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Types of English Sentences and Common Punctuation Errors

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Types of English Sentences

English language has four types of sentences. They are simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and compound-complex sentences.

  1. Simple sentences:

A simple sentence contains one main clause, and its structure is:

subject + verb + (complement)

  • The students were studying.

the student: subject

were studying: verb phrase

  • Christopher wants a new bike.

Christopher: subject

wants: verb

a new book: complement

  • The old building in the city center is a tourist attraction.

the old building in the city center: subject

is: verb

a tourist attraction: complement

  1. Compound sentences:

A compound sentence contains two main clauses linked with a coordinating conjunction (a FANBOYS connector: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so).

subject + verb + (complement), a FANBOYS word + subject + verb + (complement)

  • Johnathan sang, and everybody listened.

Johnathan: subject

sang: verb

,

and: a coordinating conjunction

everybody: subject

listened: verb

  • They are travelling by plane, so they will arrive soon.

they: subject

were travelling: verb phrase

by plane: complement

,

so: a coordinating conjunction

they: subject

will arrive: verb phrase

soon: complement

  1. Complex sentences:

A complex sentence has one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses. A subordinate clause is a clause that starts with a subordinate such as if, although, because, who, when, after, before, while, and many others.

  • Although the exam was difficult,

although: subordinate conjunction

the exam: subject

was: verb

difficult: complement

  • If you come early tomorrow,

if: subordinate conjunction

you: subject

come: verb

early: complement

  • Because I was hungry,

because: subordinate conjunction

I: subject

was: verb

hungry: complement

Subordinate clauses CANNNOT stand alone in a sentence. They should accompany at least one main clause. The structure of the complex sentence is

subordinate + subject + verb + (complement), subject + verb + (complement)

OR

subject + verb + (complement) + subordinate + subject + verb + (complement)

  • Although the exam was difficult, I passed with a high mark.

although: subordinate conjunction

the exam: subject

was: verb

difficult: complement

,

I: subject

passed: verb

with a high mark: complement

  • If you come early tomorrow, you will catch the train.

if: subordinate conjunction

you: subject

come: verb

early: complement

,

you: subject

will catch: verb

the train: complement

  • Because I was hungry, I ate a sandwich.

because: subordinate conjunction

I: subject

was: verb

hungry: complement

,

I: subject

ate: verb

a sandwitch: complement

The subordinate clause can come first or second in the sentence. 

  • If you come early tomorrow, you will catch the train.

OR

  • You will catch the train if you come early tomorrow.
  1. Compound-complex sentences

As the name implies, a compound-complex sentence contains at least two compound clauses and one subordinate clause.

  • I love watching football on TV, but my sister hates it because she doesn’t understand the game.

The structure of compound-complex sentences can be

subject + verb + (complement), a FANBOYS word + subject + verb + (complement) + subordinate + subject + verb + complement

OR

subordinate + subject + verb + complement + subject + verb + (complement), a FANBOYS word + subject + verb + (complement)

The subordinate clause can come first in the sentence or at the end.

  • Although a lot of people like going to the sea on holiday, I prefer going to the mountains, and my friend loves staying at home.

OR

  • I prefer going to the sea, and my friend loves staying at home although a lot of people like going to  the sea on holiday.

Common Punctuation Errors

Punctuating these sentences can be problematic for some learners. Many Arab learners of English produce run-on sentences. A run-on sentence is a sentence that contains two independent clauses connected wrongly in one sentence. It is very common that Arab learners produce comma splice and fused sentences.

Comma splice error happens when two independent clauses are linked with a comma without a coordinating conjunction. For example,

  • Stewart plays the piano, he likes it very much.

A fused sentence, on the other hand, is a sentence that runs on without any punctuation marks to mark the boundaries of its clauses.

  • Stewart plays the piano he likes it very much.

Once a run-on sentence is identified, it can be fixed in many ways. First, a full stop between the two independent clauses solves the problem.

Stewart plays the piano. He likes it very much.

Another way to solve this problem is through connecting the two independent clauses using a semi-colon when the two ideas are closely related to each other

  • Stewart plays the piano; he likes it very much.

Using a coordinating conjunction is the third way to fix a run-on sentence.

  • Stewart plays the piano, and he likes it very much.

Similar punctuation errors happen with defining the boundaries of complex sentences and compound complex sentences. Learners often produce sentences with incorrect punctuation such as

  • If you enjoy reading fiction I have an excellent book for you.

and

  • When I was 16 years old at school I had a geography exam and I used to hate this subject so much.

In the first example, the subordinate clause comes first, so a comma should separate it from the second one.

  • If you enjoy reading fiction, I have an excellent book for you.

However, if the subordinate clause comes second, commas cannot be used.

  • I have an excellent book for you if you enjoy reading fiction.

The second example contains two punctuation errors. The first one is dropping the comma that separates the subordinate clause from the neighboring main clause, and there is another missing comma between the two main clauses.

  • When I was 16 years old at school, I had a geography exam, and I used to hate this subject so much.

 

Prepared by: Abd Al-Rahman Al-Midani

References: 

  1. A Commonsense Guide to Grammar and Usage 
  2. Sentence Structure 
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