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6.7 Using a Variety of Sentence Formats

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize the need for varied sentence formats.
  2. Know how to use variety to start sentences.
  3. Understand how to vary sentences by making changes within the sentences.

Varied sentences help create more interesting prose. Two key methods of varying your sentences are to use different starting techniques and to change the sentences from within. These two choices have some overlap, but for clarity, we’ll discuss them as separate options here.

Avoiding “The…The…The”

You have all read “The…The…The” and “There…There…There” and “I…I…I” texts. When almost every sentence of a text begins exactly alike, it develops a boring and monotonous rhythm. As a rule, within a given paragraph, you should try to avoid starting more than two sentences with the same word.

The need for varied sentence formats is a little less obvious but along the same lines. Even if you are starting all your sentences with different words, you could still fall into the trap of having every sentence use the same format, thus creating a similarly monotonous rhythm. Typical examples are sentences that all follow the simple subject format of subject–verb–object. Consider the sing-songy rhythm in this example:

Rover had a bone. Princess wanted it. He snarled at Princess. She snarled at Rover. Princess looked to her left. Rover followed her eyes. Princess snatched the bone. Rover started barking.

In the (rather extreme) example, no more than two sentences within the paragraph begin with the same word, but the sentence is still too rhythmic due to the similar format of each simple sentence.

One technique that will help you avoid using the same format is to make a conscious effort to vary your sentence constructions. Consider how the following formats provide interesting variation.

Sentence Constructions Examples
Opening adverb Slyly, Princess snatched the bone while Rover was looking away.
Conjunctive adverb Rover thought he was guarding his bone; however, Princess was setting up her moment.
Coordinating conjunction Rover had the bone, but Princess was determined to get it.
Dependent clause While Rover was looking away, Princess snatched the bone.
Introductory phrase Feeling jealous, Princess made a plan to get the bone.

Varying from the Inside

Along with changing the beginnings of sentences, you can add variety by combining sentences, adding words, expanding descriptionsDepicting something so that readers can get a clear impression. or ideas, and creating and moving clauses. Using all these techniques throughout a paper will create a nice mix of sentence formats.

Combining Sentences

Choosing exactly the right mix of sentence lengths can be challenging. If you use too many short sentences, your writing will be viewed as simplistic. If you use too many long sentences, your writing will be considered convoluted. Even if you use all medium-length sentences, your writing might be dubbed as monotonous. The trick is to use a variety of sentence lengths. If you find you have too many short, choppy sentences, you can combine some of them to add a little variety.

Two short, choppy sentences Combined sentence
He snarled at Princess. She snarled at Rover. Rover snarled at Princess, but she proved to be the alpha dog by snarling right back at him.

Adding Words

You can add variety and interest to your sentences by adding words to expand the sentences. This suggestion in no way means to add meaningless words to a sentence just to enlarge and change the sentence. Only add words when they add value to your work.

A short sentence Value-adding words added to a short sentence
Rover had a bone. Rover was gnawing on a bone in the corner of the yard under the cherry tree.

Expanding Descriptions or Ideas

This tactic is more specific than the “add words” tactic, but it can be coupled with it.

An existing sentence Expanded descriptions and ideas
Rover was gnawing on a bone in the corner of the yard under the tree. My Lab, Rover, was gnawing on a rawhide bone in the corner of the yard under the cherry tree.

Creating and Moving Clauses

Adding new clauses or moving existing clauses is another way to add interest and variety.

Sentence with a clause Sentence with the clause moved
Rover was a large Labrador, and Princess was a small poodle who got the best of him. Although Princess was a small poodle, she got the best of Rover, a large Labrador.

Key Takeaways

  • You should use a variety of sentence formats to create interesting text.
  • Within a paragraph, plan to start no more than two sentences with the same word. Also, use more than one sentence format so you can avoid repetitive, monotonous text.
  • Additional techniques you can use to vary sentences that do not necessarily relate to how you start the sentences include combining short sentences, adding words, expanding descriptions or ideas, and creating and moving clauses.

Exercises

  1. Rewrite the following paragraph using some of the sentence variation ideas in this section. After you are finished rewriting, identify the types of changes you made:

    My family went on vacation. It was the summer after my first year of college. It was odd not to be in charge of my own actions. My parents were nice but always in charge. My brother and sister were fine with it. It wasn’t OK with me, though. It wasn’t OK with me to have to go to bed at 10:00 p.m. My idea would have been to go to town then. My parents said it was bedtime since we had to get up early to go hiking. It wasn’t my idea to go walking early! My next vacation might be with friends. It will be nice to go with my family again as long as it isn’t too soon.

  2. Rewrite this sentence so that it begins with an adverb:

    My roommate found my cell phone.

  3. Rewrite this sentence so that it begins with an introductory phrase:

    It is a long, interesting drive.

  4. Try writing a paragraph with the following sentence constructions: opening adverb, conjunctive adverb, coordinating conjunction, dependent clause, and introductory phrase.