Real-life sentences

This is an edited version of material taken from my book Grammar for Teachers. Some sections are incomplete. To read the full text you need to purchase a copy of the book, which is available as a download. Find out more.

We can divide sentences into three broad groups according to the number of clauses they contain and how these are linked:

Simple sentences

A sentence that consists of just one clause is described as a simple sentence. This does not tell us anything about its length or about the ideas it contains. Both the following examples are simple sentences on the pattern subject + verb + object:

Elephants like grass.
The dynamic world of flamenco takes a contemporary twist.

The second sentence seems much more complicated than the first, but it isn’t really. It starts with a noun phrase:

The dynamic world of flamenco

This is based on the headword world. The object of the sentence is also a noun phrase based on the headword twist.

So grammatically the sentence boils down to:

subject+verb+object —> world-takes-twist

Compound sentences

The simplest way of joining two clauses is to use and or but.

For example:

I told him and he shook his head in admiration
Travelling was a slow, tedious business but the difficulties were not insuperable.

And and but are conjunctions (a term deriving from the Latin for joining two things together). The two items they join are of equal status in the sentence, so they are described as co-ordinating conjunctions. Other similar conjunctions are or, then, yet.

Co-ordinating conjunctions can also be used to join words and phrases. For example:

bread and butter
the budget or the general election.

Complex sentences

When clauses are linked in a different way we create something called a complex sentence. The term ‘complex’ describes the grammatical structure and not the length of the sentence or its complexity of meaning.

In a complex sentence, one clause is grammatically superior to the others. This clause is the main clause and any other clauses are subordinate to it. The best way to show how this works is to take a simple sentence and then turn it into a complex one…

To read the rest of this section, you will need to buy my book Grammar for TeachersFind out more.

Nominal clauses
A clause that does the job of a noun phrase as subject, object or complement is a nominal clause. (Nominal clauses are sometimes referred to as noun clauses.)

Relative clauses
Noun phrases may contain a clause that modifies the headword. Such clauses are called relative clauses and are introduced by the relative pronouns who(m), which and that. Again the clause can replace a single word or a phrase:

Gordon Beamish was a lynx-eyed man.
(adjective)

Gordon Beamish was a man with eyes like a lynx.
(prepositional phrase)

Gordon Beamish was a man who had eyes like a lynx.
(relative clause)

Relative clauses can also be introduced by a zero relative pronoun Ð that is to say, no relative pronoun at all:

The book you lent me is really interesting.

Adverbial clauses
Adverbial clauses can be regarded in the same way.
For example:

So I went round later
(adverb)

So I went round after work.
(prepositional phrase)

So I went round after I had finished work. 
(adverbial clause)

Adverbial clauses can do most of the things that single adverbs, or phrases (especially prepositional phrases) used as adverb-ials can. The main functions of adverbial clauses are detailed in Chapter 10.

To end this section, here is a short piece of text with the adverbial clauses printed in bold.

When I was well again it became clear that Tsiganok occupied a very special place in the household. Grand-father didn’t shout at him so often and so angrily as he did at his sons, and when he wasn’t there he would screw up his eyes, shake his head, and say, ‘My Ivanka’s got hands of gold.’

You will notice that a common feature of adverbial clauses is that they are introduced by words like when, as, if, because. Since they introduce subordinate clauses, these are referred to as subordinating conjunctions.

This is an edited version of material taken from my book Grammar for Teachers. Some sections are incomplete. To read the full text you need to purchase a copy of the book, which is available as a download. Find out more.