Queen's University Logo
--IMPORTANT NOTICE-- Up-to-date COVID-19 information Click Here

Sentence building

Most sentence faults and problems with punctuation are the result of a lack of understanding of how the parts of a sentence fit together.

Parts of a sentenceTypes of clausesCombining clauses

Parts of a sentence

A quick refresher regarding parts of a sentence:

  • Subjects do the action or perform the verb of a sentence.
  • Objects receive the action that the subject performs.
  • Verbs are the action words or linking words, and they take different tenses to show time.

English has two basic ways of combining words into groups:

  • Phrases
    • are groups of words without a subject and a verb
    • are centred around nouns (in the van, by early morning).
  • Clauses
    • contain both a subject and a verb
    • are centred around verbs (she runs the marathon; when he saw the ruins)
    • have two types: independent and dependent.

Types of clauses

All sentences are constructed from two types of clauses.

  1. The independent clause, which contains a subject and a verb, and expresses a complete thought:

She decided to walk to the park.  (subject=she; verb=decided)

  1. The dependent clause, which also contains a subject and a verb but does not express a complete thought. Subordinate clauses often begin with words like since, while, although, despite, etc.:

Because it was a sunny day…  (subject=it; verb=was)

Combining clauses

Combining clauses is what sentence building is all about.

Joining a dependent clause to an independent clause requires only a comma:

Because it was a sunny day, she decided to walk to the park.

Difficulties arise when two independent clauses are joined together.

  • If the writer places no punctuation between them, they become a run-on (or fused) sentence.
  • If the writer places only a comma between them, they become a comma splice.

Both run-on sentences and comma splices are considered incorrect.

To join two independent clauses into one sentence, you’ll need one of the following options:

  • place a semicolon between them

It was a sunny day; she decided to walk to the park.

  • place one of the coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) between them

It was a sunny day and she decided to walk to the park.

  • place one of the dependent conjunctions (although, since, it, whether, because…) before one of the independent clauses to turn it into a dependent clause; also place a comma between the clauses.

Because it was a sunny day, she decided to walk to the park.