Did you think you were finished with grammar lessons after high school?
Well, most people are! But, in my experience as a writing coach and editor, some of you want to improve your writing, and to do so, we must start with basic grammar rules.
Parts of a sentence
Yes, we are going to start at this basic level because it is critical to understand these components before moving on to what seems like the simple comma. Trust me. The comma is a complex little character! But more about that later.
To make these simple exercises more exciting, I am going to try to make the examples entertaining by creating a story. Please forgive me if I fail! After all, my goal is to teach you, not to bore you.
The dog ran across the yard.
This is called a simple sentence, which contains one independent clause, meaning it can stand on its own. A clause always has a subject and a verb.
The dog ran across the yard
In this situation, the noun is “the dog,” and the verb is “ran.” And, because it completes a thought, it is an independent clause. It also contains the prepositional phrase “across the yard,” which is not necessary in the sentence, no prepositional phrase is, but I did not want to start my story with merely “The dog ran.”
Yes, there are cases where the noun is understood, such as the noun ‘you’ in the imperative command “Run!”
The dog ran across the yard, and a cat followed it.
In this case, we have two independent clauses connected by “and,” which is a coordinating conjunction. Both parts of the sentence can stand on their own. This is called a compound sentence, one with more than one independent clause. So far, so good.
The dog ran across the yard
A cat followed it
As the two animals passed the big oak tree, a squirrel joined them.
Now, we have an independent clause “A squirrel joined them.” This sentence also has a dependent clause “as the two animals passed the big oak tree.” The dependent expression cannot stand alone as a sentence because it does not complete a thought. You are left wondering what happened.
Let’s look more closely at the dependent clause. If we leave out the word “as,” we have an independent clause “the two animals passed the big oak tree.” The word “as” in this case is called a dependent marker word, which is a word added to the beginning of an independent clause to make it dependent. This sentence is called a complex sentence, one with only one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
A squirrel joined them
As the two animals passed the big oak tree
When Dana, the dog, saw a tennis ball, she took a detour but soon remembered their group’s important task, and she returned to her friends.
This sentence contains two independent clauses and one dependent clause. This is called a compound-complex sentence, one with at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. Can you identify the clauses?
She took a detour but soon remembered their group’s important task
She returned to her friends
When Dana, the dog, saw a tennis ball
So, why is “but soon remembered their group’s important task” not a dependent clause? Remember when we talked about a coordinating conjunction? Well, this phrase is two independent clauses connected with a coordinating conjunction “but,” without repeating the noun “she.” It could be written as “she took a detour, but she soon remembered their group’s important task.” The coordinating conjunction “but” links the two verbs “took” and “remembered.”
“When” is a dependent marker word, which is a word that is added to the beginning of an independent clause to make it dependent. “Dana, the dog, saw a tennis ball” is an independent clause. It only becomes dependent when preceded by “when.”
At this point, the comma is starting to become more confusing. Typically, a comma is not used to separate a dependent clause – except when it is at the beginning of a sentence. Hence, the reason for the comma after “when Dana, the dog, saw a tennis ball."
The next part of the sentence is more complicated. When connecting two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction that leaves out the noun in the second phrase, do not use a comma.
Correct: She took a detour but soon remembered their group’s important task.
Correct: She took a detour, but she soon remembered their group’s important task.
Incorrect: She took a detour, but soon remembered their group’s important task.
The final independent clause, “she returned to her friends” also uses the conjunction “and” to connect it to the sentence, and since it is independent, it requires a comma.
As I said, it is critical to understand this because many of the next posts rely on a complete understanding of this information.
Dana, Karl, and Squiggy ran as fast as they could because they needed to save their fish friend.
This sentence is another complex sentence, one with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
Dana, Karl, and Squiggy ran as fast as they could
because they needed to save their fish friend
However, Finnius was not in his usual spot at the far end of the pond.
“However” in this case is an independent marker word. It is used before an independent clause and is separated by a comma.
Summary of definitions
It is not critical to remember the names of the sentences, but for the sake of being thorough, let’s review one more time.
Clause – Contains a noun and a verb
Complex sentence – Contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause
Compound sentence – Contains at least two independent clauses
Compound-complex sentence – Contains at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause
Coordinating conjunction – Connects clauses; examples: and, but, or, nor, yet
Dependent clause – A clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence because it does not complete a thought
Dependent marker word – Added before an independent clause to make it dependent; examples: after, as, because, before, when, while
Independent clause – Clause that completes a thought
Independent marker word – Added to the beginning of an independent clause and separated by a comma; examples: also, hence, however, nevertheless, therefore, typically
Simple sentence – Contains only one independent clause
Dependent clauses are not sentences that can stand alone and need to be attached to an independent clause. While this may seem like basic information, it will help in the next post when we discuss the topic of when to use “so that” instead of “so.” We will talk more about the tricky comma and why it is so important in another post. Knowing this will elevate your writing to the next level.
Do you know other tips that might help writers to better understand independent and dependent clauses? If so, then add a comment below!
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For the complete story of Finnius, Squiggy, Dana, and Karl, read more.