1. adamant

    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

    Dec 14, 2006
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    The Comatorium

    Sentence Variety

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by adamant, Oct 27, 2007.

    Lunsford, Andrea A.
    The St. Martin's Handbook, Sixth Ed.

    Sentence Openings, Chapter 44

    - Using transitional expressions -

    See how transitions bring variety and clarity to this passage.

    In order to be alert Friday morning in New York, I planned to take the shuttle from Washington Thursday night. On Thursday morning it began to snow in Washington and to snow even harder in New York. By mid-afternoon I decided not to risk the shuttle and caught a train to New York. Seven hours later the train completed its three-hour trip. I arrived at Penn Station to find a city shut down by the worst blizzard since 1947.

    - Linda Ellerbee, "And So It Goes"

    Here the transitional words establish chronology and help carry readers smoothly through the paragraph.

    - Using phrases -

    Prepositional, verbal, and absolute phrases can also provide variety in sentence openings.

    - Prepositional Phrases

    Before dawn, tired commuters drink their first cups of coffee.

    From a few scraps of wood in the Middle Ages to a precisely carved, electrified instrument in our times, the guitar has gone through uncounted changes.

    - Verbal Phrases

    Frustrated by the delays, the driver shouted at his car radio.

    To qualify for the finals, a speller must win a regional championship.

    Having jumped the last hurdle, she sprinted toward the finish line.

    - Absolute Phrases

    Our hopes for victory shattered, we started home.

    His nose against the window, Rover gazed hopefully at the street.

    * In general, use a comma after these phrases when they open a sentence.

    - Using dependent clauses -

    Dependent clauses are another way to open a sentence.

    While the boss sat on his tractor, I was down in a ditch, pounding in stakes.

    What they want is a place to call home.

    * In general, use a comma after an adverb clause that opens a sentence.

    In addition to using different lengths and openings, you can use different types of sentences. Sentences can be classified in three different ways: grammatically, functionally, and rhetorically.

    - Grammatical types -

    Grammatically, sentences fall into four categories -- simple, compound, complex, compound-complex -- based on the number of independent and dependent clauses they contain. Varying your sentences among these grammatical types can help you create readable, effective prose.

    - Functional types -

    In terms of function, sentences are declarative (making a statement), interrogative (asking a question), imperative (giving a command), or exclamatory (expressing strong feeling). Most sentences are declarative, but occasionally a command, a question, or an exclamation may be appropriate.

    - Command

    Coal-burning plants undoubtedly harm the environment in various ways; for example, they contribute to acid rain. But consider the alternatives.

    - Question

    Why would sixteen middle-aged people try to backpack thirty-seven miles? At this point, I was not at all sure.

    - Exclamation

    Divorces! They were everywhere! Sometimes he felt like a new member of an enormous club, the Divorces of America, that he had never before even heard of.

    - Rhetorical types -

    By highlighting sentence endings and beginnings, periodic and cumulative sentence can strong effects.

    - Periodic sentences

    Periodic sentences postpone the main idea (usually in an independent clause) until the very end of the sentence. They are especially useful for creating tension or building toward a climactic, surprise, or inspirational ending.

    Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grasp of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fall.

    - Winston Churchill

    Look at the following sentence and its revision to see how periodic order can provide emphasis:

    Original Sentence

    The nations of the world have no alternative but coexistence because another world war would be unwinnable and because total destruction would certainly occur.

    Revised as a Periodic Sentence

    Because another world war would be unwinnable and because total destruction would certainly occur, the nations of the world have no alternative but coexistence.

    Nothing is wrong with the first sentence. But to emphasize the idea in the independent clause -- no alternative but coexistence -- the write chose to revise using the periodic pattern.

    - Cumulative sentences

    Cumulative sentences, which begin with an independent clause and then add details in phrases and in dependent clauses (as does the preceding sentence labeled original), are far more common than periodic sentences. They are useful when you want to provide both immediate understanding of the main idea and a great deal of supporting detail.

    I can still see her, at tiny nun with a sharp pink nose, confidently drawing a dead-straight horizontal line like a highway across the blackboard, flourishing her chalk at the end of it, her veil flapping out behind her as she turned back to class.

    - Kitty Burns Florey

    Powther threw small secret appraising glances at the coffee cup, lipstick all around the edges, brown stains on the side where the coffee had dripped and spilled over, the saucer splotched with a whole series of dark brown rings.

    - Ann Petry, The Narrows
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Thank you for this, adamant. These are great ways to vary the sentences to break a monotonous pattern.

    I'd like to add a couple points. First, variety doesn't mean making every sentence a different structure. There are only just so many structures to choose from.

    Second, I wouldn't choose a sentence structure only because it is different. One highly underrepresented structure is the simple declarative sentence. It is as direct and powerful as a punch.

    Choose a more complex structure only when the added complexity serves a purpose, like joining related thoughts more closely.
  3. dwspig2

    dwspig2 Member

    Sep 27, 2007
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    I agree that simple statements can have a punch - especially when they're inserted amongst longer, more complicated sentences.
  4. RomanticRose

    RomanticRose Active Member

    Aug 20, 2007
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    New Mexico
    I like the emotional impact of a simple declarative sentence. I open a chapter with, "The Chaplain spoke of ashes and dust."

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