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Grammar Bites: Sentence Basics

Published 2020-06-21
Camilla Ochlan

Dear Writing Buddies,

English grammar can be intimidating. For me, grammar class in school was confusing as can be. Between studying four languages -- German, English, Latin, and Spanish -- I did not get the hang of grammar rules until after high school. I had an instinctual understanding, but the logic of sentence structure and how the dreaded grammar exercises related to my beloved fiction writing eluded me.

My Eureka moment came not in a grammar class, but when Carol shared her grammar notes. Carol's teacher -- the impressive Professor Bertonasco -- broke things down into simple formulas.

I want to share some of the basics because I think having a little reference formula can let everyone who is struggling breathe a little easier and just get back to writing without worry.

Clause and phrase

First thing to remember is that a clause is a group of words that has a subject and a verb.

Grammar example

A phrase is a group of words without a subject or a verb.

Grammar example

We’re going to focus on clauses, for now.

I want to look at two types of clauses -- independent and dependent.

The independent clause (IC) has a subject and a verb and can stand alone.

Grammar example

The dependent clause (DC) also has a subject and a verb, but the DC cannot stand alone. The DC can't stand alone because it contains a dependent word (or dependent markers).

Grammar example

Here's a quick (incomplete) list of words that can begin a dependent clause (also called subordinating conjunctions).

Grammar example

When it comes to punctuating IC and DC combinations, here's the easy formula:

Sentence formula

Independent clause:

Grammar example

That sentence stands alone, no comma required.


Dependent clause, independent clause.

Grammar example

Note the comma in the above example.


Independent clause dependent clause:

Grammar example

Notice the absence of a comma when the IC comes first.

Not too traumatic -- right?

Now go enjoy your writing time.

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