Sentence Structure : Common Errors

Sentence structure is a very common problem for non-native speakers of English, but also one that is not often explicitly taught beyond elementary level. On this site we present some typical errors and point you towards websites that explain the problem and offer exercises to work on them.

Incomplete Sentences

One of the most frequent errors is incomplete sentences : eg "While I was waiting" or "Although sales have improved" - these are dependent clauses that require a second, independent clause to make the sentence grammatically correct.

eg "While I was waiting, I read the newspaper" and "Although sales have improved, they are significantly below last year's figures."

Purdue University gives examples of incomplete sentences and explains how they can be corrected. The site also offers exercises that ask you to spot and correct incomplete sentences.

This explanation relies more strongly on linguistic terminology, but the examples are well chosen and it includes a further exercise.

Agreement between Words

Sometimes students choose the wrong verb form and produce sentences such as *‘The lecturer say (??) that writing is important’* (it should be sayS) or *‘The students was (??) well informed’ (it should be were). In short sentences this is easy to spot, but the higher the number of words between the subject and the verb, the easier it is to forget.

The following webpage explains the rules for subject-verb agreement and gives you an exercise to practise.

Here is another exercise to practise.

Word Order in Statements

The longer sentences are and the more words they contain, the harder it is to get the order right. The following pages explain where different types of words can be placed.

A very comprehensive list of adverbs (words such as often, quickly, well, beautifully) with plenty of examples where they are placed.

This exercise deals with additions that refer to time, such as “every week”, “on Monday” etc.

Viv Quarry explains where to put words that refer to the frequency of events.

In another exercise this page presents sentences that describe the manner in which something is done.

Changes to normal word order are called inversion. The BBC page explains when they can be used.

Another explanation of inversion, followed by an exercise.

Word Order in Questions

The different word order in questions is explained on this page, followed by an exercise.

Word Order in Long Sentences

The University of Idaho offers a short but helpful explanation of the different types of sentence that can be created by combining shorter sentences into a long one.

This page uses a lot of examples to explain how the different parts of a sentence are linked best. It uses grammatical terminology, but the examples illustrate the point it makes quite clearly without this as well.