What Is Sentence Structure? Definition, Examples, & More

English sentence structure refers to the different ways in which you can use word order and parts of speech to form sentences. Learning how to vary sentence structure in your writing and speech can also get you one step closer to English fluency! In today’s guide, we will look at sentence structure rules in English, the basic types of sentence structure, and how to vary your sentences in both English writing and speech. So, let’s get started!

 

What Is Sentence Structure in English?

If you’ve spent any amount of time studying English, you know that sentences can get pretty long and complicated. However, at their core, most English sentences adhere to specific sentence structure rules. More specifically, the basic sentence structure in English depends on two important elements: the subject and the predicate. Additionally, sentences can contain one or more objects, indirect objects, and complements. 

  • Subject – The subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is performing an action. 
    • The man laughed.
  • Predicate – The predicate is the part of a sentence that contains the main verb and any modifying words or clauses.
    • The man laughed.
  • Object – The object is the person, place, thing, or idea that receives the action in a sentence.
    • The man bought a newspaper.
  • Indirect Object – The indirect object of a sentence signifies to whom or for whom an action is done. 
    • The man bought a newspaper for me.
  • Complement – The complement refers back to the subject of a sentence. In order for a sentence to contain a complement, there must also be a linking verb.
    • The man is a good person.

What are Clauses in English?

To fully understand sentence structure in English, you must also understand the role of clauses. There are two primary types of clauses in English: independent clauses (main clauses) and dependent clauses (subordinating clauses). An independent clause must contain a subject and a verb (predicate). Therefore, an independent clause can work independently from any other clause. Multiple independent clauses can even be linked together using a coordinating conjunction or a semicolon. For example:

  • The woman worked.
  • The woman liked her job, but she really wanted a promotion.
  • Even though the job was great, the woman decided to quit.
  • The woman quit her job and she never looked back.
  • The woman quit her job; it was the best decision she ever made.

Alternatively, a dependent clause cannot stand on its own. In other words, a dependent clause depends on the presence of an independent clause to form a complete sentence. A dependent clause always begins with a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. For example:

  • The boy walked to school because he missed the bus.
  • Since he was late for school, the boy couldn’t use his favorite seat.
  • The teacher scolded him when he arrived.
  • After that day, the boy felt embarrassed, because he was known as the boy who was late for school.

4 Types of Sentences in English

Now that you know the basic terms for different parts of a sentence, it’s time to start making sentences! There are four basic types of sentences that you can create: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.

  • Simple Sentence – A simple sentence has one subject and one predicate. In other words, it is made up of one independent clause.
    • The girl borrowed a book.
  • Compound Sentence – A compound sentence has at least two subjects and two verbs. This means that a compound sentence has two independent clauses joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction.
    • I really love this author, but I don’t have time to read her new book.
  • Complex Sentence – A complex sentence has one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
    • We laughed while we walked to the library.
  • Compound-Complex Sentence – A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.
    • Since I couldn’t find my car keys, my roommate drove me to work, and I was very grateful.

How to Form a Simple Sentence in English

Ok, so we’ve covered a lot of information so far. Now you know the basic parts of a sentence, the two main types of clauses that make up English sentences, and the different types of sentences you can make. So, now let’s practice making some simple sentences!

Fortunately, sentence structure exercises don’t have to be tedious. Let’s begin with some of the most basic sentence forms to help get you started!

Subject-Verb

Independent Clause
Subject Predicate
Verb
Isabella walks.
The dog plays.
We laugh.

Can you think of some other examples? Simply replace any of the words in the “subject” column with a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. Then, replace the word in the “verb” column with a verb that agrees with the subject. It’s that easy! Now let’s start adding some new elements:

Subject–Verb–Object

Independent Clause
Subject Predicate
Verb Object
He sees a tree.
My teacher reads the book.
I carried my bag.

Subject–Verb–Adjective

Independent Clause
Subject Predicate
Verb Adjective
The man feels happy.
The painting looks creepy.
She is kind.

Subject–Verb–Adverb

Independent Clause
Subject Predicate
Verb Adverb
They walk quickly.
He stares intensely.
We performed well.

How to Vary Sentence Structure

Needless to say, only using simple sentences (like those outlined above) will let you express very basic thoughts, attitudes, and information — but not much else. Therefore, you will need to vary your speech and writing patterns to include compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences. However, when it actually comes to varying sentence structure, thinking about the kind of sentence you want to make doesn’t help very much. In fact, it can make the process a lot more confusing than it needs to be.

Instead, focus on sentence length. Whether you’re writing or speaking, try to sprinkle in a mixture of short, medium, and long sentences. This will guarantee that you use more than one type of sentence structure. 

Another great way to vary sentence structure is to include transition words. These words help your sentences sound more varied and give multiple statements a sense of continuity. Here are a few common transition words that you can put in the beginning or middle of sentences:

  • And
  • But
  • However
  • Therefore
  • Moreover
  • Thus
  • Although
  • Because
  • Yet

Finally, remember to use different verb tenses. This doesn’t mean that you should suddenly switch from past to present, and then back to the past again. This might sound confusing. Instead, you should try to mix in different English tenses that make sense in the context of your speech or writing. 

Conclusion

When it comes to sentence structure in English, it can feel like there’s a lot of ground to cover. You need to have a basic understanding of English grammar, vocabulary, parts of speech, clauses, as well as the different parts of a sentence. Fortunately, with time and practice, all of these sentence structure rules and terms will start to come naturally to you!

We hope you found this guide on English sentence structure useful! If you’d like to hear a native English speaker using varied sentence structures, be sure to subscribe to the Magoosh Youtube channel today!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!
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