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Concourse 2

How to write better sentences

better

There are tasks to do in this lesson.  When you see the word Task, stop for a moment and do the exercise.  You will learn more that way.

You can already write simple sentences such as

and so on.  In this lesson, you'll learn how to add information and make much better and more interesting sentences.


reading write

The first thing to do is remember what the parts of the sentences are called.

Task 1: So, can you break up this sentence in its three important parts?
The man was reading his book.
Click here when you have an answer.

We have a very simple structure which looks like this:

the man was reading his book 

It's easy to see that we can make millions of sentences in English with the same structure.  For example:

The dog ate the bone (here the verb ate has the past tense marker because it changes from eat)
That boy learned French (here the object is just one word and the verb has the tense marker -ed)
My grandfather tells lies (here, again the object is just one word and the verb has the present tense marker -s)

and so on.

write Task 2: Try it for yourself with:
man + drive + car
and
stone + break + window
and then click here.

These are still very simple sentences but we can start to add information to each part to make them more interesting and give our reader more information.  We'll start with the noun phrases because there are two of them.


modified

Modifying the nouns

We are talking about something called modification here because we are changing the noun in the same way that this car has been modified to run on the snow.

There are two ways to modify the nouns:

  1. We can put a determiner or an adjective before the noun to make it clear what we want to say.  For example:
    noun modified noun  what we tell the reader
    table coffee table  we tell the reader what sort of table it is.  We use a classifier, coffee, in this case.
    that table  we tell the reader where the table is.  We use a determiner, the demonstrative adjective, that, in this case.
    my table  we tell the reader who owns the table.  We use a possessive, my, in this case.
    a valuable antique table we tell the reader what sort of table it is and something about it.  We use a classifier, antique, and an adjective, valuable, in this case.
    This is all quite easy to do.
  2. We can put a phrase after the table to make things clearer.  For example:
    noun modified noun  what we tell the reader
    table the table in the corner we tell the reader where the table is.  We use a prepositional phrase, in the corner, in this case.
    the table that I sold we tell the reader what table exactly.  We use a relative pronoun, that, in this case, followed by a verb phrase, I sold.
    the table with the broken leg we tell the reader something important about the table.  We use another prepositional phrase, with the broken leg, in this case.

We can, of course, do both these things at the same time so we get, for example:

and so on.

write Task 3: Try it for yourself with:
car + in the garage + sports + green and white + that I bought last week
and
dog + that lives next door + black and grey + Doberman + angry + that barks all night
and then click here.

This is not so easy but notice that car and dog are still the real subjects or objects so we can have sentences such as:

John sold the green and white sports car in the garage that I bought last week
or
I hate the angry, black and grey Doberman dog that lives next door and barks all night
or
The angry, black and grey Doberman dog that lives next door and barks all night keeps me awake
or
The green and white sports car in the garage that I bought last week was expensive

The new, longer noun phrases can be the subject or the object of the verb.


modified

Modifying the verbs

This time, we will make the sentences more interesting and tell our readers a little more by modifying the verbs.

Again, we can modify verbs in two ways:

  1. We can add an adverb to the verb:
    verb modified verb  what we tell the reader
    sold recently sold we tell the reader when by adding an adverb of time, recently, in this case.
    happily sold we tell the reader how by adding an adverb of manner, happily, in this case.
    usually sold we tell the reader how often by adding an adverb of frequency, usually, in this case.
    sold yesterday we tell the reader when by adding an adverb of time, yesterday, which comes after the verb in this case.
    sold cheaply  we tell the reader for how much by adding an adverb of degree, cheaply, in this case.  These adverbs often come after the verb.
  2. We can add a prepositional phrase (which is usually just a preposition plus a noun) after the verb:
    verb modified verb  what we tell the reader
    sold sold in the market we tell the reader where by adding a prepositional phrase, in the market, in this case.
    sold to my friend we tell the reader who by adding a prepositional phrase, to my friend, in this case.
    sold for a lot of money we tell the reader how much by adding a prepositional phrase, for a lot of money, in this case.
    sold after the weekend we tell the reader when by adding a prepositional phrase, after the weekend, in this case.

Just as with the nouns we can do both of these things at the same time so we can get:

write Task 4: Try it for yourself with:
plant + in the corner of the garden + last week
and
bought + for a lot of money + in Harrods store + unfortunately
and then click here.

putting it together

Putting it all together

Now we are ready to add it all together and make really interesting sentences.

Here we have some sentences with a subject which is modified twice, a verb which is modified twice and an object which is modified twice.
The subject is in red, the modifiers are in black, the verb is in blue and the object is in green to help you see what is happening.

write Task 5: Now it is your turn to try it for yourself.
In the table, try to make a really interesting tenses from the short sentences and the clues that follow them.
Then click on the eye open for some ideas.
Try with these ... ... to make sentences like these ...
The horse ran
very slowly
across the field
racing
my friend owns
old

eye open
Something like:
The old racing horse that my friend owns ran very slowly across the field
The man waved
from the sea
to me
for help
young
who couldn't swim
eye open
Something like:
The young man who couldn't swim waved to me from the sea for help
The assistant helped the customer
unwillingly
complained
shop
was working there
angry
about the shoes
eye open
Something like:
The shop assistant who was working there unwillingly helped the angry customer who complained about the shoes
The girl gave up smoking
clever
was ill
before she went to university
sensibly
to save money
eye open
Something like:
The clever girl who was ill sensibly gave up smoking before she went to university to save money


practice

Getting more practice


reading

The man was reading a book

write Task 6: Now go back to our first example sentence and try to expand the sentence by including:
  • What he has in his mouth
  • What he has on his head
  • What he is sitting on
  • Where he is
  • What he has with him
  • How old he is
  • How he is reading

Click here when you have written your sentence.

You can take any sentence you have written and look at it again to see how you can make it more interesting to the reader and tell the reader more about what happened.