Sentences and Grammar

Recognition of Sentence Parts

Word order is very important in English. For this reason, it is essential to recognize and use the various sentence parts that make up the pattern of English sentences. These sentence parts occur in several basic formats; these basic formats can be used to develop more complex sentences. With practice, these formats are manipulated to provide the complexity of English.

Basic Sentence Patterns

The five patterns illustrated below provide the basis for all other sentence structures: that is, other kinds of sentences are transformations of these basic patterns.

Pattern 1:   Subject + Verb
     (S + V)
Subject      Verb
Birds      fly.
The sun      set.
Mildred      laughed.

Though the above sentences are simple and rarely used in mature writing, such sentences are the basis of all sentences; that is, the essential elements of a sentence are the subject and verb, which together express a complete thought.

Pattern 2:   Subject + Verb + Direct Object
     (S + V + DO)
Subject      Verb      Direct Object
The child      ate      her vegetables.
I      prefer      tea.
The police      arrested      him.
Jack      mended      the fence.

The verbs used in sentence pattern 2 are transitive verbs, verbs which require an object. These verbs pass their action on to a following word, the direct object. The direct object is always a noun, pronoun, or group of words functioning as a noun. The direct object answers the question what or whom after the verb.

Pattern 3:   Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Object Complement
     (S + V + DO + OC)
Subject      Verb      Direct Object      Object Complement
She      found      him      stupid.
The sun      made      me      sleepy.
The club      elected      Gena      president.

In sentence pattern 3, the direct object following the verb can be followed by another noun or a modifying word or phrase. This noun or modifier renames or describes the direct object; it complements the direct object, hence the term object complement.

Note: There are a restricted number of verbs that can be used in sentence pattern 3.

Pattern 4:   Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object
     (S + V + IO + DO)
Subject      Verb      Indirect Object      Direct Object
Susan      sent      Linda      a card.
He      told      them      the truth.
The army      awarded      her      a medal.
Peter      gave      the dog      a bone.

After certain verbs, the direct object is often preceded by an indirect object, which is always a noun or pronoun. The indirect object is the receiver of the direct object.

Examples of verbs that can be used in pattern 4 are as follows:

ask      offer      promise      show      write
buy      order      sell      teach          
give      painted      send      tell          

With these verbs, if the direct object precedes the indirect object, to or for is positioned before the indirect object:

Subject      Verb      Direct Object      Indirect Object
He      gave      the book      to her.
She      has written      a letter      to the company.
They      bought      a car      for their son.

These sentences could also have been written with the indirect object preceding the direct object.

Subject      Verb      Indirect Object      Direct Object
He      gave      her      the book.
She      has written      the company      a letter.
They      bought      their son      a car.

Pattern 5:   Subject + Linking Verb + Subject Complement
     (S + LV + SC)
                    Subject Complement
Subject      Linking Verb      Predicate Noun or     Predicate Adjective
Celine Dion      is      French Canadian.           
Einstein      was      a scientist.          
Julie      will remain      chairperson.          
Anne      seems                tired.
The water      felt                warm.
Rumours      were                rife.

Sentence pattern 5 is used with a special type of verb called a linking or stative verb. These verbs are followed by a subject complement, which, as seen in the examples, may be a predicate noun or a predicate adjective. The predicate noun or adjective identifies or describes the subject.

Note: Use either a predicate noun or a predicate adjective as the complement. They cannot both be used to complement the same verb.

Subject Recognition

A sentence has two basic elements:

The subject

The predicate

Types of Subjects

Simple subject

Compound subject

Complete subject

Problems with Subject Recognition

With intervening elements

Nouns or pronouns that serve as the subject of a sentence should not be confused with nouns or pronouns that are a part of an intervening phrase or clause.

Many of the buildings that the city had had demolished were of great historic interest. (Many is the subject.)
During winter, Lindsey, my oldest and dearest friend, and who’s the same age as I am, suffers from severe depression. (Lindsey is the subject.)
Several of his students had difficulty with question eight on the exam. (Several is the subject.)
The girl, along with her friends, is going to the club tonight. (Girl is the subject.)

With expletives

Sometimes an expletive (there, it) is used to introduce a sentence. An expletive is never the subject of a sentence. Where an expletive is used, the subject comes after the verb.

There was a car parked on the other side of the road.
= A car was parked on the other side of the road.
(Clearly, car is the subject of the sentence.)

It is futile to aspire to perfection.
= To aspire to perfection is futile.
(The whole phrase to aspire to perfection is the subject.)

With noun clauses and verbal phrases

Noun clauses and verbal phrases may serve as subjects of sentences.

What he said about the proposal angered many of the participants. (The noun clause what he said about the proposal is the subject.)
Whatever you decide to do is fine with me. (The noun clause whatever you decide to do is the subject.)
Reading French is just as hard as speaking it. (The gerund phrase Reading French is the subject.) Gerunds
To argue the issue is pointless. (The infinitive phrase to argue the issue is the subject.) Infinitives

With imperatives

An imperative sentence expresses a command or a request. The subject you is often understood: that is, it is rarely stated.

(You) Sit down, please.
(You) Close the door!
(You) Stay here.
You stay here. (In this example, the subject you is expressed.)

Predicate Recognition

The predicate is the part of a sentence that says something about the subject. The predicate says what the subject is doing or experiencing, describes a state of being, or describes what is being done to the subject. The essential element of the predicate is a verb.

Sally cried. (Cried, is the predicate; it says what the subject is doing.)
Sally is tall and long-limbed. (Is is the predicate verb; it describes a state of being and along with tall and long-limbed describes the subject.)
Sally has a cold. (Has, is the predicate verb; it says what the subject is experiencing.)
Sally was given a medal. (Was given is the predicate verb; it describes what is being done to the subject.) Passive

Types of Predicate

Simple predicate

Compound predicate

Note: These sentences provide examples of parallel structure.

Complete predicate

Problems with Predicate Verb Recognition

With verbals

Verbals, particularly gerunds (those ending in ing) and infinitives, cannot be the predicate verb. If a verb ends in ing it cannot be a main verb unless the auxiliary verb(s) are also present. A predicate always has a verb, but a verb form is not always part of a predicate.

Jumping on a trampoline is fun. (Jumping, a gerund, is the subject here. Without the auxillary verb/s, it cannot function as the predicate. The main verb of this sentence is is; the predicate is fun.)
John was jumping on the trampoline. (Was jumping is the simple predicate here—it is a verb in the past progressive tense. Note the auxiliary verb was. The complete predicate is was jumping on the trampoline.)

With the verb to be

The various forms of the verb to be (is, am, are, was, were, etc.) are often not recognized as the predicate. Remember that verbs indicate an action or state of being.

I am tired today. (Am is the predicate verb.)
Wes and Bill are home today. (Are is the predicate verb.)
John and Neil were at the hardware store yesterday. (Were is the predicate verb.)

Note: If you have problems with sentence fragments or run-on sentences, first identify the predicate verb, then identify the subject that belongs to the verb. For example, in the first sentence above, who or what is jumping? There is no one doing the action, so jumping is not the predicate verb. On the other hand, who or what is fun? The answer is jumping, so the predicate verb is is.

Complement Recognition

Words such as nouns, pronouns, and adjectives that are used to complete the verb (they are placed after the verb) are called complements.

Direct object

Indirect object

Predicate noun

Predicate adjective

Object complement

Retained object

Phrase Recognition

A phrase is a group of related words that is not a complete thought. Therefore, unlike a clause or a sentence, it does not have a verb.

Types of Phrases

Gerund phrase

Participial phrase

Infinitive phrase

Prepositional phrase

Absolute phrase

Appositive phrase

Clause Recognition

Unlike a phrase, a clause does have a verb. If it is an independent clause, it can function as a complete sentence; it is a dependent clause, then it must be part of a complex sentence.

Independent Clauses

An independent (main) clause

Dependent Clauses

A dependent (subordinate) clause

Types of Dependent Clauses

Noun clause

Adjective clause

Note: In essential clauses, the pronoun can be omitted when referring to the object:

           The man I spoke to had a soft voice.
           The man who/whom I spoke to had a soft voice.

Adjective clauses are divided into two types:

  1. essential (restrictive or defining): define the preceding noun or pronoun in such a way as to distinguish it from other nouns and pronouns of the same class. The clause answers the question which. This type of clause cannot be omitted because it adds information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and so is never enclosed in commas.

    The brother who lives in Vancouver is an architect. (Which brother is an architect? The one who lives in Vancouver. The clause distinguishes which brother is being referred to.)
    D'Abaji’s is the name of the place where I buy my fresh vegetables. (Which place is D'Abaji’s? The place where I buy my fresh vegetables. The clause identifies the noun place.)
    The letter that was shoved under the door reeked of perfume. (Which letter reeked of perfume? The one that was shoved under the door. The clause distinguishes letter from all other letters.)

  2. non-essential (non-restrictive or non-defining): do not define or distinguish the preceding noun but merely add more information about it. The clause is not essential to the meaning of the sentence: that is, the clause can be removed without affecting meaning. In non-essential clauses the pronoun cannot be omitted. Also, the pronoun that is never used. Note that this type of clause is always enclosed in commas and that it may be the commas alone that determine whether it is essential or non-essential.

    My brother, who lives in Vancouver, is an architect. (My brother is an architect is the basic sentence. The clause merely gives more information about my brother.)
    The letter, which was shoved under the door, reeked of perfume. (The letter reeked of perfume is the base sentence. The clause is not distinguishing this letter from other letters, but merely adding more information about it.)
    The school secretary, Lynn, whose spelling is atrocious, wrote tudor in the notice instead of tutor. (The preceding noun Lynn has already been defined: the clause merely gives more information about her.)

Adverbial clause

There are several types of adverbial clauses which are introduced by subordinating conjunctions:

  1. time

    Conjunctions:      after, before, once, since, while, when, until, as, whenever, as soon as

    In Brazil, prices were rising 40% a month before economics minister, Fernando Cardoso, introduced his anti-inflation plan.
    When the plan took effect, it reduced the monthly rate to 2½%.
    Since he took office, the premier has cut public spending by 47%.

  2. place

    Conjunctions:      where, wherever, whence, (whither--poetic)

    Can you tell me where he has gone?
    Wherever there’s smoke, there’s fire.
    From whence she came, no one knows.

  3. reason or cause

    Conjunctions:      because, as, since, for

    He decided against buying the car because he realized he couldn’t afford the insurance.
    Since it didn’t seem to matter whether she stayed or left, she left.
    As he had an hour to kill, he decided to clean out his fridge.

  4. purpose

    Conjunctions:      so that, in order that, that

    Marcie left a note on the table so that George would know where she’d gone.

  5. result

    Conjunctions:      so . . . that, such . . . that

    It was so cold that one’s breath crystallized.
    She was such a pleasant work-mate that everyone was sorry when she left.

  6. condition

    Conjunctions:      if, even if, unless, suppose, supposing, providing, providing that, as long as

    If I had known then what I know now, how differently things would have turned out.
    Supposing you had been caught, what then?
    Provided that one’s papers were in order, the police didn’t interfere.

  7. concession

    Conjunctions:      though, although, even though

    Although they disagreed about most things, they were the best of friends.
    He bought the boat even though he couldn’t sail it.

  8. manner

    Conjunctions:      as, as if, as though

    The child does as she likes, and no one ever says a word about it.
    He felt as if he’d been kicked in the stomach.
    She spoke as though she had prunes in her mouth.

  9. comparison

    Conjunctions:      as . . . as, than

    Midge’s twelve-year-old daughter is as tall as Midge is.
    Her sixteen-year-old son, however, is shorter than Midge. (The verb is, after Midge, is omitted, but understood.)