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Sentence Structure

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  • Sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a punctuation mark (a full stop, a question mark, or an exclamation mark).
  • Each sentence should consist of a complete thought and be able to stand alone and make sense.
  • Each sentence must have a subject (the person or thing doing the action).
  • Each sentence must have a predicate with at least one verb (doing word).

A sentence is a group of words that is a complete thought on its own. Every sentence must have a subject and a predicate. The subject is who or what the sentence is about, while the predicate is what is said about the subject. The subject is always a noun, pronoun, or group of words that function in the same way as a noun. The predicate must contain a complete verb, but it can also contain any amount of extra information that gives more meaning to the verb



My daughter

arrived home today


bought a new car yesterday

Mary and John

went on a camping holiday in the South Island.


is good for the soul.

The room

had been cleaned recently.

Moving house

can be very stressful

Collecting wood for the fire

took a long time.

Looking after the animals

was Jane’s responsibility

Operators of machines

should be given further training.

The above sentences are called simple sentences.

A compound sentence is one in which two or more simple sentences are joined together, often by the words and or but.

For example:

My daughter is coming home today and the two boys will arrive tomorrow.

Drivers think cyclists are a menace on the roads, but cyclists think drivers don’t give them enough room.

A complex sentence is one in which one or more subordinate clauses (giving extra information) are added to the sentence.

For example:

The old man, who was looking very ill, limped slowly along the footpath.
Although they are bad for me, I love eating chips.

Make your writing more interesting for the reader by using a variety of sentence structures.

Ask yourself these questions to determine whether a group of words is a sentence:

  1. Do the words make sense on their own?
  2. Are the words a complete thought?
  3. Does the sentence begin with a capital letter and end with an appropriate punctuation mark?
  4. Finally ask yourself: Are the grammar and punctuation correct?


Adapted from:

Murphy, E. M. (1989). Effective writing: Plain English at work. Melbourne, Australia: Longman Cheshire.