101 Written Sentence Construction
Sentence construction is something many of us learned at school. But, like all skills, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! Modern day communication methods mean that writing well is often unnecessary. For those of us who don’t enjoy putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – it’s easy to avoid having to write much at all. When we restrict our word-crafting to text messages and the odd, brief email, our writing skills suffer.
If you feel that you may have neglected to nurture your writing abilities, it’s time you gave this topic some attention. Writing well is a useful skill. Not only does it allow you to get your point across well, it looks professional and demonstrates your attention to detail. It doesn’t matter how ‘expert’ you are on a subject, if you write about it poorly, you’ll lose credibility and be perceived as less able.
The good news is that you can easily brush up on your writing skills. With a little practice you can improve and build new techniques.
The backbone of good writing is sentence construction. Writing in clear, simple sentences is one of the most straightforward writing skills to polish. Poor sentence construction is also the commonest error. That’s why we are starting this series on writing skills by looking at the basics of written sentence construction. Read our list of common errors and tips to help you whip your sentences into better shape:
Common Mistakes in Sentence Construction and Tips for Improvement
1 Unclear Meaning
Each of your sentences should make sense if you read it out loud. Meaning should flow from one sentence to the next, carrying your point along.
Tip: Read your writing out loud, sentence by sentence. Check that each sentence makes sense on its own.
2 Sentences are Too Long
Short sentences are easier to read than long, complex ones. Keep your sentences below 20 words if necessary.
Tip: Check your writing for sentences that can be split into two. A common problem is using a comma when a full-stop is better. Eliminate extra commas.
3 Incorrect Building Blocks in Sentence Construction
Different types of words have different names and are used in different ways in sentence construction.
Nouns and Verbs
A very simple sentence may only have a subject and object noun (naming words) and a verb (a doing word).
For example, look at this simple sentence: “John ran towards the station.”
John is the subject noun – the person or thing performing the described action.
Ran is the verb – the doing or action word.
Station is the object noun – the person or thing towards which the action is directed.
“John ran towards the station.” would also make sense if it was written “He ran towards the station.” – As long as John has already been mentioned in a previous sentence so we know who ‘He’ is! He is a pronoun. Pronouns can be used instead of a noun when the noun has already been used. Other pronouns are: it, they, we and she.
Adjectives are describing words and usually come before the noun to give the reader more information about it.
For example, “John ran towards the dark station.” – Dark is the adjective.
We can also use more than one adjective in a sentence and separate them with commas.
For example, “John ran towards the dark, lonely station.”
Adverbs are also describing words but they describe a verb rather than a noun.
For example, “John ran quickly towards the dark, lonely station.” – Quickly is the adverb.
Tip: Read your writing and identify the different types of words it contains. Check that your sentence construction is correct in each instance. Particularly check for places where you could use a pronoun instead of repeating a noun – repeated, unnecessary nouns disrupt the flow of your sentences.
4 Inconsistent Tense in Sentence Construction
Tense in a sentence tells us when the event occurred. Is it happening currently, has it happened in the past or will it happen in the future? Using inconsistent tense, switching between current, past and future, in a sentence is another common mistake.
For example, “Lorna describes the lessons, how they varied in content.” This sentence switches tense between current (describes) and past (varied).
Tip: The writer of this sentence needs to decide whether the event is current or past and change the sentence construction accordingly:
Current: “Lorna describes the lessons, how they vary in content.”
Past: “Lorna described the lessons, how they varied in content.”
The English language is a complex and deep subject that is constantly evolving. There are many ‘rules’ which can seem daunting. However, in modern times, these rules are more relaxed than they used to be.
The most important thing to remember about your sentence construction is that it should be simple and your meanings should be clear. Make it a habit to read your writing out loud, paying attention to the flow of your sentences and the clarity of your meanings. With regular attention, you’ll pick up where you tend to make the most mistakes and your writing will improve.
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