3 Hot Tips for Super Success with English Sentence Structure

Learning English, or any language, is not an easy task. The sentence structure options alone that English uses are difficult even for native speakers. Not only do you have to learn basic sentence structures, but you have to learn sentence structures for tenses, parts of speech, and the goal of the sentence (Is the sentence a question, an order, a statement, a negative statement) just to name a few types of structures.

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What is Sentence Structure and Why do I Care?


Language, in its many forms, is how beings communicate. Most often, we think of language as words, spoken or written, yet in their essence, these are merely sounds or symbols that we use in a particular manner to represent particular thoughts.

In order for these sounds and symbols to have significant meaning to another person, Mankind developed a series of patterns for the sounds and symbols of our communication that would always represent the same type of information, thereby would always communicate the same type of message.

For Example: The words (symbols) “peanuts”, “am”, “to”, “allergic”, and “I” have no particular meaning when written or uttered in that order (pattern).

The words take on significant meaning when placed into the following patterns, each pattern giving drastically different meaning to the words:

  1. Am I allergic to peanuts?
  2. I am allergic to peanuts!
  3. (or, in Yoda-Speak) Allergic to peanuts I am.

A few alterations to the words and pattern (structure) establish other meanings to the same basic set of words:

  1. What am I allergic to?
  2. I am not allergic to peanuts.
  3. Are you allergic to peanuts?

You are not allergic to peanuts, are you?

Grammar and Sentence Structure Basics


So, clearly, sentence structure is more of a big deal than we often realize. In the tedium of memorizing the formulae, we forget to keep it simple and break the structure into its basic parts. To help you out, the image that follows is from my lesson on sentence structure basics (which you can check out here):


The take-away here is that, regardless of whether or not we are convinced about the importance of learning and improving our English sentence structure, this is a skill we need to get better at if we hope to be better, more effective communicators.

Follow These tips for How to Improve Sentence Structure

Tip #1: Find a Way to Internalize the English Sentence Structure


According to Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development, humans make sense of the world around them through two separate but interconnected processes – Accommodation and Assimilation.  

Accommodation is the process of taking new information that does not fit into any box of information we have already processed (and made sense of through our experiences with our environment) and creating a new box into which we place this new information in order to expand our understanding of our environment.

Assimilation is the process of placing new information into the boxes of information we have already processed, the ones that already make sense to us based on our experience with the world at large.

The process of assimilation is the most likely candidate for helping you to internalize the new information you acquire when learning a new language although, some languages do not have any reference for some aspects of English so you may find yourself having to accommodate more often.

BONUS TIP: Be patient with yourself during the accommodation process as it requires more work from our brains and can make your progress feel slow. This slowing down of the learning process can make you feel stupid. Take a breath. Remember that you have conquered harder things than this in life. You are smart. You can do this.


Here are some suggestions to get you started with the process”

  • A wonderful exercise to help you internalize language is to paraphrase, as I just did with the information about Accommodation and Assimilation.
  • Putting concepts into charts, as I did in the chart above, is super-helpful for those of you who need to see things in neat and tidy boxes. Think of it as organizing your language pantry so that you always have the ingredients you need to communicate.
  • Putting concepts into songs or rhymes, creating stories that help connect ideas, or designing a game to teach it to someone else are all highly effective ways of internalizing language concepts.

Tip #2: Use ESL Lessons and Worksheets for Sentence Structure


A tried-and-true method for learning language concepts like sentence structure is to get your hands dirty by repeatedly working with the concept until using it correctly becomes an unconscious act. This is another way of saying, “Get your hands on as many worksheets and practice exercises as you need to help you fully grasp the language concept.”

FYI – I have created the first in a series of lessons on mastering the English sentence structure. The first module in the full mastery course is The ESL Student’s Guide to ACE-ing Sentence Structure and it focuses on the four basic types of sentence structures. Click here to have a look at it.

ESL worksheets and practice exercises offer more than simple repetition of a teaching point. Language drills are important because they put the process of forming a habit, that of using correct grammar or pronunciation, into overdrive.

You’ve heard the saying that it takes twenty-one to thirty days to form a new habit. Language drills condense that process by shortening the timeframe while increasing and intensifying the repetitions.  

Worksheets and other forms of hands-on practice further intensify and accelerate the learning and assimilation process by adding a physical element to the mix. As your hand gets involved in physically producing the correct patterns on the page, it sends an extra message of reinforcement to your brain. Additionally, the time it takes for your body to engage and complete the physical process of producing the answer gives your brain a bit more time to process the concept. The more time your brain spends processing the information, the more solidly the information is cemented in your foundational knowledge.

Tip #3: Practice with Others, Preferably Native Speakers

When I was in my Junior year in college, I spent a semester in Austria. Part of the program included language lessons (Deutsch fur Auslander/German for Foreigners). It was a beginner class and there were students of all ages, from many countries. After class, we would speak to each other using what we had just learned in class.

One day, our professor said to us as we were filing out of the classroom,

 “It’s wonderful that you are eager to practice what you’ve learned. Just remember this: you are in kindergarten in this class. If you only speak to other kindergarteners, you will remain at a kindergartener’s level of proficiency. If you hope to advance in the language, you must speak to native speakers and those who are more advanced than yourselves.”

I have never forgotten that advice. That afternoon, I started to speak German to everyone I could. It was frustrating much of the time, but only in the beginning as I was getting used to things. I started reading my German-English dictionary for fun and finding opportunities to use my new words. This was the single most significant event (and a turning point) in my assimilation of the German language. I firmly believe that getting out there and actually speaking English to others who are more advanced than you will be a turning point for you on your journey to fluency in English.

Exercises for Sentence Structure


During this coming week, in order to develop your understanding of English sentence structure, focus on the following areas:

  • Begin experimenting with ways to help you internalize the concept of Sentence structure.
  • Check out your local library or do an internet search for worksheets and practice exercises then do your best to complete them all.
  • Finally, find at least one person who speaks English at a higher level than you and have a conversation in English.

As we are learning on our journey together, day by day we take another step towards our goal. If we average one step each day, we will have taken 365 steps this year towards becoming fluent in the English language.

Please share your insights with the community by leaving a comment below or send a message through the contact page. Don’t forget, Sharing is caring so share this with everyone you know who will benefit.

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