Academic Module 2: Grammar and Vocabulary in Context

14 Understanding Sentence Structures in Context

You may have learned about different ways in which sentences are structured in academic English through past study. As you advance in your ability to use English in academic contexts, an effective strategy for mastering sentence structures is to see them in the context of a larger piece of text.

In this chapter, we will focus on examining how different sentence structures are used across different levels of information in a paragraph format. As you read through the chapter, you will draw upon the discrete skills that you are learning through the ELAI 990 Units on the course site and apply them in a more practical manner to reading and writing of academic texts. While we focus more on reading academic texts here, you should think about also how you would apply these strategies to your own academic English writing tasks, ranging from short answer questions to longer essay compositions.

Practice 1

Read the excerpt below from Chapter 4 of Alise Lamoreaux’s open-access textbook titled ‘A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students‘.

Getting started in college can seem like an uphill battle. One of the first challenges a student can encounter is navigating the college’s website. In the attempt to get as much information as possible into the hands of current and future students, college websites are crammed full of information and language that may be new to the first-time college student. Trying to figure out how to get started can be confusing, even when the web site says, “Steps To Enroll.”

In the above text, you see a paragraph composed of different sentences of varying lengths. The way the sentences are structured also may differ across the paragraph. There may be a simple sentence next to sentences that have a more complex structure. In its simplest form, a sentence may have a subject, a verb, and an object. It is helpful if you can break the sentence down and identify its individual components. A subject, for example, helps the reader in understanding what the rest of the sentence is focusing on. Sometimes, the subject is a single word, and at other times, a subject is made up of two or more words. Analyze the above paragraph, and see if you identify the subject in each sentence.

Practice 2

Now, read the excerpt below from Chapter 5 of Dave Dillon‘s open-access textbook titled ‘Blueprint for Success in College: Career Decision Making‘.

In the United States and Canada, your academic major—simply called “your major”—is the academic discipline you commit to as an undergraduate student. It’s an area you specialize in, such as accounting, chemistry, criminology, archeology, digital arts, or dance. In United States colleges and universities, roughly 2,000 majors are offered. And within each major is a host of core courses and electives. When you successfully complete the required courses in your major, you qualify for a degree.
This paragraph also comprises different sentences with varying structures. From your completion of the assigned ELAI990 Units, you know that in academic English, sentence structures are usually classified as ‘simple’, ‘compound’, and complex. Analyze the above paragraph, and see if you can identify one of more of these sentence structures.

Additional prompts for critical thinking and reflection:

  • Why do writers use varyingly-structured sentences within the same paragraph? Also, have you noticed similar patterns in other kinds of written texts (for instance, in another language)?
  • Generally, students are discouraged from using second person pronouns (you, your, yours, and so forth) in academic English writing in the U.S. Yet, in this excerpt, the authors use the second person pronoun throughout. Why do you think they do so?



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Demystifying Academic English by Rashi Jain is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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