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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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4 Structuring simple sentences

When people speak, they use their voice to signal when they reach the end of one point and are starting another. When you write, you do this by writing a sentence. You may not be consciously aware of whether people use sentences while speaking, and often it does not matter whether people speak in complete sentences or not. However, when you write, it does matter. If it is not written in sentences, your writing can be difficult to read and the meaning may not be clear. Also, writing in complete sentences is an important feature of academic style. But what exactly is a sentence?

Activity 9

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Question 1

Read the following five examples. Which of these is a sentence?

  1. Just in time!

a. 

Sentence


b. 

Not a sentence


The correct answer is b.

Answer

  1. This example starts with a capital letter and ends with an exclamation mark, so it could be a sentence. However, grammatically, it is not a sentence because it lacks a verb and it does not include the person or thing that does the action.
  1. A very innovative approach

a. 

Sentence


b. 

Not a sentence


The correct answer is b.

Answer

  1. This example contains a noun group, which could be the thing that does the action. However, it is not a sentence because no action is mentioned as this example does not contain a verb or verb group. Finally, this example lacks an important feature of sentences: a full stop, a question mark or an exclamation mark.
  1. Private and public spaces differ greatly.

a. 

Sentence


b. 

Not a sentence


The correct answer is a.

Answer

  1. This example is a sentence because it has all the necessary features. It starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. It states the thing being described, the noun group ‘private and public spaces’, and also contains the verb ‘differ’.
  1. What is a sentence?

a. 

Sentence


b. 

Not a sentence


The correct answer is a.

Answer

  1. This example is a sentence, which expresses a question. It starts with a capital letter and ends with a question mark. It mentions a thing being described (a sentence) and contains a verb (is).
  1. Been there, done that!

a. 

Sentence


b. 

Not a sentence


The correct answer is b.

Answer

  1. This is not a sentence. It does contain two verbs expressing an action (been, done) but the person who did this action is not mentioned.
  1. Read the following text.

a. 

Sentence


b. 

Not a sentence


The correct answer is a.

Answer

  1. This is a sentence which expresses an order. It starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. It contains a verb. The person who should carry out the action (you) is implied and this is acceptable in sentences expressing advice.

Comment

Examples 1, 2 and 5 are often used in conversations or in informal texts such as text messages, Facebook messages, postcards or informal emails. They would be considered inappropriate however, if included in an essay or other formal document.

Question 2

Based on the insights you gained from the reading and the answers to Question 1, what are the features of a typical sentence?

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Answer

  • A sentence is a group of words that starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, a question mark (?) or an exclamation mark (!).

  • A sentence can be used to make a statement (example 3), ask a question (example 4) or express an order, a piece of advice or an exclamation.

  • A sentence normally includes a person, thing or situation that performs an action or is described. This person, thing or situation is a noun or a noun group.

  • A sentence should also include a verb which either expresses an action or links the thing, person or situation to its description

The sentences you have looked at so far are simple sentences as they contain one noun group and one verb group. To understand how more complex sentences are structured, you need to learn about clauses. You will do this in the following sections.