Glossary: sentence


The sentence is the largest unit of grammar, which in the written language begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop.

A sentence is a group of words which are grammatically connected to each other but not to any words outside the sentence.

The form of a sentence’s main clause shows whether it is being used as a statement, a question, a command or an exclamation.

A sentence may consist of a single clause or it may contain several clauses held together by subordination or co-ordination. Classifying a sentence as a simple sentence, complex sentence or compound sentence can be confusing, because a ‘simple’ sentence may be complicated, and a ‘complex’ one may be straightforward. The terms single-clause sentence and multi-clause sentence may be more helpful.

  • John went to his friend’s house. He stayed there till tea-time.
  • John went to his friend’s house, he stayed there till tea-time. [comma splice]
    • This is a ‘comma splice’, a common error in which a comma is used where either a full stop or a semi-colon is needed to indicate the lack of any grammatical connection between the two clauses.
  • You are my friend. [statement]
  • Are you my friend? [question]
  • Be my friend! [command]
  • What a good friend you are! [exclamation]
  • Ali went home on his bike to his goldfish and his current library book about pets. [single-clause sentence]
  • She went shopping but took back everything she had bought because she didn’t like any of it. [multi-clause sentence]

See also clause type, command, exclamation, question, statement.

Sentence building

In this activity, students ask the question: what is a sentence? Then, they answer it using an interactive smart board sentence generator.


  • Identify sentences and non-sentences.
  • Create some examples of sentences and non-sentences using an interactive smart board sentence generator.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will answer the question: what is a sentence?

Sentence generator

What did you and your family do on the holidays? In this activity you will experiment with our fun sentence generator which reports on some unusual holiday happenings!

Sentence generator: Activity

Click on each column to scroll up and down, and make different combinations.

Click on the dice at the top of the columns to get a new random ordering of elements.

In slide 2, re-order elements by clicking within a column and dragging to left or right (or by clicking on the arrows at the tops of the columns).

Sentence types: Simple, compound or complex?

Simple, compound or complex? Look at each of the following examples, and click on the right sentence type. Remember that the current National Curriculum prefers single-clause and multi-clause instead of the simple / compound / complex distinction.

Clauses: Further guidance for teachers

Modern grammatical descriptions of English differ in some ways from the accounts in traditional grammars. This can sometimes lead to confusion. Here we note a few important differences in relation to the analysis of clauses and sentences.

Clauses: Relative clauses

Look at the highlighted clauses in these examples. What do they add to the meaning of the sentences?

Sentence types: simple, compound, complex

This unit further explains simple sentences, compound sentences and complex sentences, which were introduced in the unit 'Clauses: main and subordinate'. Simple sentences contain one clause, while compound and complex sentences contain more than one clause.

National Curriculum note: The National Curriculum now refers to sentences that contain one clause as single-clause sentences, and those that contain more than one clause as multi-clause sentences.


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