Friday, 28 August 2009

Advice/IELTS Writing: How To Write A Sentence

Constructing a Sentence, Step by Step

You are advised to follow the guidelines below. You may think these suggestions are only useful for beginners, but in fact it's amazing how many more advanced students fail to follow such basic steps.

Don't just follow the procedures once and forget about them. Get into the habit of following them every time you write a sentence, until they become "second nature".

1) Don’t start with a preposition. (For example, "on" or "for".) If you start with a preposition and follow it with a noun or noun phrase, that noun or noun phrase cannot act as the subject in a sentence.

2) Write the subject of the sentence. Let's suppose it's a simple noun. Is it
singular (only one) or plural (more than one)? If plural, you must add “s”. If singular, you will almost certainly need to use an indefinite article ( “a”) or a definite article (“the”).

Start your sentence here:[ANSWER]

3) Write your verb. Does it agree with the subject? Which tense does it need to be in? Is it active or passive voice? Is it in the right form for the tense and voice you have chosen? [ANSWER]

) Now write everything else in the sentence that is needed. [ANSWER]

Now scroll down the page for a worked example.....


1)Don't start with a preposition.


1) Good. Your sentence is OK so far!

2) Write the subject of the sentence.

2) Chinese government......

But there is a problem here. Look back up the page at the instructions for things to check at this stage. Is the subject singular or plural? It's singular, so that's not the problem. Does it need an article, like "a" or "the"? Do you and your reader both know the thing you're talking about? Can you both identify it? If so, you must use the definite article.

2) The Chinese government.....

Good - your sentence is OK so far.

3) Write your verb.

3) The Chinese government has been invest.....

But there is a problem here. Look back up the page for instructions on things to check at this stage. Does the verb agree with the subject? Well, "has" goes with "The Chinese government", so that's not a problem. Is it in the right tense? Without seeing the end of the sentence it's impossible to be sure. But there is nothing at this stage to tell us that the tense is wrong. Is it active or passive? Does the Chinese government perform the action? If it does (and it does!) then you need to use active voice.

3) The Chinese government has invest....

But there is another problem. Is the form of the verb correct? For a verb in the present perfect tense the last part will be a past participle, so.....

3) The Chinese government has invested.....

4) Now write everything else in the sentence that is needed.

4) The Chinese government has invested a lot of money in the gold.

But there is a problem here. This sentence has two objects. There is a direct object ("a lot of money") which is the actual thing invested. Then there is the indirect object, which comes after a preposition ("in the gold"). Both of these objects must follow the same rules as the subject, so you might need to put an article (a,an,the) in front of the noun. But, then again, you might not.

There doesn't seem to be any problem with "a lot of money", but what about "the gold"? Do both you and the reader know this gold? Have either of you seen it before? More importantly, does it matter which gold we're talking about? If it doesn't, then we shouldn't be using "the". How about "a"? Can we count it? One gold, two golds? No you can't count it, so "a" shouldn't be used either. No article is necessary.

4) The Chinese government has invested a lot of money in gold.

Good - your sentence is now complete and correct. It follows the pattern:
subject + verb + direct object + indirect object. This is a good basic sentence which can be joined to other sentences using linking devices such as "which" or "and" or "causing" or ";" or others which will be looked at elsewhere on the site.

Note 1:

Rule number 1 is "don't start with a preposition". Of course you can start a sentence with a preposition, as in the sentences below:

In 1999, a new threat appeared to worry computer technicians.

On meeting his new students, the teacher took them to tour the library.

After his cat got run over, he decided to buy a dog.

In all these sentences there is a comma. They might sometimes be written without a comma, but if you put the comma in, it will help to make the structure clearer for you. Now you will notice that everything before the comma is "extra information". The main clauses ( "a new threat appeared to worry computer technicians" / "the teacher took them to tour the library" / "he decided to buy a dog") DO follow the rules of sentence building. These are complex sentences. You can start using these after you've learned how to apply the rules in every sentence you write.

Note 2

Sometimes a sentence doesn't have a subject. For example:

Put the chair over there by the window.

This shows an example of a verb in the imperative form, and you shouldn't really use it in academic writing!

Now scroll down the page for some more advice on things to do (and not to do) when writing a sentence.



on’t just look up a word in the dictionary and write it down. Ask yourself if it is in the right form. ( noun, verb, adjective, etc.)

Another warning!

DON’T try to write English by translating from your own language in your head. If you do this you will ALWAYS write very strange and unnatural English. Some students say they need to do this to be “creative”. But there is no point in being creative because the teacher won’t understand what you’re writing anyway. Trust me – I have had this conversation with foreign language students a thousand times and I AM RIGHT. You must learn to “think in English” by following the recommended steps at the top of the page as you are writing.


Read your work aloud to yourself. Does it sound good? If it doesn't, then it won't sound good to the reader either. You would probably be better off writing the sentence as you would say it out loud. Many students worry far too much about whether something is “formal enough for writing” and not nearly enough about grammar and whether what they have written makes sense!


When teaching foreign language students I used to give them a half page piece of paper with the basic rules of sentence writing on it at the beginning of the year.

A week or so later I would give some of them the same piece of paper again. And again. And again. Each time they would say "Yes - you've given us this piece of paper before." To which I would answer, "I know, and I'll keep giving it to you until you start to use it." Every now and then I would see a sudden and dramatic improvement in a student's writing. "I see you've started to use the bit of paper then," I would say to them. The answer would always be, "Yes".

Except for the one time when a Turkish boy answered me with, "No - I just got myself an English girlfriend". Ah well - there's more than one way to skin a cat.

Note 2:

Common saying: "there's more than one way to skin a cat" means "there's more than one way to deal with a problem".

Photo Album

Dragonfly on a leaf.

The dragonfly is sitting on the leaf of a plant at the side of the stream. I watched it fly up and down and saw that it repeatedly landed in certain places. I knelt down by the stream and waited for it to return to this favourite spot. But it took a lot of patience!


stream - waterway which is smaller than a river

knelt - past tense (and past participle) of "kneel", as you would in a church or a mosque when praying.

favourite - the Americans spell this "favorite".

spot - place

patience - waiting, being willing to wait.

Photo: Millstream near Cavtat in Croatia, Eastern Europe.


"The dragonfly is sitting...." is an example of the present continuous tense. This tense is mainly used:

1) For actions happening at the moment. ("I'm leaving you right now.")

2) For personal future plans. ("I'm leaving you tomorrow.")

3) For irritating or annoying habits. ("He's always leaving his dirty dishes in the sink!")

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