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How to Write a Sentence Correctly

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician, and author of books for children and adults.

Sentences need to be carefully crafted to make instructions easy to follow accurately

Sentences need to be carefully crafted to make instructions easy to follow accurately

Elements of a Sentence

Sentences can be tricky, especially if you weren't paying attention during those English lessons in school. Let's kick things off by defining what it is that makes up a sentence, before moving on to its various parts.

A simple sentence is a group of words arranged in such a way as to express a single idea. For example:

  • John reads books.

In this sentence we have all the elements needed to explain who's doing what. We have a subject, we have an object and we have an action. The subject is John, the object is books and the action is reading.

Any strong sentence needs to have at least those three things: a subject, an object and an action. Nouns are used for both the subject and object, while verbs identify whatever action is being taken.

Nouns are the names we give to "things," such as chairs, fish, books, cars, pens, dogs, pennies, light bulbs and so on. These are known as common nouns. Proper nouns are names of people, places and unique items such as cities, planets, companies and the like. Pronouns can also be used—he, she, it, they, us, we—when appropriate.

Verbs are words that demonstrate action: throw, push, read, walk, bite, ride, move, swim, kneel, crawl, jump, etc.

Use your loaf to write sentences that are crystal clear

Use your loaf to write sentences that are crystal clear

Making Sensible Sentences

So far everything seems pretty straightforward. The problem with sentences isn't that they're difficult to create in the first place—it's that the written word tends to be more formal than the spoken word. Speech can be lazy and littered with contractions but we'll still be able to get the gist of what someone's saying.

But when the same words are written down on paper, they may not be as easy to comprehend.

Why is it so important to make your writing clear and unambiguous? It's not such a big deal if you're leaving a note for your partner, saying you'll be home 10 minutes late and would they mind picking up a loaf of bread. It doesn't really matter how you notate that information, as long as the message gets received and understood. For instance, you might jot down something like this:

  • Staff meeting. Back at 7. Get some bread in.

You can see that these short phrases are not complete sentences, but in this case it doesn't matter. The person reading the note is capable of filling in any gaps and deciphering the code to figure out what's needed and to take any necessary action.

And that's a point that you should give a little bit of thought. It may be perfectly acceptable to use abbreviations and contractions when sending a text to a friend, but you wouldn't want to send that same type of message to a potential employer, or to a publisher reading your manuscript, or to your local government representative.

The English language is a code, and even though it continues to grow and develop, it's nevertheless important that we know how to communicate effectively with that code on any level.

Kiss me, you fool!

Kiss me, you fool!

Simple and Compound Sentences

There are basically two types of sentences you should write: simple and compound. Start with simple sentences and work your way up to their more complicated cousins when you feel comfortable doing so.

Simple sentences are the easiest to understand. They have only one subject, one object, one verb—and express one single idea. An example of a simple sentence might be:

  • The girl kissed the frog.

The subject is "girl" and the object is "frog." The verb is "kissed" and the sentence explains a single idea.

Compound sentences are, in a nutshell, two simple sentences joined together by a conjunction, i.e. the words if, or, and, but, because and so on. To turn the simple sentence above into a compound sentence, we could write the following:

  • The girl kissed the frog and the frog became a handsome prince.

You can clearly see the two simple sentences joined by the conjunction "and":

  • The girl kissed the frog.
  • and
  • The frog became a handsome prince.

Easy enough, I think you'll agree. And if that was all there was to it, no one would ever have any trouble writing like a Pulitzer prize winner. But there's more.

Keeping Sentences Coherent

The trick with writing sentences correctly isn't just using the right words—it's also making sure you don't use the wrong ones.

Good sentence structure should be concise and unambiguous, striving to get to the point as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are a number of techniques you can use to help ensure that this happens in your own writing, including:

  • Using strong, hard-working verbs. Verbs are the words that describe action. Having someone sit on a chair in front of an audience doesn't have the same impact as having them thrust into the spotlight. Pulling your hand out of a hole isn't as powerful as jerking it free. There are so many verbs to choose from that you owe it to yourself to find ones that ignite your reader's imagination and propel your ideas forward with vigor and passion.

    For instance, look at this example:

    The sun was setting in the west.

    There's a lot wrong with this sentence. The verb "was setting" is weak to start with - and the sun always sets in the west, so there's no point mentioning it. Can you think of a better verb to use? What about dipped, sank, disappeared, slid?

    The sun dipped slowly out of sight.
  • Eliminating unnecessary words. We're all guilty of doing this. We say something is very good, describe what we're actually talking about or explain what we really mean. But really, we don't actually say very much in that way, do we? These extra words—often ending in "y" or "ly"—tend to water down the point we're trying to make and suck all the goodness out of it. They might add to your overall word count, but they do more damage than good. You don't need them, so give them the chop.

    Look at the instructions on the picture at the top of this article. The first reads: Stir well before use. Is it possible to explain it any better or more succinctly than that?
The inverted pyramid model used for newspaper articles

The inverted pyramid model used for newspaper articles

  • Thinking about your readers. Everything you write should have a purpose. Your goal might be to describe a journey you've taken, to complain about a product, to request more information or highlight a problem. You need to begin by telling your readers what you're going to do and how you're going to do it. Then guide them through the information in a clear, logical and concise manner.

    You'll find examples of this kind of writing in quality newspapers. Top journalists use the inverted pyramid technique to make sure they convey all the vital information as quickly as possible. That means getting as much of the who, what, where, why, when and how in the first paragraph, using the remainder of the article to add details, quotes, eyewitness statements and related facts.

    For example, a typical news item might open with the following sentence:

    A 23-year-old man from Alphabet City died yesterday when his car collided with a northbound freight train.

    Notice that there's no fluff, only facts. No flowery or redundant words are used, because they don't deliver any information.
Let the facts tell the story

Let the facts tell the story

Simple Sentence Writing Tips

To write sentences that positively leap off the page, follow the steps outlined below.

  • Decide what it is you want to say
  • Imagine yourself explaining what you want to say in one sentence
  • Imagine explaining the thrust of your argument to a child
  • Jot down a few words that come to mind
  • Ask yourself: who did what? Who will be your subject, what will be your object, and whatever they did will be your verb.
  • Write down your subject-verb-object progression in the simplest language possible
  • Check your verb to see if it has enough power; if not, replace it with something better

These steps will enable you to produce sentences that are crisp, concise and a pleasure to read. Let's take a look at the process in action.

Suppose you wanted to write about rounding up cattle on a farm. You might be tempted to begin your piece with a description of the landscape, the size of the herd, the sounds made by animals and people—but you shouldn't. Get down to business right away and leave those details for later, weaving them into your piece as it progresses.

  • What words come to mind? Roper? Cowhand? Lasso?
  • Who did what? Perhaps the roper managed to lasso a particularly stubborn cow.
  • The subject-verb-object progression might therefore be: roper-lassoed-cow. Your simple sentence could read as follows: The roper lassoed the cow.
  • Is the verb strong enough? It tells us what's happening, but without much enthusiasm: The roper snagged the cow.
  • We already know that the cow was being stubborn, resisting attempts to be lassoed, so we could add that description to the equation: The roper snagged the stubborn cow.

Joining Simple Sentences for Impact

Hopefully you can see the power in a sentence like this. To turn this simple sentence into a compound sentence, follow the same subject-verb-object procedure and join the two sentences with a conjunction.

The more you work at creating simple sentences like this, the easier you'll find it. It will become automatic, so you'll hardly even have to think about what you're doing. Once you've mastered sentence construction at this level you'll be able to add adjectives, adverbs and other descriptive elements to your writing.

This technique ensures that your scripts have a solid foundation to build on. Whenever you find it difficult to start a new project or article, go back to the drawing board and hunt out the basic elements of what you want to say. Use them to construct sentences that are easy to read and make perfect sense. Readers, editors and publishers will love you for it.

What Do You Know?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What's missing from the sentence "John his bike?"
    • A subject
    • An object
    • A verb
  2. What three things are needed to construct a simple sentence?
    • A fork, a knife and a spoon
    • A subject, a verb and an object
    • A capital letter, a full stop and a pencil
  3. Which definition best describes a compound sentence?
    • A sentence made of chemical elements
    • A sentence written inside an enclosed compound
    • A combination of two simple sentences
  4. What should you use to join two simple sentences together and form a compound sentence?
    • Conjunction
    • String
    • Glue
  5. What should strong sentences achieve?
    • They should be filled with magic words
    • They should be clear, concise and to the point
    • They should be as long as possible
  6. Which part of the sentence gives it the most power?
    • The verb
    • The beginning
    • The last letter
  7. Which of these is the best example of what a strong sentence should be?
    • Peter yelled loudly without really thinking.
    • Peter just yelled loudly without really thinking.
    • Peter yelled without thinking.

Answer Key

  1. A verb
  2. A subject, a verb and an object
  3. A combination of two simple sentences
  4. Conjunction
  5. They should be clear, concise and to the point
  6. The verb
  7. Peter yelled without thinking.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is this sentence correct: the jar was full of oil?

Answer: You could write the sentence in at least two ways. The jar was full of oil. The jar was filled with oil. Both of these are perfectly good sentences. But the phrases "was full of" and "was filled with" are weak. Might be better to use more dynamic and expressive language to describe it, such as this. The jar was brimming with oil.

Question: Is this sentence correct? "The house is gone."

Answer: Technically this is a sentence. A house cannot go anywhere, so unless it was blown up or moved by one of those enormous vehicles that relocate wooden houses in North America, it's unlikely that the house would be gone.


JohnMello (author) from England on July 12, 2015:

You're welcome sandeep15r. Thanks for voting up!

Sandeep Rathore from New Delhi on July 11, 2015:

Thanks for great tips.Voted up!

JohnMello (author) from England on June 30, 2015:

Thank you Lee Cloak, Padmajah Badri and SANJAY LAKHANPAL for your compliments and for voting it up!

Sanjay Sharma from Mandi (HP) India on June 26, 2015:

It is simply a beautifully woreded hub.

Padmajah Badri from India on June 26, 2015:

Informative Hub.Voted up.Thank you

Lee Cloak on June 26, 2015:

Very important hub, packed full of very useful info, thanks for sharing, voted up, Lee

JohnMello (author) from England on February 09, 2015:

Thanks aesta1 - I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 09, 2015:

I'm glad I read this. It is clear and to the point.

JohnMello (author) from England on August 03, 2014:

Thanks you joanveronica... appreciate it!

Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on August 02, 2014:

I read it for the second time after several months and I find it extremely useful and well written. See you!

JohnMello (author) from England on August 02, 2014:

Thanks Deborah... glad you liked it.

Deborah Sexton on August 02, 2014:

A well written hub with important information

JohnMello (author) from England on December 13, 2012:

Thanks joanveronica. You may be right, and therefore I think I'll have to change it. D'oh!

Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on December 13, 2012:

Hi again, about "setting" MY understanding is that "setting" is a gerund, not a past participle. the past particple would be "set" and the sentence can't be constructed as passive. But the, I'm not an expert!

Bruce from Chicago, Illinois on December 13, 2012:

Thanks for the tips. It's always good to get a refresher - reminds me to think aobut how I am writing, not just what I am writing about.

JohnMello (author) from England on December 13, 2012:

Thanks Geovanni Redido and joanveronica. The passive voice is a combination of the verb "to be" (was) and the past participle of the verb denoting the action (setting). That's my understanding of it anyway :)

Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on December 13, 2012:

Very good Hub, I really enjoyed it! I have never formally studied English as a language, I just speak it. When I started teaching English, I had trouble learning some technical aspects, but now I am better at it. One doubt: surely "was setting" is not "passive voice". It would seem that the sentence is "active". I would call that form "past progressive". What do you think?

JohnMello (author) from England on December 13, 2012:

Thanks ARUN KANTI. Just keep on writing...

ARUN KANTI CHATTERJEE from KOLKATA on December 13, 2012:

Thanks for the useful hub. How I wished I could receive some valuable guidance in my endeavour to weave a few sentences properly for necessary impact as I have tried my best in my three published hubs!