Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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Sentence Structure

Often times when writing an essay, we know what we want to say; we just struggle with how to say it. One of the best ways of getting better at expressing yourself is through a good understanding of sentence structure. Just like you need to learn to read music to express yourself on the piano, you need a firm grasp of sentence structure to express yourself in writing. In this video, we are going to review the most common types of sentences found in English language writing, and how to determine the right ones to use for your essay.

The Four Types of Sentences

There are four main types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Simple sentences contain one independent clause. The best way to figure out if a sentence has more than one independent clause is to see if it has more than one subject and verb. For instance, in the sentence ‘I swam and fished yesterday;’ although there are two verbs, swimming and fishing, there is only one subject, I. In the sentence ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill,’ we have two subjects, yet just one verb. Both of these sentences would be simple sentences.

A compound sentence has two independent clauses and a coordinating conjunction. An example of a compound sentence would be: ‘Jack went up the front of the hill, and Jill went up the side of the hill.’ You can count the number of independent clauses by counting the number of subjects and verbs. There are two subjects: Jack and Jill, and there are two verbs: going up the front of the hill and going up the side of the hill. The two clauses are linked using a conjunction – and.

A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses that contain subordinating conjunctions. An example of a complex sentence would be: ‘Jack fell down the hill because he tripped on a rock.’ The independent clause is Jack falling down the hill. The subordinating conjunction gives us the reason he fell down the hill – because he tripped on a rock.

A compound-complex has two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses. An example of a compound-complex sentence is: ‘Jack fell down the hill because he tripped on a rock, and then Jill fell down the hill when she heard Jack scream.’ In this sentence, we have two independent clauses with Jack and Jill being the nouns, and falling down the hill (for Jack) and falling down the hill (for Jill) being the verbs. The dependent clauses are tripping on a rock and hearing a scream.

Choosing a Sentence Structure

When deciding on sentence structure, keep in mind what your audience knows about the topic. For instance, if you are introducing a new concept, idea, or character, go with a simple sentence. If you are elaborating on information you have already presented, you can go with a compound or complex sentence. When you have multiple characters, ideas, or theories your reader needs to consider simultaneously, using a compound-complex sentence will be your best choice.

Lesson Summary

In this video we learned about the four types of sentences (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex), and how to determine the best sentence structure to use in your essay.

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