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English Composition I
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• Each writer has a “natural” sentence length and structure

• Once they learn writer’s rhythm and pattern, readers can focus on content, not writing

• At same time, sentences shouldn’t be cookie-cutter – there will be variations

• Exceptions will happen – for emphasis

• Successful writers will use variety of sentence structures

• The more complex the sentences, the more educated the writer seems – to a point


• English sentence tends to use this format:

[subject] [verb] [everything else]

[I] [went] [to the store because we needed milk]

• Without subject AND verb, it’s a fragment

– Went to the store because we needed milk

– Going to the store because we needed milk

– Because we needed milk

[we] [needed] are not subject/verb of the sentence because they aren’t the emphasis

• They are secondary, after “because”


• Punctuation/Syntax in sentence helps the reader follow the ideas – know what’s most important – how the parts fit

• Standard sentence follows THIS form:

[I] [went] [to the store because we needed milk]

• If we move things around, we need a comma to signal the change

Because we needed milk, I went to the store

• The comma tells reader that the introductory element ISN’T the main subject/verb


Combining Sentences

• Sentences need to combine naturally, not be forced together just because you can

Sentences can be combined in many ways, as long as you use the proper punctuation and wording, but that doesn’t mean that all of the ideas need to be combined together, or even combined at all because sometimes ideas need to have space to breathe on their own.

Sentences can be combined in many ways, as long as you use the proper punctuation and wording. That doesn’t mean that all of the ideas need to be combined or even combined at all. Sometimes ideas need to have space to breathe on their own.


Run-on Sentences

• Two sentences run together are a run-on

Run-ons happen fragments do too.

• We need SOMETHING to connect them

• However, a comma by itself ISN’T correct

Run-ons happen, fragments do too.

• This is a specialized form of run-on called a comma splice

• Better than no punctuation, but still wrong

• A comma by itself isn’t strong enough to combine sentences

• Commas have too many other functions to be used here also


5 Options for “fixing” run-on

1. Eliminate one of the sentences:

Run-ons and fragments happen.

– Most skillful, but not always possible or easy

– Good idea to try, but don’t force the issue

– Most of the time, writer will use a punctuation solution

2. Make it two separate sentences:

Run-ons happen. Fragments do too

– Simple, but they were combined for a reason

3. Use a semi-colon:

Run-ons happen; fragments do too.

– This is primary function for semi-colon

4. Use a comma and a conjunction:

Run-ons happen, and fragments do too.

– Conjunction MUST have comma before it

5. Use transition word/phrase:

Run-ons happen; however, fragments do too.

– Transition needs both a semi-colon and a comma


Conditional Sentences

• Conditionals are words that set up a “condition” or situation that makes the idea unfinished without a proper subject/verb

• Sentences that begin with

If, Until, Since, Whenever, As, Before, While, Unless, After, Though, Because, etc.

• Need to be set off with comma and sentence finished or else they are fragments

After we get the car, we can go home.

Unless you finish the test, I can’t grade it.

• -ing word is a verb if used with helper:

– Am walking, were singing, is talking, etc.

• -ing word can be a noun too:

Walking is good for you.

Talking on the phone is my weakness.

• However, -ing word can’t be both at same time

Talking to my parents about my grades

Walking around the block with my five dogs

• If you start with an –ing, make sure there’s a verb as well, or

• if it IS the verb, make sure it has a helper


Active, Not Passive Sentences

• Avoid passive sentences – use active verbs

The budget was announced by the governor.

The governor announced his budget today.

• Emphasis is on what comes first in sentence

• Passive sentences “hide” who or what is really doing the action

• If you are using “be” verbs – is, are, was, were, be, being, been – it’s usually passive

• Helping verbs—did, will, has, etc.-- usually a sign of passive sentence construction


Parallel Structure

• Parallel construction covers anything connected by a conjunction (and but or)

• Items joined together MUST be grammatically equal to each other

– Nouns connected to nouns

– Pronouns connected to pronouns

– Prepositional phrases connected to prepositional phrases

– Past tense verb connected to past tense verb

– Adjective + noun connected to adjective + noun


• More than two items is a series: use commas to connect items until conjunction

• Instead of having to write:

– I went to the store.

– I picked up the kids.

– I cooked supper.

– I got all of this done before 6:00.

• Parallel structure allows sentences to be combined:

I went to the store, picked up the kids, and cooked supper before 6:00.

• Much more efficient

• Much more clear how ideas fit together


• Writers get in trouble when they combine sentences that aren’t really parallel.

I went to the store to buy some bread, milk, and pick up my favorite cereal.

• Easy to fix

• Find what’s out of parallel and change it

I went to the store to buy some bread, milk, and my favorite cereal.

I went to the store to buy some bread, grab some milk, and pick up my favorite cereal.

• Notice that the simpler choice sounds better