This article is a basic sentence structure primer for nonfiction authors (or any other writers, for that matter!). It begins by defining and giving examples of the different building blocks that are required to create sentence structures and it ends by introducing the 4 types of sentence structure most commonly used in the English language.
1. Foundational Elements of a Sentence
Subject: a being (e.g. a man or a cat), a place (e.g. the dormitory), a thing (e.g. a piano) or a concept (e.g. the theory of relativity)
Verb: an action that expresses what the subject does (e.g. is, will, comes, builds, takes)
Object: the being, place, thing or concept that is at the receiving end or the result of the subject’s action (e.g. the cat chased “the squirrel,” Susan moved to “Seattle,” the crew built “the house”).
2. Linking Words
Coordinating conjunction: a word used to join two elements of equal importance (e.g. He was short “and” quick). The elements could be both nouns, adjectives, verbs, phrases or independent clauses.
There are seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (here’s a simple mnemonic shortcut: they make up the word fanboys.)
Subordinating conjunction: a word or phrase that links a dependent clause to an independent clause. Here are 7 frequently used types of subordinating conjunctions:
- Time conjunction: e.g. after, as soon as, before, once, since, until, when, while
- Comparison conjunction: e.g. as much as, rather than, than, whether, whereas
- Place conjunction: e.g. where, wherever
- Condition conjunction: e.g. assuming that, if, in case, provided that
- Reason conjunction: e.g. as, because, in order that, since, so that, that
- Concession conjunction: e.g. although, even though, though
- Relative pronouns: e.g. who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose
3. Sentence Clauses
Independent clause: a clause that expresses a complete thought, and can therefore stand alone as a sentence (e.g. the man ate a ham sandwich)
Dependent clause: a clause that does not express a complete thought, and can’t therefore stand alone as a complete sentence (e.g. since they were so well-behaved)
4… and Without Further Ado: Sentence Structures
Simple sentence structure: is made out of a single independent clause (e.g. That rabbit is very large.)
Compound sentence structure: is made out of two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (e.g. The young man won the race but he lost the meet.)
Complex sentence structure: is made out of an independent clause joined to a dependent clause by a subordinating conjunction (e.g. The crowd cleared the small room after getting the signal.)
Compound-complex sentence structure: is made out of at least two independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses joined by a combination of coordinating and subordinating conjunctions (e.g. The crowd cleared the small room after getting the signal so the medics could set up the stretcher.)
Good luck with your writing project!
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.