Writing Commons: "Sentence Construction"

Vary Sentence Structure

Why is it important to vary sentence structure?

Too many simple and compound sentences can make writing sound choppy, but too many complex and compound-complex sentences can make writing difficult to follow. Strive for a balance by combining sentences of various structures and lengths throughout your paper.

What are some common ways to structure a sentence?

  • Simple sentence: Contains a single subject and verb.
    • Example: The cell phone rang right before class.
  • Compound sentence: Contains two complete sentences (independent clauses) joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
    • Example: The cell phone rang right before class, so the student quickly turned off her phone's ringer.
  • Complex sentence:Contains an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses.
    • Example: To avoid an interruption during class, the student turned off her phone's ringer.
  • Compound-complex sentence: Contains a combination of a compound sentence and a complex sentence.
    • Example: In order to keep her attention focused on class activities, the student turned off her phone's ringer, and she put her ear buds in her backpack.

Use Parallel Structure

What is parallel structure?

Parallel structure is established when words within a sentence are united by consistent use of grammatical forms. This stylistic element is also referred to as parallelism or parallel construction.

Why is it important to use parallel structure?

Lack of parallel structure can disrupt the rhythm of a sentence, leaving it grammatically unbalanced. Proper parallel structure helps to establish balance and flow in a well-constructed sentence; the alignment of related ideas supports readability and clarity.

Let's look at an example:

  • Not Parallel: The President traveled to several cities meeting voters, to give speeches, and ask for campaign funds.
  • Parallel: The President traveled to several cities meeting voters, giving speeches, and asking for campaign funds.

How can a sentence be revised to reflect parallel structure?

1. Find a list within a sentence: Look for words or phrases of equal importance that are separated by commas and joined by a conjunction

Not parallel: Dr. Kall challenged his students to initiate their own learning, be creative problem-solvers, and think independently. (In this sentence, Dr. Kall wants his students to do or be three things, but the items in this list are not parallel in structure.)

2. Evaluate the word forms within the list.

  1. Do the verbs appear as infinitives (to + verb), or gerunds (-ing words)? As present tense or past tense? (Choose the voice and tense of the verb that is consistent with surrounding sentences.)
  2. Do the nouns or pronouns and their modifiers appear in consistent form?

3. Alter the words in the list to create proper parallel structure.

Parallel: Dr. Kall challenged his students to become self-motivated learners, creative problem-solvers, and independent thinkers. (In this sentence, Dr. Kall wants his students to be three things instead of a combination of being and doing. Additionally, the list follows a pattern since the nouns and adjectives all appear in parallel form.)


Avoid Primer-Style Sentences

How can short sentences be effectively combined? 

A primer-style sentence is a short and simple sentence that usually includes a single subject and verb. While short and simplistic sentences can be used effectively to emphasize a point or clarify a confusing statement, frequent use of them can make a paper sound choppy and interrupt the flow of the paper. Primer-style sentences can be combined into a more complex sentence.

Let's look at some examples:

Revision of primer-style sentences:

  • Primer-style sentences: President Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963. It happened in Dallas, Texas. This event greatly impacted the nation.
  • Revised: The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, greatly impacted the nation.

Revision of short, related sentences:

Simple sentences about a single topic may also be combined by using coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) and/or modifying clauses.

  • Series of related sentences: Central Park is an urban park that is 843 acres. It is located in New York City. The park has several attractions including a zoo.
    • Note that the subject of all of these sentences is Central Park. The sentences can be combined into one sentence using a coordinating conjunction and a modifying clause since all three ideas are of equal importance.
  • Revised: Central Park, an urban park in New York City, is 843 acres and has several attractions, including a zoo.
Last modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2019, 6:24 PM