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May 2, 2000

This week we continue looking at basic sentence structure by considering complex sentences.

COMPLEX sentences contain one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. Remember that an independent clause is a complete thought which serves as a simple sentence (or part of a compound or complex sentence). 

A dependent clause, however, is an incomplete statement containing a subject and a verb which must be part of a larger sentence. It doesn't "sound" complete.

After Jan came home.
[Jan = subject; left = verb]

After Jan came home, he cried.
[After Jan came home (dependent), he cried (independent).]

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In written dialogue (and spoken language), dependent clauses are often used.


Mom: When did you go to bed? (independent clause)

Bill: After Jan came home. (dependent clause)

In most formal writing, however, a dependent clause by itself is called a sentence fragment and considered a serious sentence structure error by most teachers.

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Independent and dependent clauses in a complex sentence are usually joined by commas.


When Bill became ill [dependent clause], Sally drove him home [independent clause].

Jeremy was the first to volunteer [independent clause] after the nurse asked for help [dependent clause].

Use complex sentences to emphasize one idea over another, or to add detail to main ideas. Write your main idea as an independent clause, with the supporting idea as a dependent clause.

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Next week we'll complete the study of sentence structure by looking at compound-complex sentences.



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How are your "ie" spelling words coming along? Here are the answers from last week's quiz:


Also remember that words ending in "y" generally change to "ie" when they become plurals:

baby = babies
family = families
pony = ponies
sky = skies

Exception: Proper names tend not to follow this rule (i.e., two Sandy's or four Kelly's).



Qualifying words indicating intensity (such as very, really, actually, etc.) should be used only as needed. Let your descriptive words (or adjectives) speak for themselves.

Okay: Brenda is very afraid of spiders.
Better: Brenda is afraid of spiders.

Okay: Luke cooks really great breakfasts.
Better: Luke cooks great breakfasts.

Okay: Actually, I'm not sure I agree.
Better: I'm not sure I agree.



Postscript from last week: One of our readers, Pat, sent information on the question concerning "invigilate," which she found via the ASK JEEVES website:

Main Entry: in-vig-i-late

Function: verb

Inflected Form(s): -lat-ed; -lat-ing

Etymology: Latin invigilatus, past participle of invigilare, to stay awake, be watchful, from in- + vigilare to stay awake -- more at VIGILANT

Intransitive senses: to keep watch; especially British: to supervise students at an examination

Transitive senses: SUPERVISE, MONITOR


Thanks, Pat! It didn't cross our minds to "ASK JEEVES"!

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QUESTION: What's the difference between a gerund and an "ing" noun? How do I tell the difference?

GRAMMARCHECK: A gerund is an "ing" verb used as a noun which may function as various parts of a sentence:


Dancing is her passion.
(Dancing is a noun in the subject position.)

Will takes studying seriously.
(Studying is a noun used as a direct object.)

Otherwise, "ing" verbs functioning as verbs (rather than as gerunds) require helping (or auxiliary) verbs.


Becky has been taking Spanish for two years.
(verb = has been taking)

Helen is drinking again.
(verb = is drinking)

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QUESTION: We normally use a colon to introduce a bulleted list. Can a colon be used after a verb (e.g. "in this packet you will find:)?

GRAMMARCHECK: A colon should be used to introduce a series of items or keynote information only when it follows a complete statement:

Correct: Please include the following:
Incorrect: Please include:

Correct: You may wish to contact your local representative:
Incorrect: You may wish to contact:

We'll have more on colons in an upcoming issue.

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QUESTION: Which is the correct possessive of Mistress: Mistresses' or Mistress's?

GRAMMARCHECK: Since you have capitalized the word, we assume you intend Mistress as part of a proper name or title; therefore, you can show possession in either of two ways, though the second is more common today:

Are those Mistress' new shoes?

Are those Mistress's new shoes?

However, if the word is not used as a proper noun, a simple apostrophe after the final "s" is suitable:

Here comes his mistress' daughter.

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QUESTION: Is the following correct?

What the heck is the body of English teachers doing at school?

GRAMMARCHECK: We're not sure why anyone using "heck" would be concerned about grammatical accuracy, but since you asked, here goes. In this sentence, "body" is a noncount noun (also called a collective noun) because it represents several members (teachers) instead of one entity. Noncount nouns are always singular and thus take singular verbs. Your sentence correctly uses "is" as the verb for "body."

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