Writing made up of only such little sentences would quickly grow monotonous and would also sound like it had been written by someone without much language experience. Fortunately, the basic S V/C pattern allows for easy expansion in almost unlimited ways.

Fortunately, the basic S V/C pattern allows for easy expansion in almost unlimited ways.

You already use the following methods of expansion, though perhaps without knowing their names. After reading about them, you'll understand some terms linguists use to describe how you build sentences, and you'll see how you can use these methods to write more effective sentences. If you're interested in some more advanced sentence strategies, see Designing Effective Sentences.


Modification and Subordination

The easiest and most common way of developing the S V/C pattern is by adding a modifier. To modify means to change or alter. A modifier, therefore, is a word or word group that changes the meaning of another word or word group that is more basic to the sentence.

S V/C

Luis eats/apples.

By adding a modifier to the complement, we can alter the meaning of "apples."

S V/C

Luis eats/green apples.

We can also modify the subject.

S V/C

Little Luis eats/green apples.

And even the verb.

S V/C

Little Luis never eats/green apples.

Notice how the basic S V/C pattern remains even after several modifiers have been added. This is because modifiers cluster around base elements like iron filings around a magnet.

The principle that describes this relationship between modifiers and more basic sentence elements is subordination. Subordination means taking a position of lesser importance or rank. In the Army, for example, a private is subordinate to a captain and a captain to a general. Likewise, when we say a modifier is subordinate to the base element, we mean it has less importance and is dependent upon that more basic element for its claim to a place in the sentence. We can see this by looking at our last example.

Little Luis never eats green apples.

When we drop all the modifiers, we still have a sentence that feels complete.

Luis eats apples.

But when we drop the base words that the modifiers depend on, we are left with something entirely different.

Little never green.

The result is nonsense. Our minds want to process the data as a sentence, but it won't fit. We have modifiers, but we don't know what is being modified. The base elements are missing.

We've seen how these two principles, modification and subordination, join individual words in clusters. It's also worth noting how they join word groups together. Just as individual words cluster around more important ones, so the clusters they form attach themselves to more important elements. Notice how this happens in the following example.

S V/C

The river was/cold.

Adding a little modification, we get this:

S V/C

The recently thawed river was/icy cold.

"Recently" modifies "thawed," while the two words join together to modify "river," the base word of the cluster.

Whole sentences can be joined in this way:

Although the recently thawed river was icy cold, we dove right in.

Now the former sentence, which was also an independent clause, has become a part of a larger whole. It is now subordinate to "we dove right in," which becomes the new base clause of the sentence. Without our base clause we would be left with a subordinate element that had no independent element to depend on, like an orphan..

Modification and subordination can help you in two ways: first, they can help you understand how your sentence elements relate to each other and to the sentence as a whole; second, they're important tools for combining those elements into more complex and sophisticated sentences.


Coordination

The basic S V/C pattern can also be expanded by coordination. Whereas subordination ranks one element as more important than the other, coordination places elements on an equal footing. If the relationship of subordination is that of child to parent, the relationship of coordination is that of spouse to spouse. In a sentence it works like this:

Esther types/letters.

The subject can be expanded by adding a coordinate element:

S V/C

Lois and Esther type/letters.

And coordination can also be used to expand the complement.

S V/C

Lois and Esther type/letters and memos.

Or the verb.

Lois and Esther type letters and memos but write-out short notes and signatures.

Now each element has been compounded with a resulting structure that might be represented as follows:

 

S V/C
Lois and Esther type/letters and memos
  but
  write-out/short notes and signatures.

 

This sentence has a compound subject, a compound verb, and two compound complements. In every case the compound elements are coordinate to each other and therefore, because they are of equal importance, may be said to balance.

And just as we can subordinate either individual words or whole groups of words, the same is true of coordination. In the previous example we compounded the various parts of a single independent clause, but we could also coordinate two separate clauses.

 

S V/C S V/C
Esther types/letters, but Lois types/memos.

 

Now our sentence has two independent clauses, each of which could stand alone as a complete sentence.


Substitution

A third way of expanding the basic pattern is substitution, which means replacing a single word with a word group. Again, an example will help.

S V/C

I saved/my meager wages.

By substituting, we can expand the complement to read:

S V/C

I saved/what I earned, which wasn't much.

"My wages" has been expanded to "what I earned" and "meager" to "which wasn't much." As you can see, this adds more words without adding much meaning and so could be objected to as uneconomical. Still it's a perfectly grammatical way of expanding sentences, and there may be times when it will suit your needs exactly, either to give emphasis or to improve sound and rhythm.

Sometimes, as in the example below, you can use substitution to clarify or summarize your thoughts:

Change: Harold and Arthur earn more than I do. This makes me furious.
to: Getting paid less than my male coworkers makes me furious.

Summary

English sentences are built upon the foundation of an independent base clause consisting of two parts, a subject and a predicate. This simple pattern may be expanded in three ways. First, subordinate modifiers may be added to one of the main elements or to the base clause as a whole. Second, words or phrases may be coordinated with existing elements. Third, you may sometimes want to substitute a word group for an individual word. Finally, you can often use subordination, coordination, and substitution together to expand a single base clause.

Activities

4.3 Write five simple sentences (S V/C) without modifiers. Exchange and compare them.

4.4 Add modifiers to the base elements of the sentences you received in Activity 4.3, return the sentences, and discuss them again.

4.5 Underline and label (S, V, or C) the main word clusters in each of the following sentences.

a. The maturing tadpole slowly grows legs.

b. Slow dancing is much more fun.

c. An elderly woman picked out a bright red hat.

d. The freshly lit match touched the pile of dry woodchips.

e. The clear water cooled her cheeks and forehead.

f. Small aspen leaves flickered and danced in the bright morning air.

g. Most team members brought their own gloves.

h. The swirling dust almost obscured the distant horizon. i. Some old cars get pretty good mileage.

j. That wily old carp wouldn't even consider my shiny new spinner.

4.6 Use modification, coordination, or substitution to expand each of the following sentences.

a. Donnie devoured his waffles.

b. The teachers played football.

c. Rain flooded my basement.

d. Those boys won the trophy.

e. Doris is a mechanic.

f. The horses ate hay.

g. Clouds spilled their rain.

h. The semi snapped a stop sign. i. Cowboys love horses.

j. The cheerleaders did handsprings.

4.7 Rewrite any three of the sentences you expanded for Activity 4.6, this time expanding them even further.


Two Kinds of Connectors

Besides the uses already described, coordination and subordination are two basic ways of linking clauses. Sometimes we don't have much choice about how to make the connection, but often, if we see the options, we do.

These trees lose their leaves every winter, but they don't die.

The clauses in the example above are joined by coordination, but could as easily have been joined by subordination.

Although these trees lose their leaves every winter, they don't die.

Now, the first clause is subordinate to the second. The two words that make the difference are called conjunctions, or joining words. "But" belongs to a group of conjunctions that coordinate. "Although" belongs to a group that subordinates. Learning to recognize these two groups of conjunctions will not only help you with your sentence structure, but also with your punctuation.

Coordinating Conjunctions

Not too much needs to said about them. They are few in number: and, or, but, for, nor, yet, so, and they can always be found at the point where the two coordinate structures are joined together, as in the example above.

Subordinating Conjunctions

These are used to subordinate one clause to another. They are placed at the beginning of the clause you want to subordinate, which may or may not be where the two clauses actually meet on the page. Some common subordinating conjunctions are if, although, as, when, because, since, though, whenever, after, unless, while, whereas, even though. When one of these words is attached to the beginning of an independent clause, that clause is weakened. It becomes dependent. It can no longer stand alone as a complete sentence.

Independent clause (complete sentence):

The streets were covered with snow.

Dependent clause (fragment):

Because the streets were covered with snow.

Dependent clause attached to a base clause (complete sentence):

Because the streets were covered with snow, we could ski to school.

Activities

4.8 Italicize the base clause in each of the following sentences. Boldface the subordinating conjunction.

Example: Because Lisa was my best friend, I let her borrow my dress for the party.

a. Alan scores a point whenever we need one.

b. Since we changed the air cleaner, we've been getting better mileage.

c. They canceled the picnic because it was raining.

d. When I got home, my landlord was there waiting.

e. Stand here if you want to get wet.

f. Whenever the ponds freeze, I sharpen my skates.

4.9 Join five of the following pairs of sentences by using coordination and five by using subordination.

a. My new watch was very expensive. It doesn't work.

b. We were new in town. Everyone made us feel welcome.

c. I studied long and hard. I passed the course.

d. These tires are bald. You should replace them.

e. I get home from class. I collapse on the couch.

f. The mail is here. Your magazine didn't arrive.

g. My heart pumps faster. My legs are tired.

h. The warm weather comes. My dog starts to shed.

i. You eat too many sweets. You will get cavities.

j. The subway was crowded. We found two seats.

4.10 Rewrite the sentences you did for Activity 4.9. This time use coordination where you used subordination before and vice-versa. Which sentences are improved by the change? Which would be better left alone? Why?