Badly written sentences can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings – from poor grades for essay writing through to upsetting someone with the wrong tone in an email. Here are some pointers to help you tackle sentence construction.

Incomplete sentences in essays

Writing incomplete sentences is becoming common. The informal nature of written communication on the internet means that there are many times when you can construct an incomplete sentence and yet – in context – it makes sense. However, in an essay, informal writing can damage your grade.

What is a sentence?

When you are editing your essays, remember that a sentence is that it begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, exclamation mark or question mark.This isn’t always the case, with punctuation like exclamation marks and question marks being used creatively in informal writing.  However, for the purposes of academic writing, it’s best to stick to this rule.

Essay writing: A unit of meaning

A sentence is a unit of meaning. Sentences express an idea. Again this is a difficult definition to grapple with. An expression like “What on earth?” is clearly an idea (of surprise or curiosity), but it doesn’t make a complete sentence.

Parts of the sentence: clauses

A sentence must include at least one clause. The clause contains a verb, a subject and (perhaps) an object. A clause might be a sentence by itself, or there could be several in a sentence.

For example, the clauses in the following sentences are in italics. Italics with underlining shows a clause within a clause:-

I danced with a girl who had been to Glastonbury.

Ben sent Molly a letter.

Did Julie tell you that the book had been sold?

Editing notes: Exceptions to the rules

There are some places where incomplete sentences are perfectly acceptable and, indeed, almost expected. For example, most CVs are made up of incomplete sentences. Imagine a CV where a Personal Assistant is describing their previous role and duties. The CV might read: “Duties included:- Diary management.  Archiving financial material.”

However, for essay writing complete sentences have to be used to make sure the meaning is understood.

Best Essay Writing Guide: Read!

The best essay writing advice for learning how to write excellent sentences in English is to read good literature. Classic English literature, like Dickens, the Brontes, or Somerset Maugham, helps you learn about good writing by osmosis. Pretty soon you will get a feel for the language and you’ll be surprised by how much you suddenly know!  You will also build up your vocabulary to improve your essay writing as you improve your overall language use.

Did you find this useful as essay help?  If you’ve seen any odd or incomplete sentences that are hard to understand – post them here!