Building Better Sentences Help (page 3)
Building Balanced Sentences
At this point, you have reviewed the essentials of grammar and you can identify parts of speech and their functions. You also recognize common errors in grammar. Now you are ready to make sure the words you use function correctly in sentences.
For example, you know how to recognize describing words and phrases. However, do you know how to use them to create balanced sentences?
Balanced sentences are ones in which related descriptions, actions, or ideas are written in the same form. Grammarians call this parallel construction. There is power in parallel construction. In fact, some very famous examples of parallel construction exist in history:
- Julius Caesar: I came; I saw; I conquered.
How does this sentence exemplify parallel construction? There are three verbs—came, saw, and conquered—all expressed in the past tense and all preceded by I.
- Abraham Lincoln: But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground.
Again we read three verbs, dedicate, consecrate, and hallow, all in the present tense and all preceded by we cannot.
- Sir Winston Churchill: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.
In Churchill's sentence, the parallel is accomplished by using four words, all the same part of speech, that is, nouns.
- John F. Kennedy: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
This is actually a quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero, a first-century Roman statesman. President Kennedy considered it memorable enough to use in his 1961 inaugural address. In it, the repetition of ask not what and can do provide a parallel structure for the sentence. The two halves of the sentence start with the command form of the verb, ask.
Examples of not-so-famous unbalanced sentences follow. Where did the writer go wrong? What part of speech or related idea was not carried forward in a consistent way?
- Incorrect: Cari is attractive and has good sense.
If you say this sentence aloud, you will probably agree that it sounds unbalanced. Why? If you analyze the sentence, you see that Cari is the subject and is is the linking verb. You recall that a linking verb brings together or links the subject to a descriptive word or a word that stands for the subject. In this sentence, Cari is being described. What two elements describe her? Attractive and has good sense are the elements. How can you change the second element, has good sense, to match the first, attractive? Attractive is an adjective describing Cari. Convert has good sense into an adjective, a single word, to match attractive. This is the result:
- Correct: Cari is attractive and sensible.
Now the sentence is balanced.
- Try this sentence:
- Incorrect: Chess is mentally challenging and makes me tired.
The sentence describes chess. What two phrases follow the linking verb is and describe chess? They are mentally challenging and makes me tired. The second phrase contains a verb, makes. The first descriptive phrase does not contain a verb. Immediately, you know that the description is unbalanced. With what simple change can you balance this sentence? Take a clue from the -ing ending on challenging. Place an -ing ending on one word of the second phrase—tiring—and you can eliminate the words makes me. You've created a balanced sentence:
- Chess is mentally challenging and tiring.
You can see that a balanced sentence tends to eliminate unnecessary words, and that's a good thing. In the sentence about chess, the correction eliminated the awkward phrase, makes me.
- How can you tighten and balance the following sentence?
- Incorrect: The deer we saw was tall, alert, and he was obviously hungry.
Because it is unbalanced, this sentence actually carries an extra sentence within it. The deer is described in the sentence. The linking verb was is followed by the adjectives tall and alert but then ends, not with another adjective, with a complete thought—he was obviously hungry. How can you correct the sentence?
- Correct: The deer we saw was tall, alert, and obviously hungry.
The complete thought was changed to a simple adjective, hungry. The adverb, obviously, adds more meaning by describing hungry.
Creating Balance With Parallel Verb Forms
Look at a different kind of balancing error:
- Incorrect: For exercise, I like dancing and to in-line skate.
In this sentence there is an action verb, like, followed by words that express what exercises this person likes. Are they expressed in the same form? No, the first, dancing, ends in -ing while the second, in-line skate, is introduced by to. Choose either form but never both:
- Correct: I like to dance and to in-line skate.
- Correct: I like dancing and in-line skating.
- How would you correct the following sentence?
- Incorrect: I gave my old car to my nephew, my water skis to my father, and my tennis racket I gave away to a charity.
At the beginning of the sentence, you see two parallel constructions: my old car to my nephew and my water skis to my father. How can you change the wording of the last gift—the tennis racket—to the same form? Just revert to the form already used: car to my nephew, skis to my father, and tennis racket to a charity.
- Correct: I gave my old car to my nephew, my water skis to my father, and my tennis racket to a charity.
- Often, balancing errors occur when verbs are expressed in different forms:
- Incorrect: I enjoy writing poetry, reading biographies, and stamp collection is a favorite of mine.
There are three actions in the sentence, writing, reading, and collecting. They need to be expressed in the same way. If you start with writing, an -ing ending verb, continue with that form. Notice that collection is a noun, but, as you know, English words can do more than one job. In this case, change the noun, collection, into an action word:
- Correct: I enjoy writing poetry, reading biographies, and collecting stamps.
Creating Balance With Correlative Conjunctions
Another form of balancing a sentence involves correlative conjunctions.
Examples are either/or, neither/nor, both/and, not only/but also. These conjunction pairs need to be used correctly so that sentences are balanced:
- Incorrect: Nadia is not only a fine doctor but an accomplished artist also.
In this sentence, Nadia is two things—a fine doctor and an accomplished artist. Two phrases link doctor to artist. What are they? They are not only and but. However, you need to add the word also, which just happens to be misplaced. The corrected sentence follows:
- Correct: Nadia is not only a fine doctor but also an accomplished artist.
In the same way that not only comes before a fine doctor, but also must be placed before an accomplished artist.
Creating Well-Connected Sentences
Writers add meaning and emphasis to sentences by using connecting words. Now you will see how you use conjunctions to connect sentences or parts of sentences to each other. The conjunction you choose depends upon the relationship of the parts to each other.
For example, how would you combine these two equally important statements to make one stronger sentence?
- Our children are very good at sports. We've decided to send them to a sports day camp this summer.
First look at this list of coordinating conjunctions:
A simple way to coordinate or connect these two equal thoughts would be to use the word so:
- Our children are unusually good at sports, so we've decided to send them to a sports day camp this summer.
Notice that a comma is inserted before so.
- Using the word therefore can make an even stronger connection. However, with any of the longer conjunctions, a semicolon precedes the word and a comma follows it:
- Our children are unusually good at sports; therefore, we've decided to send them to a sports day camp this summer.
Later you will learn much more about the role of punctuation in combining sentences. Now look for a connection between the following two thoughts:
- Eden gave us too many alternatives. It confused us.
If you simply add the word and, you successfully bring the two thoughts together.
- Eden gave us too many alternatives, and it confused us.
NOTE: Whenever you've written a sentence that begins with it (e.g., It confused us.), look again. That sentence can undoubtedly join the previous one.
- One more example:
- I paid for the car. Jan does nothing but complain about it.
Choose a conjunction that shows a contrast between the generosity of the person in the first sentence and the lack of appreciation of the person in the second sentence.
- I paid for the car, yet Jan does nothing but complain about it.
Using Conjunctions to Connect Ideas That Are Not Equal
Obviously, good writers use the appropriate words to bring ideas together. However, the writer also has to make decisions about the relative importance of the ideas in a sentence. For example, in the following sentence, which of the two clauses seems to be the less important one?
- If we train diligently, our team can win the title.
You might begin by reading the first clause (all of the words before the comma). Do you think that clause can stand alone as a sentence? The answer, of course, is no. The word If makes the clause dependent, that is, dependent upon the rest of the sentence to complete the thought.
- If we train diligently…
You read about such a clause in Chapter 1; it is a fragment. After reading it, you want to ask, "Then what?" The answer to the question is in the rest of the sentence (after the comma), rightfully named the independent clause. Our team can win the title is independent because it can stand alone as a sentence. The writer added the if clause to stress one idea over another.
- Now look for a connection between the following two thoughts:
- Although he likes to walk in the woods and photograph flowers, David loves to rest in an open field.
What did the writer want to emphasize in this sentence? The word although signals the dependent clause, the part of the sentence that cannot stand alone. It tells you that the writer wanted to emphasize the second (or independent) half of the sentence. The first part of the sentence is subordinated to the second half by the word although.
- Look at another example:
- Although you have driven for many more years than I have, I have experience in cross-country driving.
What is this sentence stressing, the years of driving or the cross-country driving experience? The latter is the stressed idea and the independent clause. How do you know? The clause can stand alone. The clause starting with although would be a fragment if it stood alone. What one word makes it a dependent clause? The word although does that.
To connect ideas that are not equal, choose from the following list of conjunctions:
Using Conjunctive Adverbs to Show Relationship of Ideas
Another kind of sentence-building conjunction shows a particular relationship between independent clauses. Grammarians call these conjunctive adverbs. Conjunctive adverbs are adverbs that act as a transition between complete ideas. They normally show comparison, contrast, cause-effect, sequence, or other relationships. They usually occur between independent clauses or sentences. Because they are transition words, conjunctive adverbs can occur at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of either the second of the two clauses in a compound sentence or in the second of two related sentences. For example:
- You haven't shown any interest in the project; therefore, I will lead it. (Therefore = the logical conclusion.)
Notice that the conjunction therefore is preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma.
- Look at more examples:
- My nephew is not a very good Ping-Pong player; nevertheless, he loves the game. (Nevertheless = a not-so-logical conclusion)
- We were experiencing the hottest day of the year; consequently, we kept the children in the baby pool for as long as possible. (Consequently = as a direct result.)
Following is a more complete list of conjunctions that are used to connect and show the relationship between two independent clauses. Conjunctive adverbs express time, contrast, result, condition, and addition. The list organizes the conjunctions according to these categories.
- Conjunctive Adverbs That Express Time
then meanwhile at one moment… at the next
afterward later sometimes… sometimes
henceforth soon now… then
- Conjunctive Adverbs That Express Addition
likewise moreover in addition
furthermore besides partly… partly
then too also for one thing… for another (thing)
- Conjunctive Adverbs That Express Contrast
however nevertheless still
on the contrary instead rather
exactly the opposite on (the) one hand… on the other hand
- Conjunctive Adverbs That Express Result
consequently hence then therefore
thus accordingly as a result
- Conjunctive Adverb That Expresses Condition
otherwise (= if not)
Trimming Unnecessary Words from Sentences
Many of the sentences that we write groan under the weight of unnecessary words:
- Wordy: We were searching for a painter who had experience.
- Corrected: We were searching for an experienced painter.
The second sentence represents a very small, but important, change. The correction eliminates a clause, who had experience, and replaces it with one word—an adjective, experienced. Let's look at another example:
- Wordy: Record these names in a place to which all of us have access.
- Corrected: Record these names in a place accessible to all of us.
- Corrected: Record these names in an accessible place.
- A common error is the use of my reason for… was that:
- My reason for shopping on Thursday was that I knew the vegetables would be fresh.
How much simpler would it be to say, I shopped on Thursday because I knew the vegetables would be fresh.
- Repetition of ideas is another common error:
- Wordy: Here is a picture of the new Mac desktop that they just introduced.
- Corrected: Here is a picture of the newly introduced Mac desktop.
- Wordy: George Washington, he was most notably painted by Gilbert Stuart
- Corrected: George Washington was most notably painted by Gilbert Stuart.
One last but very important rule: Substitute strong verbs for boring noun phrases.
- Wordy: If you have an objection to the menu, please let me know.
- Corrected: If you object to the menu, please let me know.
- Wordy: Please make a recommendation for chairperson.
- Corrected: Please recommend a chairperson.
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- First Grade Sight Words List
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Definitions of Social Studies
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Curriculum Definition
- Theories of Learning
- Child Development Theories
- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
- Netiquette: Rules of Behavior on the Internet