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Basic Grammar and Punctuation: Simple Sentences

The tutorials below address basic grammar and punctuation errors writers routinely have. Use these guidelines to proofread and correct errors in your papers before submission. For hands-on help, see a tutor in your campus Learning Support Commons.

About Simple Sentences

A basic sentence has a verb:


A verb is the action (read, walk, run, learn), or state of being in the sentence. Identify the verb by asking what is happening in this sentence?


For example:


We walked to the store.

My father is an excellent cook.

We will have fun at the beach. (The verb may have more than one word and include helping verbs such as is, do, must, has, shall, will, and could.)

The brothers fought but loved each other anyway. (A sentence may have more than one verb.)

Note - the to form (to walk, to study, to learn) or ing form (walking, studying, running) cannot be a verb. These are nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. They look like actions, but they act as things or descriptions in a sentence.


Walking to the store makes you sweat. (Walking is the thing we're doing or subject. The verb is makes.)

To learn to cook was his only ambition. (To learn is the thing he's doing or the subject. The verb is was.)


A basic sentence also has a subject - the who or what that is doing the action in the sentence.

Identify the subject by asking who or what is doing the action in the sentence?


For example:


She was my best friend.

The dirty old car broke down on the highway. (When you look for the subject, look for the core word and not the description words around it.)

Practice makes perfect.

The lazy dog and cat slept on the sofa all day. (The subject of the sentence may be two things however.)


Using Simple Sentences:


Sometimes students think they must use complex sentences. However, separating ideas into simple sentences with a period is better than writing run-on sentences.


Combining sentences adds variety to your writing, but simple sentences help add clarity.


An overly long and complicated example:


It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

- Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)


 1) Use a simple sentence when you want to emphasize one idea:


It was a dark and stormy night.


 2) Use simple sentences when your ideas need to be clarified.


It was a dark and stormy night. The rain fell in torrents. A violent gust of wind swept up the streets.


How to identify and fix simple sentences:


1) Read the words between each capital and period out loud. Do you see a subject and verb – can you determine who does what?


2) If you see more than one subject/verb combination, separate them with a period.


Wrong – I studied hard she partied all night.

Right – I studied hard. She partied all night.


3) If you're missing either subject or verb, rewrite your sentence to add them.


Wrong – By studying hard and practicing the grammar exercises. (Who is studying?)

Right – I studied hard and practiced the grammar exercises.


Wrong – The shining sun, the warm breeze, the cool surf, palms blowing in the breeze. (What are these doing?)

Right – The shining sun, the warm breeze, the cool surf, and palms blowing in the breeze are great!