The basic unit of expression, a sentence is more than just a string of words. Here's what you need to put together a proper, complete sentence:

  • Complete thought: Don't leave the reader wondering what comes next. Long or short, the sentence must express at least one complete idea.

  • Subject-verb pair: The verb expresses action (goes, for example) or state of being (has been, perhaps), and the subject is the person or thing performing that action or existing in that state of being. The pair must match: Gene is marching (subject = Gene, verb = is marching) matches, but Gene marching doesn't.

  • Endmark: A period, question mark, or exclamation point must mark the end of your sentence.

The preceding bulleted list explains what you need, but you should also know what to avoid when you're constructing a complete sentence:

  • Run-ons and comma splices: Joining more than one subject-verb statement or question is fine, as long as you link them up correctly with a conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, since, although, because, and many more) or a semicolon (;).

  • Fragments: A string of ideas, no matter how many ideas it contains, doesn't add up to a sentence unless a complete thought and a matching subject-verb pair are present. Check out this fragment: Because Pete, moving sheets of paper on his desk, everyone thinking he was working. Looks important and official, right? It's a fragment, though. Take a look at the correct version: Because Pete was moving sheets of paper on his desk, everyone thought he was working.

Nobody wants to settle for just the basics, in life or in grammar. The extra ingredients that add flavor to your sentences are these:

  • Descriptions: These divide into two huge categories: adjectives (which describe nouns and pronouns) and adverbs (which describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs). Descriptions can be a single word (solid, slowly), a phrase (by the sea, in the sky), or a longer, subject-verb statement (that Henry wrote, where Julie paddles). Some verb forms also act as descriptions at times (running around in circles, having joined the circus).

  • Complements: Objects (nouns or pronouns that receive the action of a verb) and subject complements (nouns, pronouns or adjectives that complete the linking verb statement) allow you to scold the dog (dog = direct object) and notice that the room is bright (bright = subject complement).