Sentences are all around you!
They’re in books and on the radio. You’re reading one right now.
When you first started learning English, you may have memorized lists of words.
But if you learn whole sentences, instead of words by themselves, you can learn a lot faster!
In this article, I’m going to show you how to focus your English learning on sentences.
- Why Is Focusing on Sentences Important?
- What’s in a Sentence?
- 8 Simple Tips for Finding and Learning New English Sentences
Why Is Focusing on Sentences Important?
Sentences are more than just strings of words. They’re thoughts, ideas and stories. Just like letters build words, words build sentences. Sentences build language, and give it personality.
Again, without sentences, there’s no real communication. If you were only reading words right now, you wouldn’t be able to understand what I’m saying to you at all.
Simple words are just not enough. Early humans made stories out of simple drawings, but these drawings could only tell so much. Think of it this way: How much can you get just from reading “man” and “horse”?
Sentences combine words to give them direction. They can add a certain feeling to groups of words. They’re also necessary to express ideas.
What’s in a Sentence?
To learn sentences, you have to understand the basic parts of one. Here they are.
Nouns are words for people, places or things. They can be concrete (real) or abstract (imaginary).
There are proper nouns and common nouns. Proper nouns are names of people or places. They can also be titles (of books or songs, for example).
For example, here are some proper nouns:
- “Let It Be” (This is a song title.)
Common nouns are used for less specific things.
The word “cat” could mean your cat. It could also mean any of the other millions of cats in the world!
A lot of the time, a sentence may start and end with a noun.
The cat belongs to John.
Verbs are words that show action. Sentences have to have verbs. You can think of them like the glue that holds sentences together.
Here are some examples of verbs:
Adjectives and adverbs
Adjectives are words that are used to describe nouns. Adverbs are used to describe verbs. Both adjectives and adverbs can give sentences more color and personality.
Some well-known adjectives are “big” and “pretty.”
Here’s an example of how they can be used:
That big house over there is pretty.
Here, “big” and “pretty” are being used to describe the house.
Again, adverbs are words that describe a verb. They explain how an action is being performed.
Adverbs may answer these questions:
- In what way?
- How much?
Here’s an example:
I would be enjoying the concert if the band wasn’t playing so loudly.
In this case, loudly describes how the band was playing.
Syntax and more grammar
Syntax gives sentences their structure and organization. Syntax is really just the rules that decide in what order words appear in a sentence. The more you learn new sentences and study grammar, the more you’ll understand about syntax.
Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are all parts of grammar. But there’s a lot more to learn! We won’t try to cover it all here, because you can’t learn all parts of English grammar at once. But the more you learn and use English sentences, the more grammar you’ll understand.
Without grammar and syntax, English sentences would just be a random mess of words. Now that you know a little about how sentences work, you’re ready to start learning some new ones.
8 Simple Tips for Finding and Learning New English Sentences
1. Read, read and read
Reading helps you learn sentences and strengthen your vocabulary at the same time! As I explained earlier, words make up sentences, and sentences make up the language. So sentences are the most important things to learn. If you learn sentences, you’ll also learn words. And you’ll learn them much faster and better than if you just memorized them from a list.
There are many ways to learn new words and sentences, but the easiest and most effective way to do this is to read. You can read books, magazines, subtitles or online articles.
Again, reading not only allows you to learn new words, but also shows you how words are used. It will help you get a better idea of how sentences are put together, which will help you properly use words in your own sentences. That way, you can properly organize your thoughts in speaking and writing.
2. Use moving pictures, too
Some people don’t enjoy reading books, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn English as easily. There are plenty of great movies and TV shows out there that can help you improve your English, and the audio can help you improve your pronunciation, too.
The biggest advantage of learning from movies and TV is that the sentences used there are often like the sentences used in everyday life. Learning these sentences will make your speech sound more natural (instead of sounding like a talking book).
For an easy “lesson,” turn on a video with subtitles and read along to get a better idea of how sentences are used out loud. If you get confused, rewind as needed until you understand how everything is said.
A great resource for doing this kind of exercise is FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
3. Look through phrase dictionaries
Dictionaries aren’t just for words. There are dictionaries that contain whole phrases instead of words. These will really come in handy for learning useful English sentences.
They may also help you learn popular sentences and proverbs, and will help you study the way sentences work.
A great online phrase dictionary can be found here from International House Bristol. This is a great resource for any English learner who wants to learn sentences and phrases, no matter what your level is.
4. Write to remember
Let’s say you’re visiting the U.S. and you’re taking a walk. You decide it’s time to return to your hotel. You begin to ask someone for directions. But you find that not only have you forgotten the way back to the hotel, you’ve also forgotten how to ask someone how to get there!
This is a case where a phrase dictionary could come in handy. It’s also a good idea to have a notepad that you write useful sentences in and keep with you just in case you need it.
Actually, writing helps memory. So if you write your sentences down, you might not even need your notepad!
For example, if you’re going to a party where you want to make new friends, write down some sentences to use before you go. It’s good to get in the habit of writing down sentences. It’s also a good idea to write down and learn interesting or even unusual phrases and idioms. Even if you don’t use them very often, studying them will help your understanding of the language.
5. Keep learning grammar
Nouns and verbs may be the building blocks of sentences. But without more complex grammar rules, sentences would become confusing and unorganized. Learning grammar may sound boring, but it will help you learn your sentences more effectively.
To learn, it’s best to use a grammar guide. A great example is this guide from the LEO Network. It explains grammar and other parts of sentences very simply, and breaks them down in an easy-to-learn manner.
For example, the guide tells you how to identify verbs in a sentence. Learning grammar doesn’t have to be so bad, after all!
6. Pay attention
I can’t talk enough about the importance of grammar. Without it, sentences would be a mess.
With that said, the most important part of learning sentences is paying attention to the relationship between words. Simply hearing sentences is not enough. Whether you’re listening to sentences or reading them, always ask yourself how words “fit” together. Also be aware of how the meaning of words change depending on how they’re being used.
Some great English sentences to study and practice can be found at TalkEnglish.com and the BBC.
Both of the websites here are great resources for seeing popular English phrases being used in sentences. These sites even explain the meanings of the phrases, as well as how and when they should be used. This is helpful, because a lot of popular expressions can be confusing even if you know all of the words in them.
For example, the English phrase “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse” just means “I’m really, really hungry.” Just imagine someone saying they could eat a horse and then actually trying to look for one!
7. Get creative, get better
Some of the most famous people in the history of the English-speaking world were great writers. They became successful through practice, and you can master English sentences in the same way!
Practicing your writing works just like practicing your speaking, but it lets you take more time. It also lets you “see” your thoughts. Writing regularly is great for expressing yourself, and also for improving spelling and grammar.
8. Most of all, practice!
The best way to improve your sentences is to actually use them in communication. Whether you’re typing out an email, messaging someone over the phone or speaking with a friend, always try out new English sentences. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
If none of your friends or neighbors speak English, there are many online resources for you to meet native speakers and practice with them. Google+ has some great language learning communities with members from all over the world to help you practice and master your sentences.
As we say in English, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
This isn’t to say that we should be hurting animals, but that there are many ways to reach your goal.
By using as many of these tips as you can, you’ll be well on your way to using English sentences fluently!