How to write more interesting sentences of
varied length and structure
› by avoiding some words and constructions
› by using pronouns correctly in good sentences
by using verbals
by using correct punctuation well
comma use in restrictive/non-restrictive phrases
using the dash effectively
Which works better?
It was because she was often absent and
rarely did her homework that she failed.
She failed because she was often absent
and rarely did her homework.
There or this followed by a linking verb. Avoid
this construction in a paper. There is a weak
pronoun. There is not the subject – something
else is. Find it, replace it, and be done with it.
e.g. --There is a place I like to go to get gelato
when I am in Rome.
Both of these sentences are more effective:
--When I am in Rome, I like to get gelato at
--Guiseppi’s in Rome has the very best gelato
in the city.
The word not leads to wordiness. The
English vocabulary is rich with negative
words. Beware the cheapening of your
words by using not.
Not happy – unhappy, distressed, Be
exact. Not on time – late, tardy…
Not healthy – sick, ill, infirm…
Not allowed – refused
Not up for it – ill prepared, unprepared
Not to be trifled with – dangerous
Not able – unable
The reason is because… can always be replaced by because or some other
suitable word. Beware of all the forms.
The reason I write is because I need money. – I write because I need money. (or I
write to eat.)
John said the reason he is late is because his car doesn’t work well. – John is late
because his car is unreliable. (or An unreliable car made John tardy).
The fact that… must always be revised –often omitted.
The fact that I’m here shows that I love the opera. – My presence shows my love
for the opera.
It’s just the fact that I’m fed up with talking about taxes. – I hate talking about
I’d like to call your attention to the fact that I still haven’t been paid for my work.
Let me remind you that I still haven’t been paid for my work.
1. We use reflexive pronouns when the subject
and object in a sentence are the same, as
in the following examples.
The woman saw herself in the
mirror and smiled.
If you don't know him, you should introduce
2. In imperative sentences with reflexive
Yourself when the subject is singular.
Don`t push yourself so hard, Tom.
Yourselves when the subject is plural.
Don`t push yourselves so hard, guys.
3. Reflexive pronouns are also used to stress or
emphasize a noun, in which case they are
most often placed immediately after the
noun, as in the following example
Money itself can't buy happiness.
The company president himself made the
4. The use of "by + reflexive pronoun"
signifies that the performer of the action
had no help, as in this example
She made the dress by herself.
However, "be + reflexive pronoun"
means to act or behave in an unusual
Just be yourself at your interview.
Use for two people
Use for more than
Examples of usage:
•Tom and Sara met each other at work.
•We all told one another about our jobs.
•Fred and Jane blamed each other
Fred and Jane blamed themselves.
With a learning partner, choose the right
1. All of the members of the team have a
lot of respect for (each other or one
2. Mary and John love (each other or
one another)so much.
3. So many students arguing with (each
other or one another) will never solve
A verbal is a word formed
from a verb but
functioning as a different
part of speech. We can
use verbals to improve
and clarify our writing.
use verbals to join sentences
use verbals to clarify
Prince Valiant was dejected.
He rode through the crowd with his head down.
The Prince rode to the castle.
A present participle is an –ing form of a verb.
Riding dejectedly through the crowd, Prince Valiant
made his way to the castle.
Notice this says the same as the three sentences above,
but the new sentence is much more effective. It says
just what we want to say, but uses fewer, more
interesting words to do so.
Junie was not very excited about school.
There weren’t very many things she cared
about at school.
There was one thing she wanted to learn
and that was to read.
Reading was one of the few things Junie
wanted to learn at school.
are used with nonessential elements in writing to
ESSENTIAL INFORMATION is included in the
sentence without commas:
The boy in the red hat is my brother.
NON-ESSENTIAL INFORMATION requires commas:
That boy, the one in the red hat, is my brother.
Think of the commas surrounding non-essential
information like handles—you can pick these
phrases up and remove them from the sentence
without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Where do the commas go?
I do not understand and I never will how to
ride a motorcycle.
Many people wonder and will always
wonder how Stonehenge was constructed.
You can recognize sentence modifiers
easily because they are phrases and
clauses that add something to the entire
sentence, but do not function as a
complete sentence by themselves.
As I said…
If I could…
here’s how to decide!
--locate the main subject and verb
--If the phrase comes before the main SUBJECT and VERB, use a
comma. Modifiers do not require a comma if they come after the
main subject and verb.
Because I love to read, I will volunteer at
I will volunteer at the library because I love
Use commas to set off parenthetical
• A parenthetical expression is a side remark
that adds information. By the way, for
example, however, I think, and to tell the
truth are all common parenthetical
› Of course, I believe that your excuse is real.
› To tell you the truth, I have never told a lie in my life.
› I would, for example, always tell my parents the truth.
The platypus is the oddest mammal. It has a
duckbill instead of a nose. It has sensors
inside its duckbill. Those sensors allow it to
forage and hunt for food. The platypus has
spurs in its two hind legs. The male platypus
has poison in the spurs. Female platypus
lays eggs. The female platypus lactates
through her skin to feed her young.
Platypuses are ornery, territorial mammals.
› Notice anything?
All of the sentences are structured in the exact
same way: Subject, Verb, Object. Subject, Verb,
There is no rise or fall in the tension of the
language: the sentences don’t urge the reader
forward. They just seem to sit there on the page.
The paragraph drags on and on.
Although the common active voice sentence
structure is Subject Verb Object, a writer can use
phrases and clauses to create variety and
interest in their active writing.
Adjective clause: modifies a noun or
› Usually introduced by a relative pronoun:
who / whom / that / which / whoever /
The bear who was looking out his window began to
wonder about life in the wild.
That mustache, which is scraggly at best, looks like
an eyebrow from here.
Adverbial clause: any clause that modifies
a verb by expressing the cause,
comparison, condition, manner, result or
time of the verb.
› Here are some signal words or phrases: as / as if /
rather than / although / even if / except that / if
only / if / in case / where / wherever / so / after /
unless / as soon as / before / since / until / till /
whenever / still
As soon as your brother returns we can leave.
In case there is an emergency, I have left you my cell
The active voice pattern is highlighted in
Infinitive phrases can be adjectival and
› Adjectival: Those mice are working together to hijack this
› Adverbial: Brian was doomed to look awkward for two more
weeks, or until his hair grows back.
Prepositional phrases can be adjectival and
› Adjectival: Those girls in the next room are too loud.
› Adverbial: The handsome cab rode past in a flash of white.
Notice how the italicized phrases—working as
adjectives and adverbs—give the sentences
extra information or action?
The platypus is the oddest mammal.
It has a duckbill instead of a nose. It
has sensors inside its duckbill. Those
sensors allow it to forage and hunt for
food. The platypus has spurs in its two
hind legs. The male platypus has
poison in the spurs. Female platypus
lays eggs. The female platypus
lactates through her skin to feed her
young. Platypuses are ornery,
The platypus is the oddest
animal. Even though it lays
eggs it is still considered a
mammal because it lactates
through its skin to feed its
young. Rather than a nose, it
has a duckbill made of
cartilage. Inside the duckbill is
a cluster of sensors that allow
the platypus to forage and
hunt for food. Although both
males and females have spurs
on their hind legs, only the
spurs on the male platypuses
have poison inside. Ornery and
territorial, male platypuses will
fend off any intruders.
With a few inversions—such as in the final
sentence—and a few adjectives and
adverbs, the same active voice paragraph
comes alive. Suddenly the reader can see
just how odd the platypus is to the writer!
› The writer has set up a pattern of contrasting the
normal characteristics of a mammal with those
of a platypus:
―instead of a nose it has a duckbill‖
―instead of a live birth, it lays eggs‖
Sandra loves to sing. She sings any time she
can. She is not a very good singer. Sandra
loves to dance. Sandra goes to school
across town. Sandra loves nature. She
loves to walk through the park on her way
to school. Sandra dances and sings on her
way to school.