Basic Sentence Structure: Additive Sentences
Lesson One: Clauses
Let me begin by stressing that we can write in simple sentences all day and we won’t be
technically incorrect. We can say things like "I like cheese" and "Here’s my book" and the
grammar police has absolutely nothing to say to us. There's no such thing as the grammar police.
This is all about sounding good.
To do this, you need to absorb one thing: what an independent clause is. An independent clause is a bunch of words that could be a sentence all on its own.
The below are NOT independent clauses.
1. The reason why I love you.
2. Besides the terrible mess Kevin had left in his car's trunk.
3. Which he had also decided to do.
4. Inside her gall bladder.
5. A roasted boar's head.
A sentence has one or more independent clauses. You can make a sentence from just one
independent clause, all by itself.
So here's a sentence composed of one independent clause, all by itself: "I've got a cup."
Here's another. "There's a little green tea at the bottom."
Here's another. "The remains of my tea are ice cold."
Lesson Two: Additive Sentences
An "additive" sentence is the name we give to sentences composed of multiple independent clauses strung together, just stuck onto each other like cars on a train or beads on a chain.
Basic additive formula:
Sentence 1+comma+coordinating conjunction+Sentence 2
Scary, huh? Honestly, it's not at all It looks like this:
I've got a cup. There's a little green tea at the bottom.
I've got a cup, and there's a little green tea at the bottom.
All you do is stick the two sentences together using a comma, then a coordinating conjunction.
These are the main coordinating conjunctions:
You can remember them with the mnemonic "FANBOYS" by reading down the first letter of
each word. Also, you'll never actually use "for," "nor," and probably "yet" this way unless you are writing really stiff and formal prose and also you time traveled back 100 years.
IN SHORT for those who have trouble staying awake reading grammar stuff: Stick a comma and the word and/but/or... (or a fanboy, if you want to call them that) between the two sentences.
"The chainsaw was broken, so I killed the minotaur with my bare hands."
Do not forget to put a comma right before the coordinating conjunction/fanboy.
We can combine multiple sentences this way.
"I've got a cup, and there's a little green tea at the bottom, but the remains of my tea are ice cold."
Is that lovely? No, not really. It's actually a little clumsy sounding. But that's not my point here. This is just a technique.
Lesson Three: Two Totally Rookie Writing Mistakes to Avoid
a. Comma splice.
Comma splice means sticking together two complete sentences with JUST A COMMA and no coordinating conjunction/fanboy.
"I read Endmaster's stories, I rated them all eight."
That is horrible to a reader's ears. Don't do this. Well, do rate the stories eight. But don't do the comma thing. It screams amateur to readers. You can fix this by making them two complete sentences, using a fanboy after the comma, or using a semicolon (DON'T PANIC, SEMICOLON TRAINING will be its own article).
b. Run-on sentence.
Run-on means sticking together two complete sentences with *just a fanboy* and no comma.
I read Endmaster's stories and I rated them all eight.
Less ugly than a comma splice, but best avoided.
Lesson Four: Gower's Easy Test for Commas
So this is all well and good, but how do you, the writer, know whether to stick a comma in somewhere if you want to write interesting sentences. Use Gower's Easy Test for Commas.
Look at your sentence and find a fanboy. If the words to the left of it make a complete sentence, and the words to the right of it make a complete sentence, you need a comma before the fanboy.
Jack went up the hill to fetch a pail of water BUT he never returned.
Look to the left of the fanboy. Could that be a complete sentence? (Jack went up the hill to fetch a pail of water---> YES)
Look to the right of the fanboy. Could that be a complete sentence? (he never returned --> YES)
If the answer to both questions is YES, put a comma before it.
Jack AND Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water BUT they never returned.
Look to the left of the "and" (it just says "Jack" and that is obviously not a sentence)
So we can already see no comma is needed there.
Look left and right of the "but"
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water --> YES, that's a sentence
they never returned -- > YES, that's a sentence.
So you need a comma before the "but."
The one exception to Gower's Easy Test for Commas involves lists.
"I need tofu, Q-tips, and string cheese."
The comma after "Q-tips" above, is not used by everyone. Some people think lists should have a comma before the "and" and some don't. So just be aware that this is the one except to my Comma Test. If there is a list, you may see a comma before the "and."
Comma use in additive sentences is relatively simple, but it is the basic building block of the other stuff you should know about sentences, like semicolons, cumulatives, and periodics. If the above is hard, let me know, because if you don't have the above mastered, the advanced stuff is going to annoy you. More importantly, the above is expected of decent writers. Writers use commas appropriately--you don't want to be the person who writes "I never, know where to use commas, and stuff."
Note that you may see people making what seem like the errors I have advised against above, in perfectly good publications and by great writers. That is because good writers who know the rules sometimes wish to break them to create an effect or because they think it's the right thing to do in that situation. And that's fine. You have to know what the rules are before you can break them. There is no punctuation police. This is about making it sound good to the reader and communicating meaning. And sometimes it's just manners, showing that you know things are done, in formal writing.