Sentences in English Grammar

What is a sentence?

A sentence is a unit of grammar. Generally, sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop, an exclamation mark or a question mark. In English grammar, a sentence must contain at least one main clause (see “What is a clause?” below).

Sentence Construction

There are three ways to structure a sentences in English grammar, although the word order generally stays the same. Learning to use all three structures will improve your writing, making it more complex and interesting. So let’s take a closer look below:

  • A simple sentence is a sentence formed with one main clause.
Magda loves dogs.
Magda loves dogs but Adam loves cats.
  • A complex sentence is a sentence formed with one main clause and one or more subordinating clauses joined by a subordinating conjunction.
Although Magda likes cats, she thinks dogs are better.

Types of Sentences

There are four types of sentences in English grammar all off which can be formed in the affirmative or the negative.

  • A declarative sentence is a statement. In English grammar, declarative sentences follow the pattern subject + verb + object/complement/adjunct.
Adam loves cats. He doesn’t like dogs.
  • An interrogative sentence is also known as a question. Interrogative sentences generally end with a question mark (not in indirect speech) and have an inverted word order. Questions in English grammar usually follow the pattern auxiliary verb + subject + verb + object/complement/adjunct.
Does Adam prefer cats or dogs?
  • An Imperative sentence is an order or instruction formed using the imperative mood. In this case, we use the base form of the verb and the subject is often left out. Imperatives follow the pattern verb + object/complement/adjunct.
Don’t pat the dog.
  • An exclamative sentence can be used to express a strong opinion. In written English, they are followed by an exclamation mark. Exclamative sentences usually follow one of the following three word orders:
What a lovely cat you have!
what + noun + subject + verb
How pretty your cat is!
how + adjective + subject + verb
Isn’t she lovely!
auxiliary/modal verb + subject + verb (interrogative word order)

What is a clause?

A clause is a basic unit of grammar. In English grammar, a clause must contain a verb which can be finite or non-finite. There are two types of clauses: main/independent and subordinate/dependent. These clauses can be combined to form different sentence structures (see sentence structure above).

Main Clause

Main clauses are sometimes called independent clauses because they can form a sentence on their own. A main clause generally contains a subject, a verb and an object, complement or adjunct. The verb in a main clause is always finite which means it gives us information about person and tense.

Magda loves cats.

Subordinate Clause

Subordinate clauses are sometimes called dependent clauses because they cannot form a sentence on their own. Subordinate clauses always contain a subordinate conjunction and a verb. Finite clauses also have a subject, whereas non-finite clauses do not. We often use non-finite clauses when the subject of the main clause and the subordinate clause are the same.

Magda loves cats because they pur so sweetly. (finite)
Magda fed the cat before feeding the dog. (non-finite)

There are many different types of subordinate clauses, such as participle clauses, relative clauses and conditional clauses.

Having already fed the cat, Magda made herself some breakfast. (participle)
Magda found the cat, whose name is Kitty, on the street one morning. (relative)
If Magda didn’t love cats so much, she never would have taken Kitty home. (conditional)

More about sentences and clauses

For more information about sentences and clauses in English grammar and exercises to practise, check out the following pages: