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What You Need to Know About Sentence Structure

Image representing a student learning how to sound more interesting in English

When it comes to writing in English, a really important part that you need to consider is sentence structure.

How do you put a sentence together? What goes where? And what should you avoid?

Let’s take a closer look and find out!

Simple sentences

The most simplest sentence of all is going to be made up of the essential building blocks of the English language: words, phrases and clauses.

Phrases are words that have been put together to describe something or convey some information. On their own, they can’t make a complete sentence.

For example: “the fat cat”

A clause is a larger group of words compared to a phrase, and gives a bit more information. It will include a noun and a verb as well. The simplest sentence can be made up of a clause.

For example: “The cat ran.”

Remember that a sentence always starts with a capitalised letter, and ends will a full stop!

Compound sentences

Once you’ve gotten the hang of simple sentences, you can start to combine clauses to make longer sentences – these are called compound sentences.

You can think of these as combined clauses – putting more than one clause together. The important thing you need to know is that when you’re doing this, you must always include conjunctions between each clause or phrase, to join them up!

For example: “The dog barked and the cat ran away.”

Conjunctions and what they mean

You can use a variety of different conjunctions, which all mean different things. The most common ones are:

‘And’ – this is one of the simplest – it’s used to add things together, without giving any other meaning to the sentence, as in the example above.

‘But’ – this is another common one – you use it to show a contrast or disagreement between clauses, for example: “The dog barked but the cat just stared.”

‘Or’ – you use this conjunction when there is a choice between different things, and only one can be picked, for example: “You can choose the red car or the blue car.”

Try them out when you’re putting together compound sentences, and see how the different conjunctions can change the meaning!

Complex sentences

As you might be able to guess from the name, these sentences have a pretty complicated structure! It can take a bit of getting used to – but with practice, you’ll be able to create your own.

A complex sentence contains a main clause and at least one adverbial clause, with a conjunction in between. Adverbial clauses act like adverbs – they can give extra information about the verb in the main clause, and how it is happening.

For example: “The dogs bark a lot but they are generally friendly.”

The main clause is “The dogs bark a lot” and the adverbial clause is “they are generally friendly”.

Your turn

Putting together a sentence isn’t as complicated as you might have thought!

Once you understand the basic elements of combining clauses and using conjunctions, you can start to build on these. This will help you to create quite complex sentences that express a lot of information.

Practice from the basic structure, and work your way up!