Sentences, words and phrases


A sentence:

  • is built from a subject and a verb
  • contains at least one main idea
  • sounds complete
  • starts with a capital letter
  • ends with a full stop or equivalent

Subjects and verbs

In a sentence, the verb describes the main action or state of the subject. Different types of verbs have different functions:

  • to show action, eg run, play, skip, discuss
  • to show state, eg think, consider, wish
  • to help out the main verb (auxiliary verbs), eg do, have, is
  • to show likelihood or possibility (modal verbs), eg might, could, would, should

Verbs also show the time frame of the action (past, present, future):

  • past, eg ‘the BBC was founded in 1922’
  • present, eg ‘he finished his breakfast’ (action can be complete) or ‘he is eating his breakfast’ (continuing)
  • future, eg ‘the Johnsons will celebrate Christmas in style!’

In most sentences, the verb comes after its subject. The subject is usually a noun (a person, place or thing), for example, he ran; their pet Siamese cat mewed.

Words and phrases

A sentence is built up from words. Sometimes words are grouped together in phrases.

A phrase acts as a single unit of meaning – for example ‘their pet Siamese cat’, ‘the fast-paced Hollywood film’. A phrase does not include a verb.

You can tell if a group of words is a phrase because it can always be replaced by a single word, eg the phrase ‘pet Siamese cat’ would be replaced by the single word ‘cat’ and still have the same basic meaning. We use phrases to add more detail to our writing.