© 2006, 2000, 1978 Margaret L. Benner All rights reserved.
The sentence, like many other things, is a large item composed of smaller items. Considered as a large item, it is sometimes difficult to understand. Therefore, we will begin with the smallest, simplest elements that make up a sentence, gradually moving toward the large, more complicated ones.
is the smallest part of speech and the easiest element of speech to recognize.
EACH GROUP OF LETTERS IN THIS SENTENCE IS A WORD.
are different kinds of words, according to the particular part a given
word plays when it is used in speech (writing or speaking).
To each kind of word we assign a label that shows which part of speech that word is.
you may already know, there are eight parts
will consider three of them in this unit: noun, pronoun, and
noun names a person, place,
thing, or idea.
noun may name a type of person, place, thing, or idea.
that are types are called common
a noun may name a particular person, place, thing, or idea.
that name particular persons, places, things, or ideas are proper
nouns. Proper nouns are
Words that name ideas are sometimes hard to recognize as nouns because
abstract ideas that we cannot see.
These are abstract
nouns (e.g. time, imagination, judgment, October, Saturday).
though these words name things we cannot see, they are still nouns
because they name something.
Abstract proper nouns should also be capitalized.
is a word that may substitute for a noun.
Look at this sentence
John Smith = noun
could substitute a pronoun (such as he)
for the noun.
Now look at this sentence
could substitute pronouns for all three nouns.
shows an action or a state
are easy to recognize.
sentence uses an action verb.
drew = action verb
that show state of being indicate that something or someone exists.
sentences use verbs
will be = verb
Now click on the link below to do Exercise 1.
Link to Exercise 1
of speech do not just sit idly about without any purpose. They have specific tasks to perform when they are put
together in a sentence.
at this sentence.
are three nouns
in this sentence: philanthropists,
millions, and charity.
in this sentence is expressed by the verb – donated.
there are three nouns in this sentence, only one of them is actually DOING the
action of donating:
could also express this same idea with a pronoun.
they is DOING the action of
two sentences above illustrate a rule of sentence structure:
a noun or pronoun is partnered with a verb so that the noun or pronoun is doing
the action expressed by that verb, we call that noun or pronoun the verb’s
a verb will express being or existence
instead of action.
at this sentence.
verb in this sentence -- are – does not express action.
it expresses being or existence
– tells us that something is alive.
as in the earlier sentences, there is a noun paired with this verb.
That noun is the one DOING the existing
Good friends are…
noun – friends – is the subject of the verb
in this sentence.
we did with the action verb example, we could substitute a pronoun for the noun, friends,
in this sentence.
that verbs can express either action or being, we can now expand our rule.
a NOUN or PRONOUN is paired with a verb so that the noun or pronoun is doing the
action or the being expressed by the verb, we call that noun or pronoun the
we use sentences in which a subject is not
actually stated, but
understood in the meaning.
sentence like this gives an order or a request to someone.
we really mean when we make such requests is shown in the sentence below.
as the DOER of the action verb, call,
is the SUBJECT here.
we use such statements when we are talking directly to someone, we usually omit
the word you. We consider it unnecessary – understood
in the sentence.
in statements such as -- Call the plumber,
please -- we say that the
you (understood) = subject
kind of sentence is called an imperative
Now click on the link below to complete Exercise 2.
Link to Exercise 2
you know how to locate the subject in a noun-verb partnership: look for the noun
(or pronoun) that is DOING the action
or the being expressed by the
verb in this noun-verb partnership also has a job to do.
It functions as the action
or as the being
that the subject is DOING.
at these examples.
already know that the noun philanthropists,
the DOER of the action, donated,
is the subject
of the noun-verb partnership, philanthropists
also know that the noun friends
is the subject of the noun-verb partnership,
friends are (example
verbs – donated and are – also perform a specific task in this noun-verb partnership: they
express the subject’s action or state of being.
call a verb that performs this function a predicate.
donated = predicate
friends = subject
are = predicate
call = predicate
verbs in the sentences below are also doing the job of a predicate.
they = subject
information leads us to a rule:
VERB in a noun/pronoun – verb partnership expressing the action
or being of the subject is a
the predicate will be composed of two or
three verbs that fit together --
verb preceded by one of more helping verbs.
(also called auxiliary verbs) help the main verb to form its tense
(time) or to emphasize its action. They
always come BEFORE the main verb.
how helping verbs change the tense (time)
of each main verb below.
NOTE: To be a predicate, a verb that ends in –ing must ALWAYS have a helping
with it. An –ing
verb WITHOUT a helping verb cannot
be a predicate
in a sentence.
predicate usually follows the subject,
but it may be separated from the
subject by one or more words.
at this sentence.
next to the verb howled,
it is not the subject here because it is not
DOING the howling.
The dog is.
in the predicate may be separated from
at these sentences.
#2 illustrates that when we form questions,
we sometimes make the subject separate
verbs from the main
separations like #1 and #2 occur, don’t be alarmed or confused. Just remember the rules for finding the subject and
predicate. You should have no
difficulty at all.
some cases as well, the subject may NOT DO the action
of the predicate, but may, instead, be acted upon by the predicate.
was destroyed = predicate
that the noun, office,
is NOT the DOER of the action (was
is being acted
upon (is being destroyed) by
some unknown DOER.
such a case, office
is still the subject
of the predicate was
when the DOER of the action is known,
it is not the subject unless it is working in a partnership
with the verb.
is NOT the sentence’s subject because vandals
is not working in a partnership
with the verb was
use the term passive
voice to refer to the predicate in this kind of subject-verb
FINAL WORDS . . .
can be applied ONLY where there is a noun-verb partnership, where the noun and
verb interact with one another to create the topic of the sentence.
will NEVER see a subject sitting
alone without a predicate (although you may see a noun sitting alone without a
WILL see a predicate sitting alone
without a subject ONLY when the
subject is you (understood).
order to be a predicate, a verb ending in –ing
MUST HAVE a helping
OF SUBJECT – PREDICATE TRICKY SPOTS:
Subject separated from predicate
Parts of predicate (helping verb /
main verb) separated by adverb
Subject – predicate order
changed in a question
Subject – predicate pair in
Now click on the link below to do Exercise 3.
Link to Exercise 3
that you understand nouns/pronouns, verbs, subjects, and predicates (WORDS), you
are ready to move up to a larger segment: phrases.
is a group of words which may contain noun/pronouns or verb forms, but
does NOT contain a subject
or a predicate.
Every subject has a predicate, and every predicate has a subject. These two functions never appear without each other.
They form a partnership, a team.
examples of PHRASES:
though these phrases contain nouns (pronouns) or
verb forms, or both nouns (or pronouns) and
verb forms, none of the
nouns/pronouns/verbs have the qualifications needed to be subjects or predicates.
None of them work as a partnership – as a team.
do NOT seem to say anything complete
findings lead to a definition of the phrase:
A phrase is a group of
related words that
does not express a complete
2. does not have a subject and
Now click on the link below to do Exercise 4.
Link to EXERCISE 4
can now look at a more complicated concept: clauses.
and phrases can be put together to
a clause is a group of related words.
a clause DOES contain a subject and predicate.
the difference between phrases and clauses in the following examples:
words below are a phrase, NOT a clause.
This means that the noun, Smith,
is NOT a subject and that the verb
form, eating, is NOT a predicate.
Why can’t these two words possibly be subject and predicate?
probably noticed that, of the five clause
examples given earlier in Section 5, only three were sentences (#1,
back at all five clause
examples. Read each one to
you notice any difference in the meaning
between the three clauses that ARE sentences (#1,
3, 4) and the two clauses (#2, 5)
that are NOT sentences?
there is a difference!
#1, 3, and 4 give a thought or an idea that is COMPLETE, that can stand by
itself, independent of other words.
clauses #2 and 5 give only an INCOMPLETE thought or idea, one that cannot stand independent by itself, one that needs some more words
to make it whole.
see the difference, look at clauses #1 and 2 copied below for you.
clause tells us what happened and who made it happen.
Its thought is COMPLETE and finished.
We are not left “hanging” or asking questions after a clause like
this on e
clause tells us what happened and who made it happen, BUT its thought is NOT
changes the clause meaning, making it INCOMPLETE.
reading this clause, we are left “hanging” – left waiting for it to be
finished. This clause raises a
question: What happened after Webster took the train?
two clauses illustrate the two kinds of clauses we use in the English
independent clauses and
has these three characteristics:
1. subject 2.
kind of clause is called an independent clause or a main
clause. It is a complete
unit by itself and does NOT need or depend upon any other words for its
YOUR INFORMATION . . .
INDEPENDENT CLAUSE AND A SIMPLE SENTENCE ARE THE SAME THING.
has these three characteristics:
kind of clause is called a dependent clause or a subordinate
clause. It is an incomplete
unit on its own, leaving its reader asking questions.
It needs or depends on additional words to be a complete thought.
can now formulate a definition for
each type of clause:
clause is a group of words that contains a subject, a predicate, and a
clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate, but
does NOT express a complete thought.
Now click on the link below to do Exercise 5.
Link to Exercise 5
have now reached the main focus of this unit: writing
will be happy to know that while you have been progressing from word to phrase to clause,
you have actually already been teaching yourself about sentence structure!
the good news. In order to have a sentence,
you need only TWO elements:
1. a subject-predicate unit
2. a complete thought
other words, a simple
sentence is actually the SAME thing as an independent clause.
Since you already know what an independent clause is, you can also
understand immediately what a simple sentence is.
as long as you remember what constitutes an independent clause, you will
automatically recognize what constitutes a simple sentence.
subject -- predicate pair + complete thought = simple sentence
TO DEPENDENT CLAUSES AND PHRASES
FOR A MOMENT . . .
clauses and phrases are called sentence fragments
because they are missing one or more
parts needed to make a sentence (subject/predicate pair & complete thought)
and are, therefore, only pieces or fragments of complete sentences.
at these examples
2, 3, and 4 are fragments, not complete sentences, because they are missing at
least one element needed to construct a complete sentence.
in rare instances, fragments are MAJOR WRITING ERRORS. Try not to use fragments in your writing.
Use complete sentences instead.
Now click on the link below to do Exercise 6.
Link to Exercise 6
You have now reached the end of this unit.
If you are doing this module on your own, you have completed the learning unit on avoiding fragments..
If you are doing this module as part of your classroom assignment, proceed to the Post Test and follow the directions you find there.
Click on the link below to do the Post Test.
Link to the Post Test