In this guide, bold font and parentheses are used to draw attention to subjects, verbs, conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs, commas, colons, semi-colons, and periods. Screen Reader Users: Please set your program’s punctuation level to 'most' or 'all' in order to hear the content in parentheses.
A sentence is a group of words that express a complete thought. In English, a simple sentence is made up of a subject + a verb + possibly an object. This sentence structure is sometimes represented as SVO.
To understand sentences, you must ﬁrst understand clauses, which make up sentences. A clause is deﬁned as a group of words containing both a subject and a verb. Clauses can be independent or dependent (also known as subordinate).
There are three kinds of sentences:
A simple sentence consists of one main (or independent) clause. To be complete, a simple sentence must have at least one subject and one verb.
Example: The man (subject) went (verb) to the store.
A compound sentence has at least two main (or independent) clauses, connected by coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Each clause has its own subject(s) and verb(s).
Example: The man went to the store, and the sales clerk sold him some milk.
A complex sentence has at least one main (or independent) clause and at least one dependent (or subordinate) clause.
Example: When an atom is split, it releases neutrons.
A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. It usually lacks either a subject or a verb, or both, or contains only a dependent clause.
A succession of short sentences, without transitions to link them to each other, results in choppy sentences. To correct, join the sentences as clauses using appropriate transitions and conjunctions.
A run-on sentence is one in which two or more independent clauses (or complete sentences) are joined incorrectly by missing punctuation, a connecting word, or both. The two types of run-on sentences are fused sentences and comma splice errors.
Remember that the length of a sentence does not determine whether it is a run-on sentence: a sentence that is correctly punctuated and correctly joined can be extremely long.
There are two types of run-on sentences:
In a fused sentence, independent clauses follow each other in a sentence with no punctuation.
A comma splice error refers to the error of placing only a comma between two independent clauses, without a connecting word (such as and, but, or because).
A comma splice also occurs when commas are used before conjunctive adverbs (therefore, however, nevertheless, moreover, etc.) connecting two independent clauses.
Note: When the conjunctive adverb is within the clause rather than at the beginning, place it between commas.
To correct a fused sentence or a comma splice error, you can use either a period, semi-colon, colon, comma plus coordinating conjunction, or subordinating conjunction.
A loose sentence results when the main (independent) clause is followed by many phrases and clauses that add information but in no particular order.
Inappropriate coordination results if you use “and” as a connective when other conjunctions would convey a more precise meaning.
Excessive coordination results when several clauses are joined by coordinating conjunctions. If you are trying to correct choppy sentences by joining them, be careful that you do not end up with excessive coordination instead.
Excessive subordination results when a number of simple sentences are joined together with subordinating conjunctions (because, that, which, after, if, etc.). This error can cause confusion for the reader because it is unclear how the parts of the sentence are related. If you are trying to correct choppy sentences by joining them, be careful that you do not end up with excessive subordination instead.
Parts of a sentence which are in sequence should all follow the same grammatical or structural principle.
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