Understanding sentence structure is the focus of this lesson. Judy Steiner-Williams discusses three key reasons a sentence’s structure is important: it can add variety, it can emphasize or de-emphasize information, and it can provide necessary transitions. Examples are analyzed showing that even though all versions can be technically correct, each produces a different meaning.
- [Instructor] Buildings, organizations, and the government all have structures, but each type of structure is different. That's also true when we talk about sentence structure. Using different sentence structures can make an important difference in your writing. By sentence structure, do we mean the type of sentence, simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex? Or do we mean what is emphasized and de-emphasized by the way the sentence is structured? Maybe we mean passive or active structure, or maybe loose or periodic, or the normal sentence order versus the inverted sentence structure.
Or do we mean whether the sentence is declarative, interrogative, rhetorical, exclamatory, or imperative? That's a lot of different ways to analyze a sentence's structure. Before we begin analyzing those structure categories, let's analyze this question. What difference does structure make? A sentence is a sentence, right? Analyzing sentence structure is important for at least three reasons. It provides variety for your reader.
You may be familiar with the Dick and Jane, along with their dog Spot, reading books, which were used from the 1930s to the 1970s to help children learn to read. The words were something like this. See Spot run. Dick and Jane see Spot run. Spot can see Dick and Jane. I think you get the point. Simple sentences are certainly easy to read and comprehend but choppy, redundant, and boring. A second way that understanding sentence structure and sentence placement in a paragraph or document helps is that it lets you emphasize or de-emphasize certain elements for your reader.
The same combination of facts can be packaged in a variety of ways. Business Writing Fundamentals and Business Writing Strategies thoroughly discuss emphasis techniques, but here's a quick review. Even though she said she would get the report to us on time, we still don't have it. The main sentence clause, we still don't have it, emphasizes that we are still waiting and are doubtful. This version, even though we still don't have the report, she said she would get it to us on time, emphasizes that we believe she will provide the report on time.
And a third reason to focus on sentence structure is to help with the writing flow, how easy our ideas are for the reader to follow. Earlier in the lesson, we identified the short sentence structures being choppy and boring. Let's give it some praise here. If all the other sentences are the 20-word average length, a short sentence can emphasize. It draws attention to itself. The committee asked us to submit our revisions, along with reasons for the changes, by noon tomorrow.
We were reminded that Sections 12, 15, and 27 were unclear, and that Sections three and nine were repetitive. All the other sections were accepted. Having that six-word sentence follow those 17 and 19-word sentences gets our attention. So now that we know how sentence structure can impact our writing, let's begin with a review of clauses. Dependent and independent, those grammar terms that are the basis of understanding a simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex structure.
To be a clause, the word group must have a subject and a verb. That clause may be dependent or independent. The marketing department will submit a justification report. Department is the subject, will submit is the verb. So that's a clause. It can stand alone as a complete thought, which makes it an independent clause. Even though the marketing department will submit a justification report. Department is the subject, will submit is the verb. So it's still a clause, but adding the words even though, those subordinating conjunctions, makes the clause dependent.
The reader is waiting for the rest of the thought. Even though the marketing department will submit a justification report comma, the manager wants other departments also to submit their ideas. Those two examples lead us into the rest of the sentence structure review. The first, that independent clause, is a simple sentence structure, one clause. The marketing department will submit a justification report. The second example shows the complex sentence structure, two clauses, the dependent clause and the independent clause.
Even though the marketing department will submit a justification report, the manager wants other departments to also submit their ideas. The third example also has two clauses, but both are independent, joined with a coordinating conjunction, making it a compound sentence. The marketing department will submit a justification report comma, but the manager wants other departments also to submit their ideas. One more structure in this category, three clauses, two independent and one dependent.
The dependent, beginning with a subordinating conjunction, and the two independent clauses, joined by a coordinating conjunction, equals a compound/complex sentence. Even though the marketing department will submit a justification report, the manager wants other departments to also submit their ideas; and she wants those by the end of the week. In the third clause, she is the subject and wants is the verb, and it is independent. Both those subordinating and coordinating conjunctions help the writer tie together the idea's meaning in the sentences and to show the reader the relationship.
The two clauses in a compound sentence show that the ideas are closely connected. We were in the break room. We heard the announcement. Two completely different ideas, short, unconnected sentences. Look at these four sentences combining the ideas in those two short sentences. While we were in the break room, we heard the announcement. We heard the announcement even though we were in the break room. Even though we were in the break room, we heard the announcement. And we were in the break room, but we heard the announcement.
A different point is being made in each of those versions. The first is the time element of the two events. The second and third show a time and location connection, but each has a different emphasis. Location is emphasized in the first and hearing the announcement in the second. And the fourth, with the coordinating conjunction but, shows a contrast. Which of the four is correct? Certainly, they all are, but each sentence structure sends a different message.
- Practicing verb tense
- Using irregular verbs
- Using conjunctions
- Placing modifiers in the correct location
- Using adjectives vs. adverbs
- Using commas
- Using semicolons
- Avoiding dangling modifiers
- Achieving parallel structure