What is a Sentence

I have/host a writing club on deviantart.com called Writers in Progress (http://writers-in-progress.deviantart.com), and it came to my attention that several people have trouble with run-on sentences. So I decided to offer a tip to try and tackle the problem.

I started with what a sentence is . . . after all, how can you know what a run-on sentence is if you don’t know what a proper sentence looks like?

If you already know this stuff, read it anyway. It’s always nice to review.


What is a Sentence?
Sentences are the building block of a story. Without sentences, how could we write? Therefore, it is important that we learn what a sentence is and how it is put together.

Basically, a sentence is a set of words that expresses a complete thought. In the English language, a sentence has both a subject and a predicate. The subject is usually the noun plus any modifiers (ie adjectives, articles, etc.), and the predicate is usually the verb plus any modifiers (adverbs, complements, direct objects, etc.). If the sentence does not have one or the other, it is not a sentence. It is a fragment. If a sentence has a noun and a verb but does not express a complete thought, it is not a sentence. It is a fragment.

Look at the following.

Jenny brushed her hair. — sentence.
Jenny brushed. — sentence.
Brushed. — fragment.
In order for the girl to see the brook. — fragment.
In order for the girl to see the brook, she had to lean forward. –sentence.
She had to lean forward. — sentence.
Are you going to the prom? –sentence.
Go clean your room! — sentence.
Do your homework!–sentence.
Did my homework.– fragment.

Now, the last three may confuse you. Why are the first two (of the last three) sentences, and the last one a fragment? Where is the subject? Well, those two are imperative sentences. The subject is an “understood you.” In other words, when someone is giving a command, instead of saying, “You, do you homework,” they drop the “you” and just say “Do your homework.” In the last sentence, there is no command. Just a lonely fragment.

While fragments should generally be avoided in formal writing, in fiction writing, they can be a good tool. I often use fragments to convey a point. Even in an essay it can drive home a point. Do you see the fragment in the previous paragraph?

There are many different types of sentences and sentence structures, but I don’t want to get into that now. You can see more about sentences types by reading this article.

That’s it for now. Next week, I plan to tackle run-on sentences . . . God willing.