A sentence expresses a relationship between a doer and an action.
- (command, subject = “you” understood, verb = “go”)
- They go.
- (subject = “they,” verb = “go”)
- All the boys and girls in the class go together in the yellow school bus.
- (subject = “boys and girls,” verb = “go”; complete subject = “all the boys and girls in the class”, predicate = “go together in the yellow school bus”)
Examples of simple sentences (subject and verb):
- Thomas swims.
- The boys run.
- We eat.
An independent clause expresses a complete thought.
A single independent clause has a minimum of a subject and a verb. Optional features include a direct object, an indirect object, and prepositional phrases. It may be short and simple or long and complicated.
- Tori left at midnight.
- (subject, verb, prepositional phrase)
- The clock struck seven.
- (definite article, subject, verb, direct object)
- Georgia gave the baby her pacifier.
- (subject, verb, definite article, indirect object, possessive adjective, direct object)
- She stood between a rock and a hard place, trying to decide which choice to make—to jump off the rock and land in the thistles or to stay in the hard place in front of the bear’s cave.
- (starts with a subject and a verb)
- (continues with prepositional phrases, a present participle, infinitives, adjectives, and a possessive noun)
- (No, I’m not going to diagram it for you.)
Although it has a subject acting on a verb, the subordinate conjunction at the beginning makes it an incomplete thought.
(“Although” is a subordinate conjunction, degrading its clause to dependent status. The clause before the comma is incomplete.)
A subordinate conjunction is a word like “if,” “because,” “when,” “as,” or “that,” to indicate that something else is happening or might happen.
- She fled when the clock struck midnight.
- (dependent clause = “when the clock struck midnight,” independent clause = “she fled”)
- Whenever she left, it was not soon enough.
- (dependent clause = “whenever she left,” independent clause = “it was not soon enough”)
- Yesterday she learned that the cat eats mice.
- (dependent clause = “that the cat eats mice,” independent clause = “yesterday she learned”)
- The horses stood in the shed because the wind was blowing hard.
- (dependent clause = “because the wind was blowing hard,” independent clause = “the horses stood in the shed”)
- I was surprised when the dog came in wearing glasses.
- (dependent clause = “when the dog came in wearing glasses,” independent clause = “I was surprised”)
Words create phrases. Phrases are parts of clauses/sentences.
- leaving at midnight
- (Leaving at midnight gave them an advantage.)
- (“Leaving at midnight” is the subject of the verb “gave.”)
- since the game’s beginning
- (Since the game’s beginning, no one had time to complete the task.)
- (“Since the game’s beginning” is an explanatory phrase.)
- by seven o’clock
- (Because they left so early, they had time to drive the distance by seven o’clock.)
- (“by seven o’clock” is a prepositional phrase.)
- between a rock and a hard place, trying to decide which direction to go
- (When they came to the intersection, they found themselves between a rock and a hard place, trying to decide which direction to go.)
- (“between a rock and a hard place” is a prepositional phrase.)
- (“trying to decide which direction to go” is an explanatory phrase.)
A phrase or clause that identifies or defines what comes before is essential to the sentence. No commas should surround it.
A phrase or clause that adds information helpful for the reader, but not defining or identifying, should be set off with commas.
Consider the sentence to be the interstate between New Jersey and California. Curves and bridges are essential to the highway and to the driver. Exits for gas, food, and sleeping are helpful for the driver, but the highway itself does not need them.
- The boy who stole the car confessed to his crime.
- (essential clause, “who stole the car,” defines which boy confessed to his crime)
- Tom, who stole the car, confessed to his crime.
- (non-essential clause, “who stole the car,” adds non-essential information about Tom)
- With five apples to choose from, she almost ate the only apple that had a worm in it.
- (essential clause, “that had a worm in it,” defines which apple she chose)
- With a pear, an apple, and a mango to choose from, she almost ate the apple, which had a worm in it.
- (non-essential clause, “which had a worm in it.” As there is only one apple, it does not need to be identified.)
- Several cows didn’t return, including the cow that jumped over the moon.
- (essential clause, “that jumped over the moon,” defines which cow is included)
- Only one cow didn’t return—Bossie, who jumped over the moon.
- (non-essential clause, “who jumped over the moon.” Bossie is already identified by name.)
Words are the building blocks of any sentence. Words create phrases which are turned into clauses which become sentences which make up paragraphs which build up into chapters which give birth to books. See? That’s all you have to do—put those words into some form of writing.
Not sure of an exact word for what you wish to convey? Some words are confusing.
Not trying to pick a fight with any academic who knows better, but without words, we would have no communication. In some situations, words do not have to be spelled out. They can be represented with icons or pictographs, with gestures, with actions, with grunts, or whatever. Some people, I am told, think in pictures, while others, like me, think in words. I suspect that creative musicians think in musical tones.
However, writers communicate with written words.
I have been told to write the first draft without worrying unduly about the exact wordage, the exact punctuation, the exact spelling. Those will come later, with the second to umpteenth drafts. The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to put words on paper or on the screen, words you can count. Then, in December and on into the next year, they can be rethought, revised, reworked.
So print, write, type, or dictate those words into some form of writing. Then come to wimtg.com (Writing Is More Than Grammar) to clarify what you write for your readers. (And there are other good grammar sites out there on the internet.)