In my FIFTH post on Essential Strategies For Revising Problems In Grammar And Standard Usage, my focus is on PROBLEMS OF READABILITY with special interest on:
- Sentence Variety
- Different Ways To Begin Sentences
- Stringy Sentences
- Overuse Of Passive Voice
- Sentence Variety
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Varying the length and structure of your sentences will help you to hold your readers’ attention.
Adding sentence variety to prose can give it life and rhythm. Too many sentences with the same structure and length can grow monotonous for readers. Varying sentence style and structure can also reduce repetition and add emphasis. Long sentences work well for incorporating a lot of information, and short sentences can often maximize crucial points. These general tips may help add variety to similar sentences.
Vary The Rhythm By Alternating Short And Long Sentences
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Avoid a series of monotonous sentence openers or a series of sentences that overuse any one particular sentence structure. Vary the sentence openers in your writing.
Several sentences of the same length can make for bland writing. To enliven paragraphs, write sentences of different lengths. This will also allow for effective emphasis.
Example: The Winslow family visited Canada and Alaska last summer to find some native American art. In Anchorage stores they found some excellent examples of soapstone carvings. But they couldn’t find a dealer selling any of the woven wall hangings they wanted. They were very disappointed when they left Anchorage empty-handed.
Revision: The Winslow family visited Canada and Alaska last summer to find some native American art, such as soapstone carvings and wall hangings. Anchorage stores had many soapstone items available. Still, they were disappointed to learn that wall hangings, which they had especially wanted, were difficult to find. Sadly, they left empty-handed.
Vary sentence openings
If too many sentences start with the same word, especially The, It, This, or I, prose can grow tedious for readers, so changing opening words and phrases can be refreshing.
Below are alternative openings for a fairly standard sentence. Notice that different beginnings can alter not only the structure but also the emphasis of the sentence. They may also require rephrasing in sentences before or after this one, meaning that one change could lead to an abundance of sentence variety.
- The biggest coincidence that day happened when David and I ended up sitting next to each other at the Super Bowl.
- Possible Revisions:
- Coincidentally, David and I ended up sitting right next to each other at the Super Bowl.
- In an amazing coincidence, David and I ended up sitting next to each other at the Super Bowl.
- Sitting next to David at the Super Bowl was a tremendous coincidence.
- But the biggest coincidence that day happened when David and I ended up sitting next to each other at the Super Bowl.
Different Ways To Begin Sentences
With an adverb – Adverbs are used to describe verbs; many of them end in –ly.
- Nervously, I crept into the kitchen.
- Reluctantly, he went out for shopping.
- Daringly, he jumped over the fence.
With an adjective – Adjectives are used to describe nouns.
- Inky black dust covered everything in that abandoned old house.
With a preposition/(Phrase) – Prepositions are words that tell you where the noun in the sentence is e.g. on, under, behind, next to etc.
- Behind the curtain was a giant, brown spider waiting to catch its prey in a giant silver web.
- In the middle of the sea, there was an island.
- Over the bridge stood the three Billy Goats Gruff.
With a short statement – Sometimes you can break the rules and add in a non-sentence for effect. Be careful not to over use this technique.
- Crash! The sound of glass shattering made me jump.
Use one word
- Afraid, he closed his eyes.
- Elated, Jane punched the air.
- Worried, Sam turned to his parents for help.
With an –ing verb: Verbs that end in –ing can be an effective way to open a sentence.
- Walking down the hallway, I noticed how dusty and dirty everything was in the house.
- Waiting for her food to cook, Megan played on her Playstation.
- Screaming as loud as possible, Sam took a leap out of the plane.
Use an ‘ed’ clause
- Panicked, he sprinted out of the classroom.
- Drenched, he went to dry his clothes under the hand dryer.
- Inspired by the book she just read, she decided to write a story of her own.
Use a connective
- Finally the aeroplane landed on the wet, slippery ground.
- Although he hit it with all his might, the ball did not budge.
- While John was watching the TV, the phone rang.
- For example, if you don’t take driving lessons, you will not be allowed to drive a car.
Use a simile
- As quietly as a mouse, he crept past his parents’ bedroom.
- As fast as a cheetah, she sprinted into the 100m race.
- Like a diamond ring, it twinkled brightly in the sunlight.
- Like an eagle, Sarah soared above the trees on her hang glider.
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Too many prepositional phrases can make wordy and monotonous.
- A stringy sentence is made up of several complete thoughts strung together with words like ‘and’, ‘so’, or ‘but’. Stringy sentences are so long that the reader forgets the beginning of the sentence before reaching the end.
To fix a stringy sentence, you can
- break the sentence into two or more sentences
- turn some of the complete thoughts into phrases or subordinate clauses
- eliminate some prepositional phrases to reduce the number of words and make the meaning clearer.
- Look at the examples below.
Stringy: My best friend’s name is Vutha and he lives next door and so we do many things together.
- Revised: My best friend’s name is Vutha. He lives next door . We do many things together.
- Revised: My best friend’s name is Vutha, and he lives next door. We do many things together.
Stringy: I try to teach my friend things and he keeps forgetting and I feel bad because he’s always helping me.
- Revised: I try to teach my friend things. He keeps forgetting. I feel bad because he’s always helping me.
- Revised: I try to teach my friend things, and he keeps forgetting. I feel bad because he’s always helping me.
Overuse Of Passive Voice
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Strengthen your writing by using the active voice whenever possible. Passive verbs usually force the reader to wait until the end of the sentence to identify who or what is doing the action.
The passive is neither inherently bad nor good – but that writers should understand its advantages and disadvantages, and choose accordingly.
What is a passive construction / the passive voice?
The best way to explain is by showing the difference between an active construction and a passive construction
An active construction makes clear who does what:
- My three-year-old smashed the windscreen.
In grammatical terms, we have a subject (my three-year-old), a verb (smashed) and the object of the verb (the windscreen).
A passive construction may well not make clear ‘whodunit’:
- My windscreen is (was / has been) smashed.
A passive construction is characterised by some form of the verb ‘to be’ with a past participle (usually ending in ‘-ed’ for example, smashed, refuted, rejected, etc.).
- In grammatical terms, we have the direct object of the verb (the windscreen) and the verb in passive form. The subject of the verb is missing.
Sometimes, though, a passive construction will add on a bit starting with ‘by’ which does make clear who did what:
- My windscreen was smashed by my three-year-old.
Note that the construction is still passive. This is because grammatically, we have the direct object of the verb (windscreen) and the verb (smashed) in the main clause. The person who did the smashing (my three-year-old) appears in another secondary clause beginning with by and is not, strictly speaking, the subject of the verb.
Key: Change passive verbs to active verbs whenever possible.
It is only through practice that you will be able to reach perfection. Good luck.
As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL