Entries Tagged as 'Sense and Sentence Ability'

How to Identify Essential and Non-Essential Clauses

Sometimes a dependent clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence.  Sometimes, dependent clauses add additional non-essential details.  These steps will help you decide if a clause is essential or non-essential.

Step 1:  Read the whole sentence and identify the clause.  Underline the clause

Step 2:  Read the sentence without the clause.  Does it make enough sense?

Step 3:  Read the sentence again, but this time with the clause.  Does it make more sense?

Step 4:  If the sentence makes complete sense without the clause, place commas around the clause.  If the sentence needs the clause to make sense, do not place commas around the clause.


Follow the steps above and practice with these two sentences. Only one sentence needs commas.  Which one?

  • Our hotel which was near the beach offered free room service.
  • The room which has the ocean view is more expensive than the three-room suite.

Answer:  The first sentence contains a non-essential clause, and therefore, will require commas around the clause.

Parallelism in Writing

Understanding and identifying parallelism is common in grammar reviews as well as on standardized tests.

Parallelism can be achieved by making sure there is balance on both sides of a conjunction (and, but, yet, & so).  Conjunctions are typically found between independent clauses and in lists.

First, find the conjunction.  Then look for balance.  You can tell if something is not balanced if the parts of speech are different or if there is a modifier on one side and not the other.  If you see an imbalance, correct it.

For example:

My favorite meals are pizza, spaghetti, and ordering subs. 
Pizza and spaghetti are nouns.  Ordering subs?  That is an action.

Fix the imbalance:  My favorite meals are pizza, spaghetti, and subs. 


Commenters’ Corrections

In case you missed it on Wednesday, I posted the first of a series in which I find You Tube comments for you to review for grammatical errors.  Here are the answers from the first installment.

Now for today’s comment:

she is so pretty, i love this song, she will launch her new album soon, i saw it their pocodot, profile, great site, better than facebook

The answers will be revealed on Monday.

Sense and Sentence Ability: The reason is because…

Using “the reason is because” is redundant, which means you are repeating the same idea twice in one sentence.  Instead say:

  • This is because…
  • The reason is that…

Sense and Sentence Ability: The Lazy Man’s Paragraph

The word lazy appropriately appears before some words to take on a new meaning:

  • The Lazy Man’s Triathlon, for example, is when you complete 112 miles of bike riding, 26.2 miles of running (or walking), 3.5 miles of swimming over the course of 2 months.
  • The Lazy Boy is a comfortable reclining chair
  • The Lazy Susan is a tray on your dining table that spins so you don’t have to reach for the salt.

Even though technically, there’s no such thing as a Lazy Man’s Paragraph, I have seen more than my share of them!  I’m putting my foot down with paragraphs where the following gets passed off as writing…

  • “The other paragraph was so long, that I had to start a new one” = a sad attempt at a topic sentence.
  • “This is the end of my essay” = a lazy conclusion.
  • “In this paragraph, I’ll talk about another topic.”  = filling goes in snack cakes…Not Paragraphs!

And here is the laziest of them all:

This paragraph is about a different topic than the last paragraph.  This paragraph talks about why I enjoy math.  I enjoy math because it is challenging.  It is also hard, but I never need any help.  Finally, these are the reasons I like math.

Do you see what I mean?

The good news is that there are many things you can do to improve your writing. If your writing resembles the Lazy Man’s Paragraph in any way, first try to not refer to the paragraph or essay that you’re writing.  In other words, don’t use:

  • This essay is about…
  • This paragraph is about…
  • According to this paragraph…
  • This is the end of my essay.

These are filler words and sentences to make your paragraph take up more space on the paper!  Instead, get right to the point, and you will automatically see an improvement.

Sense and Sentence Ability: Noun Clauses

Test yourself:  Write a sentence in which both the subject and the object are noun clauses.  One thing to remember is that noun clauses can appear in declarative and interrogative sentences, so don’t forget to punctuate correctly.


  • What you see is what you get.
  • Did what you just said answer how we can fix the problem?

Practice with this Noun Clause Activity. (also in PDF)

Sense and Sentence Ability: Nouns and Pronouns

Test yourself:  write a sentence with 3 proper nouns, 2 common nouns, and 1 pronoun.

Example: I ate at restaurants in both Kansas and Oklahoma, but not in the state of Nebraska.

Sense and Sentence Ability: Prepositional Phrases

Test yourself:  Write a sentence that begins with a prepositional phrase. Don’t forget to punctuate correctly!

Example:  In the morning, my alarm goes off at 6:00 am.

Here is an activity that might help you use prepositional phrases as transitional phrases:

Sense and Sentence Ability: Interjections

Test yourself:  write a sentence with a two-word interjection.  Don’t forget to punctuate correctly with interjections.

Example:  No way!  I didn’t say that!

Click here for an activity to practice punctuation with interjections (also in PDF).

Sense and Sentence Ability: Parts of Speech

Test yourself:  Write a sentence that contains at least one of every part of speech.  The parts of speech are:  nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, interjections, and prepositions.

Example:  Hey! Are you on a comfortable chair or not?

  • hey = interjection
  • are = verb
  • you = pronoun
  • on = preposition
  • comfortable = adjective
  • chair = noun
  • or = conjunction
  • not  = adverb

These activities might help you identify the different parts of speech: