Common Sentence Structures

Learning Objectives

  • Identify common sentence structures and patterns

Basic Sentence Patterns

Subject + verb

The simplest of sentence patterns is composed of a subject and verb without a direct object or subject complement. It uses an intransitive verb, that is, a verb requiring no direct object:

  • Control rods remain inside the fuel assembly of the reactor.
  • The development of wind power practically ceased until the early 1970s.
  • The cross-member exposed to abnormal stress eventually broke.
  • Only two types of charge exist in nature.

Subject + verb + direct object

Another common sentence pattern uses the direct object:

  • Silicon conducts electricity in an unusual way.
  • The anti-reflective coating on the the silicon cell reduces reflection from 32 to 22 percent.

Subject + verb + indirect object + direct object

The sentence pattern with the indirect object and direct object is similar to the preceding pattern:

  • I am writing her about a number of problems that I have had with my computer.
  • Austin, Texas, has recently built its citizens a system of bike lanes.

Try It

Identify the basic sentence pattern of the sentences below. What are the different parts of each sentence?

  1. All amplitude-modulation (AM) receivers work in the same way.
  2. The supervisor mailed the applicant a description of the job.
  3. We have mailed the balance of the payment in this letter.

Sentence Types

Simple Sentences

A simple sentence is one that contains a subject and a verb and no other independent or dependent clause.

  • One of the tubes is attached to the manometer part of the instrument indicating the pressure of the air within the cuff.
  • There are basically two types of stethoscopes.
    • In this sentence, the subject and verb are inverted; that is, the verb comes before the subject. However, it is still classified as a simple sentence.
  • To measure blood pressure, a sphygmomanometer and a stethoscope are needed.
    • This sentence has a compound subject—that is, there are two subjects—but it is still classified as a simple sentence.

Command sentences are a subtype of simple sentences. These sentences are unique because they don’t actually have a subject:

  • Clean the dishes.
  • Make sure to take good notes today.
  • After completing the reading, answer the following questions.

In each of these sentences, there is an implied subject: you. These sentences are instructing the reader to complete a task. Command sentences are the only sentences in English that are complete without a subject.

Compound Predicates

A predicate is everything in the verb part of the sentence after the subject (unless the sentence uses inverted word order). A compound predicate is two or more predicates joined by a coordinating conjunction. Traditionally, the conjunction in a sentence consisting of just two compound predicates is not punctuated.

  • Another library media specialist has been using Accelerated Reader for ten years and has seen great results.
  • This cell phone app lets users share pictures instantly with followers and categorize photos with hashtags.

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence is made up of two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, yet, for) and a comma, an adverbial conjunction and a semicolon, or just a semicolon.

  • In sphygmomanometers, too narrow a cuff can result in erroneously high readings, and too wide a cuff can result in erroneously low readings.
  • Some cuff hook together; others wrap or snap into place.

Command sentences can be compound sentences as well:

  • Never give up; never surrender.
  • Turn the handle 90 degrees and push the button four times.

When you have a compound command sentence with a coordinating conjunction, you do not need to include a comma, because the two have the same subject.

Complex Sentences

A complex sentence is made up of an independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

  • Because my hot chocolate got too cold, I heated it back up on the stove.
  • Wherever you go, there is always something beautiful.
  • When he got a pie smashed in his face, everyone laughed.

Compound-Complex Sentences

A compound-complex sentence is exactly what it sounds like: a compound sentence mixed with a complex one. Since a compound sentence has (at least) two independent clauses, and a complex sentence has (at least) one dependent clause, those are the elements that are a part of a compound-complex sentence. Compound-complex sentences sound like they are hard, but they are actually really common in the way we speak and write. See if you can identify which are the independent clauses and which are the dependent clauses in the example sentences below.

  • Jessie forgot her aunt’s birthday, so she sent her a card when she finally remembered.
  • When we won the state championship, our captain jumped for joy and the rest of the team cheered.
  • Even if he is hungry, he still won’t eat oatmeal; he only wants to eat cold cereal.

Watch it

Here is a basic summary of the main types of sentence structures. Watch this for a comprehensive summary of how different clauses can work together to make sentences.

You can view the transcript for “Sentence Structure- Learn About the Four Types of Sentences” here (opens in new window).

Try It

Identify the type of each sentence below. Why is each type of sentence useful in each instance?

  1. The sphygmomanometer is usually covered with cloth and has two rubber tubes attached to it.
  2. There are several types of sentences; using different types can keep your writing lively.
  3. Words, sentences, and paragraphs are all combined to create a book.
  4. Before giving up, take a deep breath and look at things from a different perspective.

Punctuation Patterns

While your sentence’s punctuation will always depend on the content of your writing, there are a few common punctuation patterns you should be aware of.

Simple sentences have these punctuation patterns:

  • ________________________________.
  • ________, ________________________.

Compound predicate sentences have this punctuation pattern: ________ ________ and ________.

Compound Sentences have these punctuation patterns:

  • ________________, and ________________.
  • ________________; ________________.

Complex and compound-complex sentences don’t follow any specific patterns, although they will commonly have commas in between the clauses as well (but don’t have to).

As you can see from these common patterns, periods, commas, and semicolons are the punctuation marks you will use the most in your writing. As you write, it’s best to use a variety of these patterns. If you use the same pattern repeatedly, your writing can easily become boring and drab.

Try It

The sentences in this passage follow a single punctuation pattern: ________________________________. Revise the passage to create variety.

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote six Cello Suites. The Cello Suites are suites for unaccompanied cello. They are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello. Each movement is based around a baroque dance type. This basis is standard for a Baroque musical suite. The cello suites are structured in six movements each. Each includes a prelude; an allemande; a courante; a sarabande; two minuets, two bourrées, or two gavottes; and a final gigue. The Bach cello suites are considered to be among the most profound of all classical music works.