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Academic Writing

This LibGuide was designed to provide you with assistance in citing your sources when writing an academic paper.

English Sentence Structure

English Sentence Patterns

FOUR BASIC PATTERNS

Every sentence pattern below describes a different way to combine clauses. When you are drafting your own papers or when you’re revising them for sentence variety, try to determine how many of these patterns you use. If you favor one particular pattern, your writing might be kind of boring if every sentence has exactly the same pattern. If you find this is true, try to revise a few sentences using a different pattern.

NOTE: Because nouns can fill so many positions in a sentence, it’s easier to analyze sentence patterns if you find the verbs and find the connectors. The most common connectors are listed below with the sentence patterns that use them.

In the descriptions below, S=Subject and V=Verb, and options for arranging the clauses in each sentence pattern given in parentheses. Connecting words and the associated punctuation are highlighted in brown. Notice how the punctuation changes with each arrangement.

Pattern 1: Simple Sentence

One independent clause (SV.)

  • Mr. Potato Head eats monkeys.
    I refuse.

Try this: Look for sentences in your own text that have only one clause. Mark them with a certain color so they stand out.

Pattern 2: Compound Sentence

Two or more independent clauses. They can be arranged in these ways: (SV, and SV.) or (SV; however, SV.)

Connectors with a comma, the FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so 

Connectors with a semicolon and comma: however, moreover, nevertheless, nonetheless, therefore

Example compound sentences:

  • Mr. Potato Head eats them for breakfast every day, but I don’t see the attraction.
    Eating them makes him happy; however, he can’t persuade me.

Try this:

  • Scan your own text to find the compound connectors listed above. Circle them.
  • Find the verb and the subject of the clauses on both sides of the connectors.
  • Highlight your compound sentences with a color that’s different from the one you used to mark your simple sentences.

Pattern 3: Complex Sentence

One independent clause PLUS one or more dependent clauses. They can be arranged in these ways: (SV because SV.) or (Because SV, SV.) or (S, because SV, V.)

Connectors are always at the beginning of the dependent clause. They show how the dependent clause is related to the independent clause. This list shows different types of relationships along with the connectors that indicate those relationships:

  • Cause/Effect: because, since, so that
  • Comparison/Contrast: although, even though, though, whereas, while
  • Place/Manner: where, wherever, how, however
  • Possibility/Conditions: if, whether, unless
  • Relation: that, which, who, whom
  • Time: after, as, before, since, when, whenever, while, until

Examples of complex sentences:

  • He recommends them highly because they taste like chicken when they are hot.
    Although chicken always appeals to me, I still feel skeptical about monkey.
    Mrs. Potato Head, because she loves us so much, has offered to make her special monkey souffle for us.
    She can cook it however she wants.
    Although I am curious, I am still skeptical.

Try this:

  • Scan your own text to find the complex connectors listed above. Circle them.
  • Find the verb and the subject of the clauses that goes with each connector, remembering that the dependent clause might be in between the subject and verb of the independent clause, as shown in the arrangement options above.
  • Highlight your complex sentences with a color that’s different from the one you used to mark your simple sentences.

Pattern 4: Compound-Complex Sentence

Two or more independent clauses PLUS one or more dependent clauses. They can be arranged in these ways: (SV, and SV because SV.) or (Because SV, SV, but SV.)

Connectors: Connectors listed under Patterns 2 & 3 are used here. Find the connectors, then find the verbs and subjects that are part of each clause.

  • Mr. Potato Head said that he would share the secret recipe; however, if he does, Mrs. Potato Head will feed him to the piranhas, so we are both safer and happier if I don’t eat monkeys or steal recipes.

Try this: Use a fourth color to highlight the compound-complex sentences in your text (the ones with at least two independent and at least one dependent clauses).

Look at the balance of the four different colors. Do you see one color standing out? Do you notice one missing entirely? If so, examine your text carefully while you ask these questions:

  • Could you separate some of the more complex sentences?
  • Could you combine some of the shorter sentences?
  • Can you use different arrangement options for each of the sentence patterns?
  • Can you use different connectors if you change the order of the clauses?