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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.


From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Filtering by Category: Sentence Types

The Grammar Grind: Sentence Types

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

When I was first asked to do an article on sentence structure, I wasn't positive how I wanted to approach it. Sentence structure is a rather broad topic that covers many techniques and rules for writing sentences. However, I settled on splitting the topic into several articles rather than one large one. This particular post will cover sentence types and how to incorporate sentence variation into your writing. There are four main types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Each one contains different parts of speech and can be somewhat manipulated to give you a wide variety of sentence structure. As I discussed in a previous post, sentence variation is one of the key elements of good writing. Without it, the writing can by dry and monotonous, so it's important to include each of these throughout your pieces, particularly with longer pieces of fiction.

Simple Sentences Simple sentences have one independent clause with no dependent ones. They usually contain little more than a subject and a verb but can vary in length.

Example A: The dog barked. Example B: Christopher walked to the store. Example C: Michael fed the chickens in the yard.

Compound Sentences Compound sentences contain more than one independent clause and no dependent ones. The clauses are typically joined with a coordinating conjunction. Each clause in a compound sentence must be able to stand on its own.

Example A: Jill turned left, and Tommy turned right. Example B: I remembered to pack my lunch, but I forgot to grab my umbrella. Example C: My aunt is coming to visit, so I need to clean my room.

Complex Sentences Complex sentences only have one independent clause, but they contain at least one dependent clause. In other words, they contain a clause that relies on the rest of the sentence to make it a complete thought. Dependent clauses used at the beginning of a sentence require a comma after them.

Example A: After I brushed my teeth, I was ready for bed. Example B: Samantha gets nervous whenever she has to speak in front of a large group. Example C: As per Miss Haley's instructions, we continued writing our papers until the end of class.

Compound-Complex Sentences Compound-complex sentences utilize more than one type of sentence. They contain multiple independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.

Example A: The stormy weather knocked out our power last night, and because of the outage, our alarm clocks never sounded. Example B: When one of our tires suddenly went flat, we pulled over, and Dad retrieved the spare from the trunk.

As you can see from the above examples, there are many ways to construct each sentence type just by adding or a removing adjectives, adverbs, and phrases. Use the different types to strengthen your writing and flow prose.

For further information about sentence types and independent/dependent clauses, you can check out the following resources:

Sentence VaRiAtIoN

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

The topic I'd like to discuss for today deals with the style of writing. One of the biggest amateur mistakes with butchering the writing of a piece (apart from grammar and spelling) is not having enough sentence variation. What do I mean by that? Well, to illustrate, let me start by showing you how not to write a paragraph. Judy came home. She found her door wide open. Chills ran down her spine. Something seemed off. The lights were out. Nothing looked out of place. Something felt off though. She flipped the switch next to the front door. No lights came on. She grabbed her cell phone. She opened it. She used the faint light from the screen to look around the front room.

What's wrong with that paragraph? There's a clear lack of sentence variation. The sentences are short and choppy with the basic structure never changing. Each has a subject and verb (sometimes with an object thrown in) and nothing more. There is never any change to the length of the sentence or the style in which it is written. Now let's take that same paragraph, add in some strong verbs, some commas, and move the words around a bit.

Judy walked up to her front door, finding it slightly ajar. Chills jolted down her spine. Something seemed off. The lights were out, and nothing seemed out of place, but something felt horribly wrong. She flipped the switch next to the front door; no lights came on. She grabbed her cell phone from her purse and opened it. Using the faint light from the screen, she looked around the front room.

Now we see a plot starting to form, and it's clear that something bad is going to happen. Suspense has been heightened, and very real sense of the character's impending danger is developing. All this from sentence variation. Most of the same words were used; all that changed was the style of the sentences.

That's not to say that all literary problems can be solved by rearranging a few sentences, but there's certainly something about it that adds to any piece. If you opened a book and saw the original paragraph as the first one in the book, you'd probably close it immediately and never have a second thought about it again. But if you saw the second attempt at the same paragraph, you might be more interested in continuing.

In order to master sentence variation, one needs to study the types of sentences that there are a bit more. I won't go into great detail with all of these, but here are the main ones:

  1. Simple Sentence: A simple sentence is an independent clause that contains a subject and verb, expressing a complete thought. Example: Jack and Jill ran up the hill to fetch a pail of water. There is a subject (or in this case, two), a verb, and one complete thought. Simple.
  2. Compound Sentence: Much as you'd expect, a compound sentence is two independent clauses that have been joined together by a conjunction, or coordinator. Example: Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after. First, Jack fell down the hill and broke his crown, then Jill tumbled down after him. Two ideas joined together using a comma and the conjunction "and."
  3. Complex Sentence: Complex sentences contain both an independent clause (one that can stand on its own as a complete sentence) and a dependent clause (one that needs an independent clause attached to make it complete). Example: When Jack tripped over the rock at the top of the hill, Jill didn't notice. The first half of the sentence is actually the dependent clause in this cause. It signifies a specific period of time in which the event happened (when Jack tripped), and therefore, relies on an independent clause to clarify what the event actually was (Jill didn't notice). The semantics are more complicated and more in-depth than that, but there is the gist of what a complex sentence is.

Of course, you can have variations of these types of sentences within the English language, such as compound complex sentences, but as long as you at least vary between the three main types as you're writing paragraphs, the style and overall appeal of your will be more desirable. A well-written paragraph will sound almost musical. The length of one sentence has a big influence on the tone of the sentence, and when combined, different types of sentences can build paragraphs of suspense, bliss, and even turmoil.