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Sentence Structure: The Fab Four Sentences In the past, you learned that there are two types of clauses: independent and dependent: Independent clauses are complete sentences because they have a subject and verb and express a complete thought. Dependent clauses, in contrast, cannot stand alone because they do not express a complete thought—even though they have a subject and a verb. Independent and dependent clauses can be used in a number of ways to form the four basic types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. I. Simple Sentences: Simple Isn't as Simple Does = I A simple sentence has one independent clause. That means it has one subject and one verb—although either or both can be compound. In addition, a simple sentence can have adjectives and adverbs. What a simple sentence can't have is another independent clause or any subordinate clauses. For example: Americans eat more bananas than they eat any other fruit. one subject, one verb David Letterman and Jay Leno host talk shows. compound subject, one verb My son toasts and butters his bagel. one subject, compound verb Don't shun the simple sentence—it's no simpleton. The simple sentence served Ernest Hemingway well; with its help, macho man Ernie snagged a Nobel Prize in Literature. In the following excerpt from The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway uses the simple sentence to convey powerful emotions or significant ideas; you can, too! II. Compound Sentences: Compound Interest = I + I A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses. The independent clauses can be joined in one of two ways: With a coordinating conjunction: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so With a semicolon (;) As with a simple sentence, a compound sentence can't have any subordinate clauses. Here are some compound sentences for your reading pleasure. Independent Clause Conjunction or Semicolon Independent Clause Men are mammals And women are femammals. (stupid example – sorry!) Mushrooms grow in damp places So they look like umbrellas. The largest mammals are found in the sea ; there's nowhere else to put them. You might also add a conjunctive adverb to this construction, as in this example: The largest mammals are found in the sea; after all, there's nowhere else to put them. IIII. Complex Sentences: Not So Complex at All = I + D A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. The independent clause is called the “main clause.” These sentences use subordinating conjunctions to link ideas. As you check out these examples, see if you can find the subordinating conjunctions. Parallel lines never meet (independent clause) until (subordinating conjunction) you bend one of them (dependent clause). Many dead animals of the past changed to oil (independent clause) while (subordinating conjunction) others preferred to be gas (dependent clause). Even though (subordinating conjunction) the sun is a star (dependent clause), it knows how to change back to the sun in the daytime (independent clause). The subordinating conjunctions above are until, while, and even though. Reference your notes from last semester for more information on possible subordinate conjunctions! IV. Compound-Complex Sentences: The Big Kahuna = I + I + D A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The dependent clause can be part of the independent clause. For instance: the lakes dry up, When the heat comes, dependent clause independent clause and farmers know the crops will fail. independent clause but I couldn't I planned to drive to work, independent clause independent clause until the mechanic repaired my car. dependent clause The Choice Is Yours Decisions, decisions: Now that you know you have four different sentence types at your disposal, which ones should you use? Effective communication requires not only that you write complete sentences, but also that you write sentences that say exactly what you mean. Try these six guidelines as you decide which sentence types to use and when: Danger, Danger! Don't join the two parts of a compound sentence with a comma—you'll end up with a type of run-on sentence called a comma splice. Every sentence should provide clear and complete information. Most effective sentences are concise, conveying their meaning in as few words as possible. Effective sentences stress the main point or the most important detail. In most cases, the main point is located in the main clause to make it easier to find. Your choice of sentences depends on your audience. For example, you would use simple sentences and short words if your readers were children, while an audience of engineers would call for more technical language and longer sentences. Always consider your purpose for writing before you select a sentence type. The rhythm and pacing of your writing is determined by your sentences. Before you shift into panic mode, you should know that most writers use a combination of all four sentence types to convey their meaning. Even Ernest Hemingway slipped a compound sentence or two in among all those simple sentences. Face the Music But now it's time to see what's what, who's who, and where you're at with this sentence stuff. To do so, label each of the following sentences as simple, compound, complex, or compound- complex. ____ 1. If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried. ____ 2. The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread. ____ 3. You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive. ____ 4. It takes about half a gallon of water to cook spaghetti, and about a gallon of water to clean the pot. ____ 5. Monday is an awful way to spend one-seventh of your life. ____ 6. Genetics explains why you look like your father and if you don't, why you should. ____ 7. To succeed in politics, it is often necessary to rise above your principles. ____ 8. Two wrongs are only the beginning. ____ 9. When oxygen is combined with anything, heat is given off, a process known as “constipation.” ____ 10. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research. Answers 1. complex 6. compound-complex 2. simple 7. complex 3. complex 8. simple 4. compound 9. compound-complex 5. simple 10. compound The Structure of a Sentence Remember that every clause is, in a sense, a miniature sentence. A simple sentences contains only a single clause, while a compound sentence, a complex sentence, or a compound-complex sentence contains at least two clauses. The Simple Sentence The most basic type of sentence is the simple sentence, which contains only one clause. A simple sentence can be as short as one word: Run! Usually, however, the sentence has a subject as well as a predicate and both the subject and the predicate may have modifiers. All of the following are simple sentences, because each contains only one clause: Melt! Ice melts. The ice melts quickly. The ice on the river melts quickly under the warm March sun. Lying exposed without its blanket of snow, the ice on the river melts quickly under the warm March sun. As you can see, a simple sentence can be quite long -- it is a mistake to think that you can tell a simple sentence from a compound sentence or a complex sentence simply by its length. The most natural sentence structure is the simple sentence: it is the first kind which children learn to speak, and it remains by far the most common sentence in the spoken language of people of all ages. In written work, simple sentences can be very effective for grabbing a reader's attention or for summing up an argument, but you have to use them with care: too many simple sentences can make your writing seem childish. When you do use simple sentences, you should add transitional phrases to connect them to the surrounding sentences. The Compound Sentence A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses (or simple sentences) joined by co-ordinating conjunctions like "and," "but," and "or": Simple Canada is a rich country. Simple Still, it has many poor people. Compound Canada is a rich country, but still it has many poor people. Compound sentences are very natural for English speakers -- small children learn to use them early on to connect their ideas and to avoid pausing (and allowing an adult to interrupt): Today at school Mr. Moore brought in his pet rabbit, and he showed it to the class, and I got to pet it, and Kate held it, and we coloured pictures of it, and it ate part of my carrot at lunch, and ... Of course, this is an extreme example, but if you over-use compound sentences in written work, your writing might seem immature. A compound sentence is most effective when you use it to create a sense of balance or contrast between two (or more) equally-important pieces of information: Montéal has better clubs, but Toronto has better cinemas. Special Cases of Compound Sentences There are two special types of compound sentences which you might want to note. First, rather than joining two simple sentences together, a co-ordinating conjunction sometimes joins two complex sentences, or one simple sentence and one complex sentence. In this case, the sentence is called a compound-complex sentence: compound-complex The package arrived in the morning, but the courier left before I could check the contents. The second special case involves punctuation. It is possible to join two originally separate sentences into a compound sentence using a semicolon instead of a co-ordinating conjunction: Sir John A. Macdonald had a serious drinking problem; when sober, however, he could be a formidable foe in the House of Commons. Usually, a conjunctive adverb like "however" or "consequently" will appear near the beginning of the second part, but it is not required: The sun rises in the east; it sets in the west. The Complex Sentence A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. Unlike a compound sentence, however, a complex sentence contains clauses which are not equal. Consider the following examples: Simple My friend invited me to a party. I do not want to go. Compound My friend invited me to a party, but I do not want to go. Complex Although my friend invited me to a party, I do not want to go. In the first example, there are two separate simple sentences: "My friend invited me to a party" and "I do not want to go." The second example joins them together into a single sentence with the co-ordinating conjunction "but," but both parts could still stand as independent sentences -- they are entirely equal, and the reader cannot tell which is most important. In the third example, however, the sentence has changed quite a bit: the first clause, "Although my friend invited me to a party," has become incomplete, or a dependent clause. A complex sentence is very different from a simple sentence or a compound sentence because it makes clear which ideas are most important. When you write My friend invited me to a party. I do not want to go. or even My friend invited me to a party, but I do not want to go. The reader will have trouble knowing which piece of information is most important to you. When you write the subordinating conjunction "although" at the beginning of the first clause, however, you make it clear that the fact that your friend invited you is less important than, or subordinate, to the fact that you do not want to go.
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