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an example of parallel structure

College Prep Writing

What Is a Sentence?

A subject and a verb are the minimum requirements for a sentence.


How do you recognize a subject? A subject tells who or what about a verb.

Samantha smiled.

Who smiled? Samantha. Samantha is the subject.

The moon is up.

What is up? The moon. The moon is the subject.


A verb names what the subject does. Many verbs are names of actions, but not all are; for example, agree, have, know, like, understand, and want are not actions. However, all verbs in a sentence involve time in some way.

We laughed.

Laughed identifies what the subject did. The subject is we.

Nobody cares.

Cares is what nobody does. The subject is nobody.

S + V

A simple sentence has a subject and a verb: s + v.

You lose! Martin returned. Charley whispered.

Notice that the question words who and what can also be subjects of sentences.

What broke? Who drove?

S + V + Object

Most sentences have an object in addition to a subject and a verb. An object receives the action of a verb. The object tells whom (who) or what about the verb.

Anna touched the fluffy rabbit.

Anna touched what? The fluffy rabbit is the object.

Ask whom or what about the verb to find the object.

Dad prepared lunch.

Dad prepared what?

Dad prepared lunch. Lunch is the object of the sentence.

Sally called her friend.

Sally called whom?

Sally called her friend. Friend is the object of the sentence.

Question words can also be objects. In the following question, the question word what is an object of the verb do.

Kay did what?

The question word usually comes first: What did Kay do?

In the following example, the object is the question word whom.

You met whom? or Whom did you meet?

Transitive or intransitive?

Some verbs do not take objects when they are intransitive (vi). Examples are depart, trip, leave, and go.

The flight departed, so we left.

Verbs that describe movement, like go and come, are usually intransitive. Exist, happen, occur, rise, and stay, are also intransitive verbs.

Most English verbs are transitive (vt), and they must have an objects in a sentence. Common transitive verbs are give, tell, get and take.


Some verbs are both transitive and intransitive, depending on the meaning of the verb in a sentence. Applaud is one of these verbs.

They applauded. They applauded their teacher.

The object, the teacher, is optional with applaud.

Sing is another example of a verb that may be transitive or intransitive.

Intransitive: She sings very well.

Transitive: She sang a Ukrainian folk song.

Linking verb be

An object does not follow the linking verb be.

Alan is an engineer.

Is (be) connects or links Alan and successful in the example above. The linking verb can be followed by an adjective or a noun, but the noun is not an object. The adjectives and nouns that follow a linking verb are called complements—noun complements and adjective complements.

These are my friends. They're Canadian.

Riki is super. Riki is the new champion.

Longer Sentences

Most sentences are not as short as the examples above. One sentence in William Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom! is 1,287 words long!

Sentences have other things besides subjects, verbs, and objects: Many sentences also have phrases and two or more clauses. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and does not contain both a subject and a verb. Some prepositions are in, for, to, at, before, on, in front of, from, with, of, and into.


Prepositional phrases add length and detail to sentences, helping to make a sentence interesting. Compare these two sentences, for example. Which is more interesting?

Blake stopped his car.

Blake stopped his car in the middle of the intersection.


A clause is a string of words that has both a subject and a verb. An independent clause may stand alone, or it may be combined with another independent clause with a coordinating conjunction. A dependent clause may not stand alone. It has to be connected to an independent clause with a subordinating conjunction.

Sentence Types

Sentences are sometimes put into categories. In one system, sentences are declarative, imperative, exclamatory, or interrogative.


A declarative sentence is a statement, and it ends with a period.

Practice makes perfect.


An imperative sentence may be a request or a command. It ends with a period.

Please lend me a hand with this heavy piano. Hurry please.


An exclamatory sentence expresses strong emotion. An exclamation point makes that clear. Exclamatory sentences are very strong.

What did you expect!


An interrogative sentence is a question, and it ends with a question mark.

What's your opinion? Is this OK?