Varieties of Sentences
In order to work with a variety of sentences in your writing, it is helpful to first understand the basic building blocks of a sentence, how they relate to each other, and how they can be manipulated.
Sentences are defined as grammatical units consisting of one or more words, which bear minimal syntactic relation to each other. A sentence can include words grouped meaningfully to express a statement, question, exclamation, request, command, or suggestion.
Structurally speaking, sentences are generally composed of clauses. A clause typically contains at least a subject noun phrase and a finite verb. The two main categories of clauses are independent clauses and subordinate (or dependent) clauses.
Independent clauses are full sentence patterns that can operate on their own and do not function within other sentence patterns. They contain a subject and a verb, plus any objects and/or modifiers. For example:
- I went to the movie alone.
- May studied in the library for her final exam.
Subordinate (or dependent) clauses include sentence-like patterns in terms of including subjects and verbs, but they cannot stand alone as complete sentences. They can, however, function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. For example:
- I went to the movie alone because my friends were out of town.
- After May studied in the library for her final exam, she went home.
Sentences can be classified by their structure or by their purpose.
Structural classifications for sentences include: simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and compound-complex sentences.
A simple sentence consists of a single independent clause with no subordinate clauses. For example:
- I love chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles.
- "Without love, life would be empty." This sentence contains a subject (life), a verb (would be) and two types of modifiers (without love and empty).
A compound sentence consists of multiple independent clauses with no subordinate clauses. These clauses are joined together using conjunctions, punctuation, or both. For example:
- I love chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles and I eat it all the time for breakfast.
- Together we stand, but united we fall.
A complex sentence consists of at least one independent clause and one subordinate clause. For example:
- While I love him dearly, I will get rid of my pterodactyl for the sake of the community.
- "Those who eat chocolate cake will be happy." " who eat chocolate cake" is the subordinate clause in this sentence.
A compound-complex sentence (or complex-compound sentence) consists of multiple independent clauses, at least one of which has at least one subordinate clause. For example:
- I love my pet pterodactyl, but since he's been eating neighborhood cats, I will donate him to the city zoo.
- "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." This sentence contains two independent clauses (one before and one after the comma) and each independent clause contains a subordinate clause ("what you eat" and "what you are").
English sentences can also be classified based on their purpose:
A declarative sentence, or declaration, is the most common type of sentence. It commonly makes a statement. For example:
- I have to go to work.
- I love taking long walks in the park with my dog.
An interrogative sentence, or question, is commonly used to request information. For example:
- Do I have to go to work?
- Why has the sky suddenly turned green?
An exclamatory sentence, or exclamation, is a more emphatic form of statement expressing emotion. For example:
- I have to go to work!
- Get away from me!
An imperative sentence, or command, tells someone to do something (and may be considered both imperative and exclamatory).
- Go to work.
- Get away from me!
Sentences in English can also be classified as either major sentences or minor sentences:
A major sentence is a regular sentence with a subject and a predicate. For example:
- I have a ball.
- You are a real pain and I wish you would move to Alaska.
A minor sentence is an irregular type of sentence, which does not contain a finite verb. For example:
- The more, the merrier.
Varying Sentence Lengths and Types in Prose
When writing for an academic or professional audience, choosing between simple, compound, and complex sentences and mixing them up throughout the material can help keep the reader interested. Varying the length of the sentences can also be a way to help keep the reader involved .
Reading material that uses the same types of sentences over and over can become tedious. For example:
The band marched along the street, and the director signaled for the drums to play. A red car stopped at the intersection, and the parents walked beside the band. The parents squirted water into the musicians' mouths, and the trumpet players started to play. The band marched past the intersection, and the red car proceeded down the street.
If, instead of using the same sentence type repeatedly, the writer uses several different sentence types, the material can seem to flow more easily for the reader:
As the band marched along the street, the director signaled for the drums to play. A red car stopped at the intersection. While the parents walked beside the band, they squirted water into the trumpet players' mouths. The trumpet players started to play. The band marched past the intersection, and the red car proceeded down the street.
In this varied version, the first sentence is complex, and the second one is simple. The third is again complex while the fourth is simple. The fifth sentence is compound. In this way, the choppiness and repetitiveness of the original version is alleviated.