SMUG Monday: Complete Sentences

Think back to your high school days. Scary, I know, but try to recall the definition of a complete sentence. Remember? Good! If not, here’s a reminder.

A complete sentence must have three parts:

1. A subject

2. A verb

3. A completed thought.


The Independent (or Main) Clause

A bare bones sentence is called in independent clause, and contains a subject, a verb, and (sometimes) an object–depending on the kind of verb.

Example (subject and intransitive action verb): Danielle dates.

Example (subject and transitive action verb and object): Danielle kisses Roberto.

Example (subject and linking verb and predicate adjective): Danielle is happy.

–> note that all forms of “to be” and most verbs that deal with the senses are linking verbs, and that all linking verbs have a predicate noun or predicate adjective, which are specific types of objects.


How to grow your sentence

There are two basic ways to expand an independent clause into expressing more complex ideas. First, you can add one or more modifiers. Second, you can add one or more dependent clauses.

Modifiers are words like adjective and adverbs, prepositional phrases (express locational relationship between subject and object, like ‘under the bed’), or phrases that act as adjectives or adverbs.

Example (adjectives): Blue-eyed Danielle kissed Roberto.

Example (adverb): Danielle passionately kissed Roberto.

Example (prepositional phrase): Danielle kissed Roberto with passion.

–> some common prepositions: for, by, under, to, with, at, above, below, next to, beside, within…

Phrases are a little trickier, because instead of using single words to modify a noun, adjective, or adverb, you have a group of words acting as a modifier.

Example (adjective phrase): Relieved to have found him, Danielle kissed Roberto. (the words before the comma describe Danielle. CAUTION: with modifiers like this, make sure they describe the nearest noun.)

To complicate matters further, you can modify an independent clause with a dependent clause. Now just like a dependent girlfriend, a dependent clause cannot exist without the main clause, or you end up with a fragment. NOTE: To be considered a clause, the group of words must contain a subject and a verb.

Example (dependent clause): because she’d been single for two years.

–> some words that “trigger” independent clauses (these are called subordinating conjunctions): because, while, if, since, so that, until, when. A subordinating conjunction can NEVER begin an independent clause.

Example (main clause + dependent clause = complex sentence): Danielle kissed Roberto because she’d been single for two years.

–> the dependent clause can come before or after the main clause. If it comes before, it must be offset by a comma. You NEVER put a comma before a subordinating conjunction!


Caveat: I am a firm believer in the judicious use of sentence fragments. Not because of laziness or grammatical error, but because you want to emphasize a point.

Example (bad sentence fragment): Danielle kissed Roberto. Because she’d been single for two years.

Example (fragment with artistic license): Danielle kissed Roberto because she’d been single for two years. Asshole ex-boyfriends–ugh.


Check back next Monday for more SMUGness, and if you’ve missed previous lessons, find them below. As usual, please post your SMUG questions for me to answer!

SMUG Monday: Introduction

Comments are closed.