Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sentences and independent clauses

A sentence:

  1. Has a subject.
  2. Has a verb.
  3. Completes a thought.
  4. Starts with a capital letter.
  5. Ends with a period, exclamation point, or question mark.
An independent clause:
  1. Has a subject.
  2. Has a verb.
  3. Completes a thought.
A simple sentence contains only one independent clause.

John tossed Nancy the ball.
If a single independent clause contains compound structures like compound subjects, compound verbs, compound direct objects, compound indirect objects, compound subjective complements, or compound objective complements, it is still a simple sentence because it only contains one independent clause.

John and Nancy are smart and attractive.
But as soon as a sentence contains more than one independent clause, it becomes a compound sentence. Independent clauses in compound sentences are joined together by one of seven coordinating conjunctions or a semicolon.

The coordinating conjunctions are:
  1. For (when it means because)
  2. And (be careful: and joins compound subjects and verbs too. Furthermore, according to Grammar By Diagram, and is an overused coordinating conjunction considering there are six alternatives).
  3. Nor
  4. But
  5. Or
  6. Yet
  7. So (when it means therefore)
In a compound sentence, the independent clauses are separated first by a comma, then by the coordinating conjunction.
John and Nancy are smart and attractive, yet they are unhappy.
It is not acceptable to omit the coordinating conjunction while still using the comma.
Incorrect: John and Nancy are smart and attractive, they are unhappy.
It is acceptable to repair the sentence above with a semicolon.

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