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Sentence Variety

sentence (noun): a group of words that expresses a thought and is complete in itself (starting with a capital letter and ending with a full stop or question/exclamation mark)
variety (noun): the quality of being different; not having uniformity or sameness

Do you read your sentences out loud after you write them? It is a good idea to do this. Writing that reads easily and sounds conversational is easier to understand. When we talk, we vary the length of our sentences. Some of our sentences are long and exciting and seem to go on forever until it is time for us to finally stop and take a breath. Some are short and sweet. A wise English poet once said, "Variety is the spice of life." Remember this advice as you write your stories, essays and letters.

How to add Sentence Variety

There are a number of ways to add variety to your writing. Imagine yourself cutting up a sentence into individual words and placing them in a paper bag. Now shake it up! Did you do a little dance? Great. Now lay out your sentence and experiment. Can you make two sentences out of one? Can you put your sentence back to front? Try turning your sentence into a question. Or, if you think your sentence is too short, you may want to add another sentence to it. If you have a really important point, perhaps a famous person has said something similar. In other words, there may be a quote you can use to strengthen your writing.

Sentence Types

Before we look at sentence variety, let's review the 4 main types of simple sentences. Simple sentences contain one clause.:
  1. Declarative sentence (most common): The sky is blue.
  2. Interrogative sentence: Why is the sky blue?
  3. Exclamatory sentence: The sky is blue now! (It was black just a minute ago.)
  4. Imperative sentence: Don't go outside! (It's pouring rain.)

More advanced types of sentences are "compound" (combining two sentences with a conjunction) and "complex" (using at least one dependent clause and one independent clause). To create these sentences you need to know how to use conjunctions, adverbial phrases, prespositional phrases, conditionals and noun phrases.

Simple sentences: The boy wanted to go outside. He had to eat his pizza first.
Compound: The boy wanted to go outside but he had to eat his pizza first.
Complex: Although the boy wanted to go outside, he had to eat his pizza first.

Sentence Patterns

The most common sentence pattern that writers use is subject-verb-object (SVO). This is how beginners write. For example:

  • The boy ate pizza.
  • I play soccer.
  • Homework is boring.

There are many ways to rewrite SVO sentences. Let's play with this sentence:

  • The boy ate pizza.
  1. Turn it into a question:
    Do you know what the boy ate? Pizza.
  2. Turn it into a passive sentence:
    The pizza was devoured by the boy. (You could use "eaten" but here "devoured" gives a better reason for placing the pizza first.)
  3. Turn it into an exclamatory sentence:
    The boy ate pizza again!
  4. Combine it with your next sentence:
    The boy wolfed down the pizza and then ran outside to play.
  5. Use a transitional phrase:
    Even though the boy ate the pizza, you could tell that he wanted to be outside playing.
  6. Start with a participle:
    Eating the pizza, the boy watched his friends playing outside.
  7. Place modifiers in different places:
    The pizza, which was a huge pepperoni slice, was devoured by the boy.
    Wolfing down his pizza, the boy barely noticed the pepperoni on it.
    The boy ate the large pepperoni pizza as quickly as possible.
    Although he wanted to keep playing, the boy rushed in and wolfed down his pizza lunch.
    As fast as he could, the boy ate the pizza.

Sentence Length

Avoid using sentences that are all the same length. Short sentences are powerful. Combine short sentences with long sentences to make your writing flow more naturally. Your most important sentences should be clear and concise. Keep them short. Descriptive sentences can have more length, but you should read them out loud to make sure that they flow naturally.

Example of a paragraph with poor sentence length:
The boy's mother called him inside for dinner. The boy ate his pizza. He was very hungry. He didn't want to eat, though. He wanted to play outside with his friends.

Example fix: The boy's mother called him inside for dinner. It was pizza. Even though the boy was hungry and pizza was his favourite meal, he wanted to stay outside and play. He wolfed the pizza down and ran back outside.

Note: Occasionally writers start three or more sentences in a row with the same word. This is a stylistic trick used for emphasis, for example:
  • It was hot. It was humid. It was the last day of summer.

Sentence Variety: Writing Challenge:

How many ways can you rewrite, expand, reorder, reword these ten boring sentences?
  1. The sky is blue.
    Example:
    Blue skies like these make my day.
    There isn't a cloud in the sky.
    It's a clear day.
    You won't get a finer day than today.
    The sky is as blue as the sea.
    Have you ever seen such a blue sky?
    What a fine day!
  2. I am sick.
  3. I have school tomorrow.
  4. My room is small.
  5. Andrea is busy.
  6. There's nothing to do.
  7. It's cold in this house.
  8. I don't want to be late.
  9. I'm hungry.
  10. It's Wednesday.

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