The Sentence

The parts of speech work together to form sentences. The sentence, in its simplest form, consists of two parts: subject and verb. It can be said that correct combination of the subject and the verb makes a sentence.

For example, all of the following are complete sentences:

  • John (subject) walks (verb)
  • Cats (subject) purr (verb)
  • Justice (subject) prevails (verb)

The subject is the main character of the sentence. It is the noun that carries out the action of the sentence or whose condition the sentence describes. The verb describes the action or links the subject and predicate.

Depending on the verb used, the third important part of the sentence could be a direct object, an adverb, an adjective, or a predicate noun. The third element for a sentence with a transitive verb (an action verb that must be followed by a direct object) is always a direct object. Intransitive verbs (action verbs that can’t be followed by direct objects) may be completed by adverbs. You can follow the verb to be with either an adjective or a predicate noun. Recognizing the three main elements of the sentence helps you spot errors in the sentence-correction questions.

There are certain elements added which makes the sentence much harder to find subject and verb. These elements typically take the form of:

  • Prepositional Phrases: Prepositions are words that indicate the position or relationship between nouns, verbs and adjectives.

  • Modifiers: A modifier is a word or phrase that describes or qualifies another word or phrase in the sentence.

The use of prepositional phrases and modifiers adds more detail to a sentence, but sometimes makes it more difficult to isolate the parts. For example:

  • After awakening from his afternoon nap, John walked aimlessly from room to room, searching for something to do.
  • Cats, like most members of the family Felidae, purr in order to express contentment or pleasure.
  • Despite the oftentimes egregious failings of the court system, justice, it was agreed by legal scholars, often prevailed in due time.

These sentences, despite adding more details, are saying basically the same thing as the three prior sentences.

Phrases and Clauses

In addition to the main elements, a sentence may contain single words, phrases, or clauses that convey more information about the sentence’s main message. Phrases and clauses are groups of words that work together to form a single part of speech, like an adverb or adjective. The difference between phrases and clauses is that clauses contain their own subjects and verbs, and phrases don't.

Phrases are a group of words that function together as a part of speech. They do not contain subject-verb pair. Certain phrases have specific names based on the type of word that begins or governs the word group - noun phrase, verb phrase, prepositional phrase, infinitive phrase, participle phrase, gerund phrase, and absolute phrase.

Clause is fundamental building block of a sentence. A clause contains subject and verb. Every sentence has at least one main clause. It may have two or more joined by a conjunction. Main clause is also known as independent clause as it can stand independently as its own sentence. Dependent clause (also called subordinate clause) are those that would be awkward if used alone.

  • Independent clauses: These clauses express complete thoughts and could stand as sentences by themselves. For example: The firm will go public, and investors will rush to buy stock. Each clause is a complete sentence: The firm will go public. Investors will rush to buy stock.

  • Dependent clauses: These clauses express incomplete thoughts and are, therefore, sentence fragments. Even though they contain a subject and verb, they can’t stand alone as sentences without other information. For example: After the two companies merge, they’ll need only one board of directors. The dependent clause in the sentence is: after the two companies merge. The clause has a subject, companies, and a verb, merge, but it still leaves the reader needing more information. So the clause is dependent. To form a complete sentence, a dependent clause must be paired with an independent clause.