Improving Writing

Making sense of sentences

What is a sentence?

What makes a sentence is the topic of some debate.  Expressed in simple terms, a sentence is a group of words that are put together to mean something and that, together, express a complete thought.

Most sentences contain at least a subject (the subject is the person, place or thing that is doing or being something) and a verb (a word that describes an action or state of being).  The sentence must be able to stand by itself and make sense.


Different types of sentence:

We aim to encourage our pupils to select the best type of sentence to fulfil the task.  In English, for example, pupils learn to vary their sentence complexity, type and length for effect.  In all subjects, pupils must be able to show their learning, through the sentences they write in response to questions/tasks set.  It is vital that the meaning is clear and ideas are expressed as concisely as possible.


Sentence type (mood):

Declarative: statements (make up about 70% of sentences)

Imperatives (commands)

Interrogatives (questions)

Exclamatives (exclamations!)


Proofreading tips and advice

Encourage your child to check through their work, focusing particularly on these common mistakes.  It is really useful to encourage them to read their work aloud, as it is a good way to identify any differences between what we intended to write and what we have actually written:


  • Missing capital letters (beginning sentences/for proper nouns/titles)
  • Missing question marks
  • Missing speech marks
  • Missing possessive apostrophes [Joe’s book; Milo’s shoes]
  • Marking plurals with apostrophes[video’s and bag’s = incorrect]
  • Its/it’s [its = belonging to it; it’s only ever means it is]
  • Whose/who’s [belonging to/who is]
  • Missing commas from a list
  • Using a comma between two clauses
  • Using the wrong homophone spelling (see below)
  • Misusing been/being
  • Using ‘of’ where ‘have’ should be – ‘could have’ ‘would have’ ‘should have’ (would’ve, could’ve make you think it sounds like ‘would of’ but that’s NOT the case!)
  • Using where/were incorrectly
  • Blending two words when they should be separate (a lot = 2 words not alot; all right; as well)
  • Misusing ‘a’ and ‘an’
  • Missing paragraphs (remember TIme Place TOpic Person – TipTop)
  • Affect/effect (most commonly, affect is a verb and effect a noun)
  • Advice/advise


Quick Guide to Punctuation


Full Stops .

  • At the end of a sentence which is not a question.



  • At the beginning of all sentences
  • For the names of people, places and some events – e.g. York, Hugh Grant


Question Mark ?

  • Used at the end of a sentence when it’s a question


The Apostrophe ‘

  • Used to show that letters have been missed out e.g. can’t, won’t, haven’t
  • Used to show possession e.g. the teacher’s pen


Comma ,

  • Used to separate lists/words/clauses The box was red, white and black.  Unusually, he was feeling sick. The air was clear, the sky was blue and I was ready for anything.
  • Used to separate connectives such as however or moreover from the rest of the sentence.


Brackets ( )

  • Used to mark off separate, additional information e.g. The number of living languages (currently about 6000, by most estimates) is decreasing.


Colon :

  • Used to introduce a list/definition He was my worst nightmare: strict, boring and fond of setting homework. I cooked breakfast: eggs, bacon, tomatoes and fried bread.
  • Used to introduce an idea that is an explanation of the one that comes before the colon e.g. You only have one option: leave this place immediately.


Semi-Colon ;

  • Used to link two connected ideas. Both parts of the sentence should make sense on their own – e.g. She walked slowly to the top of the hill; her feet ached and her legs were tired.
  • Used to separate longer items within a list He was perfection personified: tall, dark and handsome; kind to animals; had a great sense of humour and was presently unattached.


Dashes –

  • Can show a sudden break in sentence, or a change in thought He never knew what she was thinking – or at least that’s the impression he gave. 
  • Can act as brackets They sat in a circle – three friends together – concocting the spell.
  • Used to show a strong interruption e.g.The trees – the one in front and the one at the back – were cut down to make room for the new driveway.


Speech Marks “  ”

  • Used to indicate quotes (evidence) Steinbeck describes the victims as “flopping like a fish”. 
  • Used to mark direct speech James said, “You sit there.”