When writers speak about sentence structure they refer to the physical nature of a sentence and how the elements of that sentence are presented.  Just like with word choice, writers should strive to vary their sentence structure to create rhythmic prose and keep their reader interested.  Sentences that require a variation often repeat subjects, lengths, or types.

One of the easiest ways to spot text that requires variety is by noting how each sentence opens. Writers can often overuse the same word, like an author’s name, or a subject, like pronouns to refer to an author, when beginning sentences. This lack of subject variety can be distracting to a reader.

One of the trickiest patterns to spot is that of repetitive sentence type. Just like subject and length, overusing a sentence type can hinder a reader’s engagement with a text. There are four types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Each sentence is defined by the use of independent and dependent clauses, conjunctions, and subordinators.

  • Simple sentences: A simple sentence is an independent clause with no conjunction or dependent clause.
  • Compound sentences: A compound sentence is two independent clauses joined by a conjunction (e.g., and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so).
  • Complex sentences: A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. The clauses in a complex sentence are combined with conjunctions and subordinators, terms that help the dependent clauses relate to the independent clause. Subordinators can refer to the subject (who, which), the sequence/time (since, while), or the causal elements (because, if) of the independent clause.
  • Compound-complex sentences: A compound-complex sentence contains multiple independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. These sentences will contain both conjunctions and subordinators.

While editing your work, ask yourself the following questions about your sentence structure –

  • Are the sentences long or short? Why do they change?
  • Do they contain many subordinate clauses, or are they often fragments?
  • Are there any digressions or interruptions?
  • Is the word-order straightforward or unconventionally crafted?

Elements of WritingWriting Craft

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