Clauses, Subjects and the Foundation of the Sentence

Wordsmith Essays’ professional essay editing service works for writers of all different levels, from ESL students struggling with the basics of English grammar to creative writers who just need a second set of eyes on their work.  Today, one of our editors talks about the basics of sentence construction.

Most inexperienced writers make the mistake of not paying much attention to the fundamentals of their craft. Writing workshops and peer reviews will often talk about broad structural techniques, such as plot or thesis statements, and will rarely delve into sentence structure unless it’s to point out basic grammatical errors. This is unfortunate because learning how to manipulate the most basic elements of a sentence can be a powerful tool for any writer. That’s why today we’ll be taking a look at the fundamental form of a sentence and how identifying it can be a helpful tool for different types of writers.

Now, there are many different types of sentences. From the simple:

John saw a bird.

To the much more complex:

John, an unnoticed man of no great means or troubles, saw the flaming wings of a mythical bird alight upon his window and, to his great surprise, regard him with a very serious gaze as if the plain office worker was somehow important.

However, in either case the sentence can be boiled down to a basic form that consists of only two parts:

John saw.

This basic form is probably recognizable as a “clause”. It consists of a “subject”—a person, place, thing, or concept that is responsible for an action—and the action being taken by the subject or “predicate”. In the example above, “John” is the subject and “saw” is the predicate.

This might seem like simple grammar work, but boiling the sentence down to these components actually emphasizes some important information. By recognizing “John saw” as the most basic elements of our sentence, we can emphasize or clarify some important information about the sentence, such as:

1) The point of the sentence is to describe the visual experience of John.

2) The sentence takes place in the past tense.

3) The clause implies an object or complement that will complete the sentence.

This information can then be used to revise or otherwise manipulate the sentence. For example, a technical writer might use this information to simplify the sentence without losing necessary information, while a fiction writer could use it to check for unintended tense shifts.

Of course, this is only one way that basic sentence structure can be used to aid your writing. It can benefit any writer to develop their skills in this area and I would encourage anyone looking to make a serious career out of their writing to learn the basic elements of English grammar and experiment with ways to manipulate them to their advantage. Next time, we’ll continue our look at sentence structure with an examination of the four types of sentence structure and how they can be used effectively. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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