Rules to follow

For a sentence to be complete, there are certain rules that you can use as a guide.

Capital letters and full stops

Ensure that every sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. If a sentence expresses surprise or shock, you can end it with an exclamation mark. Interrogative sentences that ask questions, should finish with a question mark.

Tense

Verbs are the active part of the sentence. They can also show time scale, letting the reader know whether something is meant to take place in the past, present or future. This is known as the ‘tense’ of a verb. For example:

Present tense – something that is happening now:

  • The fire burns brightly.
  • The car runs well.
  • The mobile phone is ringing.
  • The girl is dancing.

Past tense – something that has already happened:

  • The fire burned and billowed clouds of smoke.
  • She wrote in the book before she left the house.
  • After his exams had finished, Stan rushed out of school, shouting ‘Freedom!’

Future tense – something that hasn’t happened yet:

  • The fire will burn well, once lit.
  • The car will run well when it has been fixed.
  • The exam starts next Wednesday.
  • The exam season is starting next month.

Using tenses in your writing

If you are writing a story, the past tense can be easier to manage. It allows you to refer to events and add detailed descriptions, whereas present tense requires much more skill.

Example:

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the speaker’s square forefinger emphasised his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial.

Hard Times, Charles Dickens

Novelists such as Suzanne Collins use present tense to create fast-paced and lively narratives. For example, her novel The Hunger Games is written entirely in the present tense:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

For short pieces of descriptive writing, present tense can be a good choice. You can draw the reader into an experience. For example:

The morning is still cold and dark when we walk out to the vehicle. It’s Central Australia’s way of telling us we shouldn’t be outside yet. But Nigel’s pick-up splutters to life and the headlight beams reveal that the outback bushland is still there, spinifex grass being tousled by the pre-dawn wind. He begins driving, and within ten minutes we’ve parked up at the foot of Kings Canyon.

An Alternative to Uluru, Ben Lerwill