Constructing sentences
in different ways
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Sentences can be simple (single clause) structures, or they can be built up to include two or more (multi) clauses. These can be created through co-ordination or subordination. Sentences also occur in different types: statement, question, command and explanation. Before children come into year 1, they will be encouraged to read and write simple sentences, using phonically decodable and common ‘tricky’ words. Talk about sentences and what information, words and punctuation marks they contain will help prepare children for the writing requirements in year 1.

All full sentences in English need to contain a verb, so constructing a simple sentence in its most basic from will require a subject and a verb (SV). The subject position in a sentence is filled by a noun or noun phrase; the verb position may contain a simple verb form, which will consist of one word, or a verb phrase, where auxiliary verbs are used with a main noun. E.g. The small boy ate. (noun phrase + present simple verb), The small boy was eating. (noun phrase + past progressive).

The very basic simple sentence structure described above can be added to with objects, complements and adverbials. E.g. The small boy was eating an apple noisily. (SVOA)

When encouraging children to create sentences, it is vital to talk about what information is contained in the sentence and what sense it will make for the reader. Questions around sentences will be included in the year/key stage teaching and learning sections.

Co-ordination and subordination

Compound sentences are formed when 2 clauses are joined using a co-ordinating conjunction. Each clause will contain a verb or verb phrase and, although the clauses may not be the same length or contain exactly the same clause elements, they are both considered grammatically equal, i.e. one is no more important than the other. For example, Jack played on the slide and Sam climbed the tree.

If the subject is the same in both clauses, we often omit the subject in the second clause. E.g. Dad washed the car and mowed the lawn.

The main co-ordinating conjunctions are: and, but, or, (and) then, yet, nor. In a compound sentence, the conjunction always remains between the two clauses. Even if the clauses can be put in a different order, the conjunction position doesn’t move as it is not ‘fixed’ to either clause, but merely links to two together.

Complex sentences also contain two or more clauses, but in this type of sentence, one is the main clause and one or more are subordinate clause. A subordinate clause is a clause that is not the main clause in a sentence and cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Sometimes subordinate clauses may start a sentence; sometimes they may be positioned at the end of a sentence and sometimes they may be embedded within the sentence.

There are different types of subordinate clause: adverbial, relative and nominal. Adverbial clauses fill an adverbial slot in a sentence; relative clauses extend noun phrases and nominal clauses usually occur in subject or object positions in a sentence (see appendix for further information).

When subordination is first taught to children, the focus is on adverbial clauses which are introduced with subordinating conjunctions, e.g. because, when, after, before, if, as, while. These clauses can be placed in different positions within a sentence, and children will need to experiment with manipulation to investigate the variation and effects that can be created. For example, When he arrived, the lights were already on. The lights were already on when he arrived.

It is important for children to understand how to demarcate clauses with punctuation. If the subordinate clause starts the sentence, a comma is required to demarcate the two clauses. If the main clause starts the sentence, the comma is optional. Children should consider whether it is needed to aid clarity and sense for their reader. If the clause is embedded, it will need to be enclosed in commas, e.g. She danced, as she always had done, to please the audience.

Although not mentioned in the curriculum, a very effective way of creating subordinate clauses involves the use of non-finite structures (the infinitive, resources and Smart notebook) ( past participleresources and Smart notebook),  (present participleteaching idea, resources and Smart notebook).  These appear in the ‘Going beyond’ section of the progression chart. If using the toolkit, three additional spanners are provided for these structures.
Working in 'Going Beyound' may also consider the patterning of sentences using the power of three. (Smart notebookresources and teaching idea)

Sentence types

There are four different sentence types in English:

Statements, which provide some information to the reader. We can describe these to young children as ‘telling’ us something. Most sentences fall into this category and children need to know that they are punctuated with a full stop.

Questions, which ask something. These sentences often start with the words What, When, Where, Who, Why, How, but can also be formed in different ways, such as a modal verb start, where a pronoun or noun splits the auxiliary verb and main verb (Could we meet on Thursday?) or final question tags (He has arrived, hasn’t he?). They end with a question mark.

Commands, which order somebody to do something and end in a full stop. The command structure can be used flexibly to deliver an order (Put it there.), but also to give advice (Take care not to rip the paper.), warn somebody (Look out for the uneven pavement.) or issue an invitation (Come and see us soon.) They can be used in a polite way, in conjunction with ‘please’, to request rather than order (Please sit down.)

Exclamations, which indicate some element of excitement or emphasis and end with an exclamation mark. A complete exclamatory sentence will begin with ‘What’ or ‘How’, e.g. What a great party that was! How nice to meet you again! In dialogue, exclamation marks are often used with words or phrases to express strong feelings or emotions: these are called interjections, e.g. Amazing!, Wow!, Not again!

Once the structures are understood, children should be encouraged to use these in their writing where appropriate.

Last updated:02/01/2017 at 22:17

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