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ENG 110 and 110L: Sentences

Parts of a Sentence

  • A basic sentence has a verb:

A verb is the action (read, walk, run, learn), or state of being in the sentence. Identify the verb by asking what is happening in this sentence?   

For example:

  • We walked to the store.

  • My father is an excellent cook.

  • We will have fun at the beach. (The verb may have more than one word and include helping verbs such as is, do, must, has, shall, will, and could.)

  • The brothers fought but loved each other anyway. (A sentence may have more than one verb)

Note:  the to form (to walk, to study, to learn) or ing form (walking, studying, running) cannot be a verb. These are nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. They look like actions, but they act as things or descriptions in a sentence.

Walking to the store makes you sweat. (Walking is the thing we're doing or subject. The verb is makes.)

To learn to cook was his only ambition. (To learn is the thing he's doing or the subject. The verb is was.)

  • A basic sentence also has a subject - the who or what that is doing the action in the sentence.

Identify the subject by asking who or what is doing the action in the sentence?

For example:

  • She was my best friend.
  • The dirty old car broke down on the highway. (When you look for the subject, look for the core word and not the description words around it.)
  • Practice makes perfect.
  • The lazy dog and cat slept on the sofa all day. (The subject of the sentence may be two things however.)

Using Simple Sentences

Sometimes students think they must use complex sentences. However, separating ideas into simple sentences with a period is better than writing run-on sentences.

Combining sentences adds variety to your writing, but simple sentences help add clarity.

Break it down:

 1) Use a simple sentence when you want to emphasize one idea:

It was a dark and stormy night.

 2) Use simple sentences when your ideas need to be clarified.

It was a dark and stormy night. The rain fell in torrents. A violent gust of wind swept up the streets.

How to identify and fix simple sentences:

1) Read the words between each capital and period out loud. Do you see a subject and verb – can you determine who does what?

2) If you see more than one subject/verb combination, separate them with a period.

Wrong – I studied hard she partied all night.

Correct – I studied hard. She partied all night.

3) If you're missing either subject or verb, rewrite your sentence to add them.

Wrong – By studying hard and practicing the grammar exercises. (Who is studying?)

 Correct – I studied hard and practiced the grammar exercises.

Wrong – The shining sun, the warm breeze, the cool surf, palms blowing in the breeze. (What are these doing?)

Correct – The shining sun, the warm breeze, the cool surf, and palms blowing in the breeze are great!

Source: St. Petersburg College Library

Run-on Sentences

Sentence Fragments

When you identify incomplete sentences in your writing, you are also identifying incomplete or unclear ideas. Correcting sentence fragments will make your writing clearer.

Just because a sentence begins with a capital and ends with a period does not make it a complete and grammatically correct sentence. Every sentence must have a subject and a verb AND be a complete thought.

Sentence Fragment Check #1

Can you identify a subject and a verb or who or what is doing the action in the sentence?
1) Every sentence must have a verb – the action (read, walk, run, learn), or state of being in the sentence.   
For example:
Wrong – A scene of horror with papers scattered everywhere and chairs overturned. (The scene did what?)
Correct – A scene of horror with papers scattered everywhere and chairs overturned greeted the students. (Added the verb 'greeted')
2) Every sentence must also have a subject – who or what is doing the action in the sentence.
 For example:
Wrong – Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and wound up drinking all night. (Who did this?)
Correct  – Jimmy Buffet ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and wound up drinking all night. (Added the 'who' to the sentence.)
Sentence Fragment Check #2
Sometimes students mistake a ing-word (a gerund) or the to-form (infinitive) for the verb. Both the ing-word and the to-form can act as subjects, but they are not verbs.
Check that any ing-word or to-form is part of a complete idea. Your sentence should answer the question who does what and shouldn't leave a question remaining.
Wrong  – Studying late into the night. (Who studied?)
Correct  – We studied late into the night. (Added a subject) 
Wrong – We ran to the store. To buy soda. (Who bought the soda?)
Correct – We ran to the store to buy soda but forgot to get chips. (Added to the subject and verb)
Sentence Fragment Check #3

A subordinating conjunction is sometimes called "a heart word" because it turns two sentences into one. Even though both sentences contain a subject and verb, one becomes dependent on the other and cannot stand alone. One sentence becomes the explaining idea for the main idea.

Any time you see words like since, because, although, while, when, where, before, or after, check that your sentence doesn't leave a question remaining.

Wrong- Since he came late to class. (What happened when he was late?)

Correct - He forgot to give the teacher his homework since he came late to class.

Wrong - When she noticed it missing. (What happened when she noticed?)

Correct - The teacher asked for his homework when she noticed it missing.


Source: St. Petersburg College Library

Run-on Sentences

If you're confused about where one idea begins and another starts, your reader will be as well. Run-on sentences are two or more complete sentences that are not combined with correct punctuation.

For example: This is my winning lottery ticket, I bought it at Publix.


1)  Read the words between each capital and period out loud.  Do you see a subject and verb – can you determine who does what?

2)  A run-on sentence has more than one subject/verb combination. It has two or more answers to who does what?

In the example: This is my winning lottery ticket, I bought it at Publix.

Sentence 1 – This is my winning lottery ticket.

Sentence 2 - I bought it at Publix.


When you see two sentences between the capital and the period, ask yourself where does the first idea end and the next begin? Are these sentences joined properly? A comma is not enough!

For example: The boy ran away hysterically, the dog chased after him barking wildly.

  • Place a period between the two complete thoughts.
  • Place a semicolon between the two complete thoughts.
  • Place a comma and a conjunction between the two complete thoughts.

Source: SUNY Empire State College Writing Center

Compound Sentences and More

Once you can identify a basic sentence, you can join or separate your sentences to best communicate your ideas.

A compound sentence joins two or more sentences that have related ideas of equal importance. The two sentences go together. Each sentence or independent clause must still have a subject and a verb.

For example:

  • She wanted spinach salad; he wanted a hamburger.
  • He went to the party, but she stayed home.

One way to create a compound sentence is with a semi-colon.

Not a common practice, a semi-colon is used only where ideas are very closely related.

For example:

  • She loves me; she loves me not.
  • They say it's your birthday; it's my birthday too! - Paul McCartney
  • Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. - Peter Drucker

Another way to create a compound sentence is with a coordinating conjunction.

Coordinating conjunctions are sometimes referred to as FANBOYS. Notice how a comma is used with a coordinating conjunction.

For – He couldn't go home, for he had no place to go. 

And – I took a taxi, and she drove home.

Nor – He didn't want help, nor did she offer it.

But – I wanted to go late, but she wanted to go on time.

Or – She cooked dinner, or she went out to a restaurant.

Yet – She owned a car, yet she didn't know how to drive it.

So – She had to go, so she called a friend to drive her.

*Common problems with compound sentences include commas splices.  A comma alone is not enough to connect two sentences.

For example:

  • Wrong – I was tired from working late, I had to go to class anyway.
  • Correct– I was tired from working late; I had to go to class anyway.
  • Correct – I was tired from working late, but I had to go to class anyway.

Common problems with compound sentences include fused sentences.   Sentences cannot just run together. They must be joined with a semi colon or a coordinating conjunction.

For example:

  • Wrong – My brother just graduated from high school he will attend St. Petersburg College.
  • Correct – My brother just graduated from high school; he will attend St. Petersburg College.
  • Correct – My brother just graduated from high school, so he will attend St. Petersburg College.

Dual construction vs. the coordinating conjunction - or when to use the comma.

When combining sentences into a compound sentence, you need a comma before the coordinating conjunction,

For example:

  • I like peanut butter, and I like jelly.
  • He eats macaroni, but he won't eat cheese.

BUT when combining two nouns or verbs, you don't need a comma.

  • I like peanut butter and jelly.
  • He eats macaroni or cheese but not both.

A special use of semi-colons - the Conjunctive Adverb

Sometimes mistaken for a FANBOY, a conjunctive adverb actually joins two sentences with a semi-colon AND has additional punctuation inside the second sentence.

For example:

  • I hate spinach; however, I love broccoli.
  • I want to graduate with honors; furthermore, I want to go to law school.
  • I don't want to go out tonight; besides, I have homework to do.

Some common conjunctive adverbs include: accordingly, also, however, furthermore, nevertheless, consequently, finally, likewise, and meanwhile.

Source: St. Petersburg College Library