Writing Effective Sentences Chapter 8-EOL Textbook Pages 262-277
Writing Clear Sentences • Your goal in writing should always be to communicate clearly with your reader. A clear sentence gives your reader just enough information. It does not leave out any important pieces, and it does not run together or string together too many ideas at once. Clear sentences make it easier for your reader to understand what you are saying. You can learn how to spot three enemies of clear writing: sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and stringy sentences.
Sentence Fragments What kind of sentence could you write about this picture? You might write something like this: • The high jumper flips backwards over the bar. Or • Look at how high the bar is! Or • How does he know where to jump?
Sentence Fragments These groups of words say different things, but they have something in common. Each is a complete sentence. A complete sentence is a group of words that express a complete thought. A part of each thought is expressed by the verb: flips, look, is, does know, jump. Another part is expressed by the subject: high jumper, you, she. [The you is understood in the second sentence even though it is not expressed: (You) Look at how high the bar is!]
Sentence Fragments A sentence fragment is a part of a sentence that is punctuated as if it were a complete sentence. A fragment is confusing because it does not express a complete thought. The following word groups are the example sentences-with some important words left out. Notice how unclear the word groups are when written as fragments.
Sentence Fragments • Flips backwards over the bar. [The subject is missing. Who or what flips?] • At how high the bar is. [The verb and the understood subject are missing. What about how high the bar is?] • Where to jump. [This word group has a subject and a verb, but it does not express a complete thought. What about where to jump?]
Sentence Fragments Use this simple three-part test to help you decide whether a word group is a sentence fragment or a complete sentence. • Does the group of words have a subject? • Does the word group have a verb? • Does the word group express a complete thought?
Sentence Fragments You know the word group is a complete sentence if you answer “yes” to all three questions above. If you answer “no” to a question, the word group is a sentence fragment.
Run-on Sentences A run-on sentence is actually two or more sentences run together without proper punctuation as if they were one sentence. It is often hard to tell where one idea in a run-on ends and the next one begins. Like sentence fragments, run-on sentences usually appear in your writing because you are in a hurry to get your thoughts down on paper. This mistake happens when you leave out the correct end punctuation (period, question mark, or exclamation point) or when you use a comma to separate the sentences.
Run-on Sentences There is more than one way to revise a run-on sentence. You can break the run-on into two complete sentences, or you can link the two ideas with a comma and a coordinating conjunction such as and , but, or or.
Run-on Sentence Examples • Run-on: In 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, he made his second space flight on the space shuttle Discovery in 1998, when he was 77 years old. [The sentence has been broken into two complete sentences.] • Correct: In 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, and he made his second space flight on the space shuttle Discovery in 1998, when he was 77 years old. [Two complete ideas have been linked by a comma plus and.]
Note A comma alone is not enough to link two complete ideas, you create a run-on sentence. • Run-on: Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, she was a member of a shuttle crew. • Correct: Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. She was a member of a shuttle crew.
Stringy Sentences For variety, you will sometimes want to join sentences and sentence parts with and. If you string many ideas together with and, though, you create a stringy sentence. Stringy sentences ramble on and on. They do not give the reader a chance to pause between ideas.
Stringy Sentences • Stringy: The ostrich is the largest living bird, and it stands nearly eight feet tall, and it weighs over three hundred pounds when it is fully grown, and this speedy bird can run up to forty miles an hour! • Better: The ostrich is the largest living bird. It stands nearly eight feet tall, and it weighs over three hundred pounds when it is fully grown. This speedy bird can run up to forty miles an hour!
Stringy Sentences In the revised version, only two ideas are linked by and. These ideas can be combined into one sentence because they are closely related. Notice that a comma is used before the word and. The comma is also necessary to show a slight pause between the two complete ideas.
Combining Sentences Good writers usually use some short sentences, but they don’t use them all the time. An entire paragraph of short sentences makes writing sound choppy. For example, notice how dull and choppy the following paragraph sounds. Quicksand is really just sand. The sand is wet. The sand is loose. You can sink in quicksand. It will not actually suck you down. You might get caught in quicksand. You can lie on your back. You can float. Then you can roll or wiggle. Your movements must be slow. You can get to solid ground this way.
Combining Sentences Now, see how the writer has revised the paragraph by combining some of short sentences. Notice how sentence combining has helped to eliminate some repeated words and ideas. The result is a smoother paragraph that has much more variety. Quicksand is really just wet, loose sand. You can sink in quicksand, but it will not actually suck you down. If you are caught in quicksand, you can lie on your back and float. Then you can slowly roll or wriggle to solid ground.
Combining Sentences You can combine sentences in several different ways. Sometimes you can insert a word or a group of words from one sentence into another sentence. Other times you can combine two related sentences by using a connecting word.
Inserting Words One way to combine two sentences is to pull a key word from one sentence and insert it into the other sentence. Sometimes you can just add the key word to the first sentence and drop the rest of the second sentence. Other times you will need to change the form of the key word before you can insert it.
Inserting Groups of Words Often, you can combine two related sentences by taking an entire group of words from one sentence and adding it to the other sentence. When the group of words is inserted, it adds detail to the information in the first sentence.
Inserting Groups of Words • Original: The first known baseball game was played in 1846. It was played in Hoboken, New Jersey. • Combined: The first known baseball game was played in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Inserting Groups of Words • Original: The game ended with a score of 23-1. It was played by the New York Baseball Club and the Knickerbockers. • Combined: Played by the New York Baseball Club and the Knickerbockers, the game ended with a score of 23-1.
Inserting Groups of Words • Original: The players were all amateurs. They were in the first organized baseball league. • Combined: The players in the first organized baseball league were all amateurs.
Inserting Groups of Words Sometimes you will need to put commas around the group of words you are inserting. Ask yourself whether the group of words renames or identifies a noun or pronoun in the sentence. If it does, it is an appositive phrase and generally needs a comma or commas to set off the word group from the rest of the sentence.
Inserting Groups of Words • Original: The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League had ten teams at its 1948 peak. The league was the subject of a 1992 movie. • Combined: The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the subject of a 1992 movie, had ten teams at its 1948 peak.
Inserting Groups of Words • Original: Baseball is a sport that is popular with people of all ages. It is played in countries around the world. • Combined: Baseball, a sport that is popular with people of all ages, is played in countries around the world.
Inserting Groups of Words After you combine two sentences, be sure to read your new sentence carefully. Then, ask yourself the following questions: • Is my new sentence clear? • Does it make sense? • Does it sound better than the two shorter sentences? If you answer “no” to any of the above questions, try to combine the sentences in a different way. Then, ask yourself the questions again.
Using Connecting Words Another way you can combine sentences is by using connecting words called conjunctions. Conjunctions allow you to join closely related sentences and sentence parts.
Joining Subjects and Verbs Sometimes two sentences are so closely related that they have the same subjects or verbs. If two sentences have the same subject, you can combine the by making a compound verb. If the sentences have the same verb, you can combine them by making a compound subject.
Joining Subjects and Verbs The conjunction you use is important. It tells your reader how the two subjects or verbs are related to one another. • Use and to join similar ideas. • Original: The Sun Dance is an American Indian tradition. The Spirit Dance is an American Indian tradition. • Combined: The Sun Dance and the Spirit Dance are American Indian traditions. (Compound Subject)
Joining Subjects and Verbs • Using but to join contrasting ideas. • Original: Mike will cook the main coarse. Mike will buy the dessert. • Combined: Mike will cook the main course but buy the dessert. (Compound Verb) • Using or to show a choice between ideas. • Original: Sara Tallchief may be elected president of the student council. Frances O’Connor may be elected president of the student council. • Combined: Sara Tallchief or Frances O’Connor may be elected president of the student council. (Compound Subject)
Joining Sentences Sometimes you may want to combine two related sentences that express equally important ideas. You can connect the two sentences by using a comma and and, but, or or. The result is a compound sentence. • Original: A group of frogs is called an army. A group of turtles is called a bale. • Combined: A group of frogs is called an army, and a group of turtles is called a bale.
Joining Sentences Other times you may want to combine two sentences that are related in a special way. One sentence helps explain the other sentence by telling who, what, where, when, why, or how. A good way to combine these sentences is to add a connecting word that shows the special relationship. In this kind of sentence combining, you create a complex sentence.
Joining Sentences • Original: The drawbridge was pulled up. The enemy knights could not get into the castle. • Combined: When the drawbridge was pulled up, the enemy knights could not get into the castle. • Original: Their leader had not counted on the princess. The princess knew how to operate the drawbridge. • Combined: Their leader had not counted on the princess, who knew how to operate the drawbridge.
Joining Sentences Some connecting words that you can use to create complex sentences are given below. The word that you choose will depend on what you want you sentence to say.