. For most of us it’s second nature. We just write. However, if you’re like me you have probably developed your own style over the years and could do with a refresher course on the rules.
Here is where I could begin a large blog post on the parts of speech that would bore most people to death. Today, though, I am going to keep it short and sweet (for your sake and mine) focusing on the types of sentences you work with as a writer. I ask only that you don’t judge my personal style too harshly. I do tend to run-on a bit now and then…
 Types of sentences: Simple, Compound & Complex
When you get down to it there are really only three types of sentence structures you work with. Writers need to use a combination of all of them within their work. Too many of one structure and the writing can take on a feel that the author does not intend. Of course some authors make the choice to write heavily with one structure and intentionally choosing to write with simple sentences might help convey the mood the author is going for. Just make sure that is a choice you’re actively making and that it works within your piece.
1. Simple/Independent Clause:
  • Nathaneats grapes.
  • Here we have the subject and verb, expressing a complete thought.
2. Compound:
  • Nathaneats grapes, butMadelyndrinks milk.
  • In a compound sentence we have two simple sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Conjunction Junction, anyone?
3. Complex:
  • Nathan and Madelynwere sad after finishing the grapes.
  • Complex sentences contain at least one independent clause and one dependent clause, joined by a subordinating conjunction. In this case “after” is our subordinating conjunction.
There can be more to a complex sentence, but since we’re keeping it short, these three examples should give you a good idea of the range of sentences you should be working with. Making sure you are writing with a combo of the three will help your work flow effortlessly on the page. Being aware of the basic structures will also help you avoid the trap so many of us fall into, myself included: fragments and run-ons.
Mistakes to watch for: Fragments and Run-ons
  • After Natefinished.
  • What then? Fragments do not complete the thought. While some simple sentences can be quite short (e.g. Nate jumped.), fragments do not contain the proper subject/verb usage we outlined above.
  • Nate and Madelynenjoyed their meal, they ate well.
  • I often fall into the run-on trap. I enjoy complex sentences and tend to get carried away. Run-ons occur when you take two complete sentences and don’t connect them correctly. The above is a fairly obvious example to give you a clear idea but sometimes run-ons can be tricky so just be aware.
Hopefully this has brought back memories of high school English class and reminds you of the importance of choosing your sentence structure wisely. As an author you hold a lot of power in the story alone, but you should never underestimate how helpful the structure of your words can be in adding to that storyline.


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