Friday, April 20, 2012

Improve writing: Know about sentence variety

by Vivian Zabel   

sentence (noun): a group of words that expresses a thought and is complete in itself (starting with a capital letter and ending with a period or question/exclamation mark)
variety (noun): the quality of being different; not having uniformity or sameness

            Varying sentence length and patterns or types results in a natural form of writing that flows smoothly. If all sentences in a writing are the same length and type, then the writing becomes boring and dull. A variety of sentences not only holds a reader’s attention but causes the writer’s mind to think creatively and complexly. 

          Review of variety in sentences:

            Simple sentences offer one thought and are one independent clause. They generally have a subject and verb and maybe an object.
The moon rose last night.
The boy laughed at the joke.
Small birds awoke and sang. 
            Four main types of simple sentences exist.
  1. Declarative sentence (most common): The sky is blue.
  2. Interrogative sentence: Why is the sky blue?
  3. Exclamatory sentence: The sky is blue now! (It was black just a minute ago.)
  4. Imperative sentence: Don't go outside! (It's pouring rain.)
          Compound and complex sentences can also be any of the four main types.

            Compound sentences contain two simple sentences (two independent clauses) joined correctly.
The moon rises at night, and the sun rises in the morning.
Roses bloom in my front yard, but irises bloom in the side yard.
Terry and Joe wanted to go to town, but the car needed gas.

            Complex sentences contain one independent clause and one or more dependent (subordinate) clauses.
Mary thought about her grandmother, whose poor eyesight kept her from reading.
If you want a cake for dessert, you will have to bake it.
When the clock struck  midnight, Cinderella had to leave the ball before her gown turned back to rags.

            Compound-complex sentences contain two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.
Mary thought about her grandmother, whose poor eyesight kept her from reading, and the decision to buy books on tape seemed a good one.
If I want to finish my novel, I’m going to have to spend more time writing; however, I have so many other things that I run out of hours in my days.

            There are a number of ways to add variety to writing. If the writer imagines himself cutting up a sentence into individual words and placing them in a paper bag and shaking it up, he can lay out the sentence parts and experiment: make two sentences out of one; put the sentence back to front; turn the sentence into a question. If you the sentence is too short, he may want to add another sentence to it. If he has a really important point, perhaps a famous person has said something similar and a quote would help. Sentences might begin with a prepositional phrase one time, a dependent clause another. 

            A good writer avoids using sentences that are all the same length. Short sentences are powerful. Combining short sentences with long sentences makes writing flow more naturally. The most important sentences should be clear and concise. Those sentences should be kept short. Descriptive sentences can have more length but need to flow naturally.

            Writing only in short sentences causes the material to be choppy, monotonous, and does not reflect the variety of complex thinking patters found in the human mind. Using dependent or subordinate clauses adds variety.

            Now how do we write dependent or subordinate clauses? Subordinating conjunctions are key words to begin subordinate or dependent clauses. Such key words, subordinating conjunctions, include the following:

after                 although                      as (far/soon)                as                                 as if or as though
because            before                          even if                         even though                how
if                      in case                         in that                          in as much                   in so far as
lest                   no matter how             now that                      once                             provided (that)
since                so that                         supposing that             than                             through
till                    unless                          until                             when, whenever         where, wherever
whether           while                           why

            When a  subordinate (dependent) clause begins a sentence, a comma follows the dependent clause – always. However, when a dependent clause comes within the independent clause (the main sentence), it is not set off by commas most of the time.

            Simple sentences contain one clause. More advanced types of sentences are "compound" (combining two sentences with a conjunction and proper punctuation or correct punctuation) and "complex" (using at least one dependent clause and one independent clause). Writers also need to know how to use conjunctions, adverbial phrases, prepositional phrases, conditionals, and noun phrases to add to sentence variety.

Next article: Using prepositional or participial phrases to vary sentences.  

4RV Publishing website  
4RV Bookstore  


  1. Vivian, thanks for the terrific information. I have saved this article, and I'm going to print it as soon as I can get my printer to work.

  2. Glad you found the information helpful.

  3. Thanks for the post on FB Vivian...helped me out and I definitely plan to print! :D