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Sentence Style

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  • 1. Sentence Style “ Let us guess that whenever we read a sentence and like it, we unconsciously store it away in our model-chamber; and it goes, with the myriad of its fellows, to the building, brick by brick, of the eventual edifice which we call our style.” -- Mark Twain
  • 2. Why is sentence style important?
    • Good prose must be lively, engaging, and interesting. Sentences full of vague words produce blurry, boring prose and drowsy readers. Bored readers are not born but made.
    • Fuzzy sentences are often the result of fuzzy thinking. Ask yourself, “Are my sentences vague or confusing because I’m really not sure what my point is or where it’s going?”
    • Each of your sentences should give readers enough clear details for them to “see” the picture you are creating.
  • 3. Parallelism
    • Repeated sentence elements such as verbs, nouns, pronouns, and phrases, often appear in parallel form to emphasize meaning and to promote sentence fluency.
      • Faulty Parallelism : Boa constrictors like to lie in the sun, to hang from limbs, and swallowing small animals.
      • Revised : Boa constrictors like to lie in the sun, to hang from limbs, and to swallow small animals.
  • 4. Parallelism
    • Balance parallel ideas in a series.
    • Balance parallel ideas presented as pairs.
    • Repeat function words to clarify parallels.
      • Faulty Parallelism : My Aunt Clara swears she has seen Elvis snacking at the deli, browsing at the supermarket, munching at the pizza parlor, and in the cookbook section of a local bookstore.
      • How would you revise this sentence?
  • 5. Needed Words
    • Add words needed to complete compound structures.
      • Incorrect : Mayor Davis never has and never will accept a bribe from anyone.
      • Correct : Mayor Davis never has accepted and never will accept a bribe from anyone.
  • 6. Needed Words
    • Add the word that if there is any danger of misreading without it.
    • Confusing : Looking out the family room window, Sarah saw her favorite tree, which she had climbed so often as a child, was gone.
    • Revised : Looking out the family room window, Sarah saw that her favorite tree, which she had climbed so often as a child, was gone.
  • 7. Needed Words
    • Add words needed to make comparisons logical and complete.
      • Confusing : The forests of North America are much more extensive than Europe.
      • Revised : The forests of North America are much more extensive than those of Europe.
  • 8. Needed Words
    • Add the articles a , an , and the where necessary for grammatical completeness.
      • Confusing: Blood can be drawn only by doctor or by authorized person who has been trained in procedure.
      • Revised: Blood can be drawn only by a doctor or by an authorized person who has been trained in the procedure.
  • 9. Problems with Modifiers
    • A modifying—or descriptive—phrase must have a logical relationship to some specific words in the sentence.
    • When those words are omitted, the phrase “ dangles ” without anything to modify. Dangling modifiers frequently occur at the beginnings of sentences and often can be corrected by adding the proper subjects to the main clauses.
    • Misplaced Modifiers occur when modifying words, phrases, or clauses are not placed near the word they describe. This often results in confusion or unintentional humor.
  • 10. Problems with Modifiers
    • Dangling Modifier : Not knowing how to swim, buying scuba gear was foolish.
    • Revised : Not knowing how to swim, Jack and Jill decided that buying scuba gear was foolish.
  • 11. Problems with Modifiers
    • Misplaced Modifier : Teddy swatted the fly still dressed in his pajamas.
    • Revised : Teddy, still dressed in his pajamas, swatted the fly.
  • 12. Shifts
    • Be consistent in your use of pronouns; don’t shift from one person to another. Make the point of view consistent.
      • Incorrect : One shouldn’t eat pudding with your fingers.
      • Correct : One shouldn’t eat pudding with his or her fingers.
  • 13. Shifts
    • Maintain consistent verb tenses. Consistent verb tenses clearly establish the time of the actions being described. When a passage begins in one tense and then shifts without warning and for no reason to another, readers are distracted and confused.
    • Incorrect : Big Joe saw the police car coming up behind, so he turns into the next alley.
    • Correct : Big Joe saw the police car coming up behind, so he turned into the next alley.
  • 14. Mixed Constructions
    • Mixed constructions is a catchall term that applies to a variety of sentence construction errors. Usually, the term refers to a sentence in which the writer begins with one kind of structure and then shifts to another in mid-sentence.
      • Untangle the grammatical structure
      • Straighten out the logical connections
      • Avoid is when , is where , and reason…is because constructions
  • 15. Mixed Constructions
      • Confusing : The novel is too confusing for what the author meant.
      • Revised : The novel is too confusing for me to understand what the author meant.
  • 16. Mixed Constructions
    • Confusing: Children with messages from their parents will be stapled to the bulletin board.
    • Revised : To find messages from their parents, children should look at the bulletin board.
  • 17. Mixed Constructions
    • Confusing: Anorexia nervosa is where people, believing they are too fat, diet to the point of starvation.
    • Revised : Anorexia nervosa is a disorder suffered by people who, believing they are too fat, diet to the point of starvation.
    • Confusing : Love is when you start rehearsing dinner-date conversation before breakfast.
    • Revised: If you start rehearsing dinner-date conversation before breakfast, then you’re in love.
  • 18. Sentence Emphasis
    • Some words and phrases in your sentences are more important than others and therefore need more emphasis. Three ways to vary emphasis are:
      • Word Order
      • Coordination
      • Subordination
  • 19. Sentence Emphasis: Word Order
    • The arrangement of words in a sentence can determine which ideas receive the most emphasis. To stress a word or phrase, place it at the end of the sentence or at the beginning of the sentence:
    • Murder was Colonel Mustard’s only solution .
    • Colonel Mustard knew only one solution : Murder .
  • 20. Sentence Emphasis: Coordination
    • When you want to stress two closely related ideas equally, coordinate them. In coordination, you join two sentences with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS).
    • Choppy : The most popular girl’s name today is Emily. The most popular boy’s name today is Jacob.
    • Coordinated : The most popular girl’s name today is Emily , and the most popular boy’s name is Jacob.
  • 21. Sentence Emphasis: Subordination
    • Some sentences contain one main statement and one or more less emphasized elements; the less important ideas are subordinate to, or are dependent upon, the sentence’s main idea. Subordinating conjunctions introduce dependent clauses.
    • Without Subordination : Superman stopped changing his clothes. He realized the phone booth was made of glass.
    • With Subordination : When he realized the phone booth was made of glass, Superman stopped changing his clothes.
  • 22. Sentence Emphasis: Combining Choppy Sentences
    • Short sentences demand attention, so you should use them primarily for emphasis. Too many short sentences, one after the other, make for a choppy style.
    • Choppy : I have fond memories of Zilker Park. My husband and I met there.
    • Revised : I have fond memories of Zilker Park because my husband and I met there.
  • 23. Sentence Emphasis: Combining Choppy Sentences
    • Below, a description of a popular movie has been chopped into simple sentences and then combined into one complex sentence.
    • Choppy [from Psycho (1960)] :
      • Norman Bates manages a motel.
      • It is remote.
      • It is dangerous.
      • Norman has a mother
      • She seems overly fond of knives
      • He tries to protect his mom.
    • Revised : In a remote and dangerous motel, manager Norman Bates tries to protect his mother, who seems overly fond of knives.
  • 24. Sentence Variety
    • The only torture worse than listening to someone’s nails scraping across a blackboard is being forced to read a paragraph (or essay) full of identically constructed sentences.
    • Example (subject + predicate pattern):
    • Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Soccer exists in almost every country. Soccer players are sometimes more famous than movie stars. Soccer teams compete every few years for the World Soccer Cup. Soccer fans often riot if their team loses. Soccer is the only game in the world that makes people crazy.
  • 25. Sentence Variety
    • Use a variety of sentence structures. Try to achieve a mix of sentence types (simple, compound, complex, etc.)
    • Use a variety of sentence beginnings. Begin your sentences with adverbial modifiers, adjectives, participial phrases.
    • Try inverting sentences occasionally.
  • 26. Sentence Variety
    • Adverbial modifier : Eventually , a few drops of sap began to trickly from the tree into a pail.
    • Adjectives : Dejected and withdrawn , Edward nearly gave up his search for a job.
    • Participial Phrase : Anticipating a peaceful evening, Roberto and I sat cross-legged at the campfire to brew a cup of coffee and plan the rest of our hike.
  • 27. Sentence Variety
    • Inverted : Set at the top two corners of the stage were huge lavender hearts outlined in bright, white lights.
    • Usual Order : Huge lavender hearts outlined in bright, white lights were set at the top two corners of the stage.