Sentences are the backbone of communication. They allow us to express thoughts and ideas in a way that is easy to understand. So, what exactly is a sentence? Today, we’re going to look at the key elements all sentences require, as well as some things you can do to ensure your sentences are the very best they can be.
First of all, a sentence should always contain a complete thought. And, in order for a sentence to truly be a sentence, it must also contain a subject and a predicate.
Example Sentence: Fred, the fragrant foodie, stopped to smell the spicy saffron.
The subject is the heart of a sentence; it tells us who or what is performing the action or being described. The subject will always include a noun or pronoun (e.g., Fred), but it can also include the modifiers (e.g., Fred, the fragrant foodie).
An easy way to determine the subject is to isolate the verb and put who or what before it.
A Side Note about Imperative Sentences
When we use the imperative, the subject is always you, but it is not typically expressed (e.g., Stop right there!).
So if the subject is the heart of a sentence, then the predicate is the lungs. It describes the subject or tells us what the subject is doing. The predicate will always include a verb (e.g., stopped), but it can also include objects, complements, and other phrases (e.g., stopped to smell the spicy saffron).
An easy way to determine the predicate in a sentence is to ask: What did/does the subject do?
Example Sentence: Flora gave Fred a bountiful basket of fresh fruit.
In English grammar, there are two types of objects: direct and indirect. A direct object points to the person or thing affected by the verb’s action. You can usually figure out the direct object by isolating the verb and putting whom or what after it (gave what? a bountiful basket).
An indirect object points to the person or thing that receives the direct object. You can usually figure out the indirect object by isolating the verb and putting to whom or to what after it (gave to whom? Fred).
Example Sentence: The chef who cooked this fine meal was Fred’s first protégé.
In English grammar, a complement refers to something that completes, and there are two kinds: subject complements and object complements. A subject complement gives us details that complete our understanding of the subject. Normally, it will be a noun, pronoun, or adjective that follows a linking verb.
So, in the example sentence, Fred’s first protégé is the subject complement because it completes our understanding of the chef, and follows the linking verb, was.
Similarly, an object complement gives us information that completes our understanding of the object. In the above sentence, the direct object is meal and the object complement is fine.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what makes a sentence, let’s look at how to craft sentences that kick ass.
- Be concise.
Express your idea or thought in simple, straightforward language. Be direct. Don’t use run-on sentences.
- Be clear.
Choose your words carefully and structure your sentences so they are easy to follow.
- Reduce redundancy.
Instead of saying things like true fact or free gift or 12 midnight, say fact or gift or midnight. Same goes for modifiers. Instead of describing someone as stubborn and obstinate, pick one.
- Eliminate clichés and wordiness.
Adding unnecessary jargon can make sentences long and difficult to understand. And adding clichés can make your whole paragraph sound clichéd.
- Test your sentence.
Is it easy to determine the subject and the predicate? What about objects and complements? If you read your sentence out loud, does it make sense? Does it clearly express the idea or thought it’s supposed to?
This article was originally written as part of the 2014 yeah write summer series.