Hi, friends!

Here’s a great discussion from one of my favorite sites, Daily Writing Tips (posted in June last year), on how to put rhythm and variety in our writing. Read on! :)

10 Varieties of Syntax to Improve Your Writing

English is a remarkably flexible language in terms of syntax, because a simple statement can be rendered in so many ways. Take, for example, the statement “I went for a walk,” and consider all the ways you can attach the additional information included in the statement, “I saw a dinosaur.” Here are just some of the most basic of many variations in syntactical organization:

1. Write the statements as consecutive sentences: “I went for a walk. I saw a dinosaur.”

2. Add the second statement to the first as a dependent clause: “I went for a walk and saw a dinosaur.” (The second statement does not stand on its own.)

3. Add the second statement to the first as an independent clause: “I went for a walk, and I saw a dinosaur.” (The second statement stands on its own, which means it can be separated into two sentences, as in the first example.)

4. Begin the sentence with a dependent marker that turns the initial statement into a modifying phrase that expands on the second statement: “While I was walking, I saw a dinosaur.”

5. Begin with the second statement and reword the first statement as a modifying phrase that follows it: “I saw a dinosaur on my walk this morning.”

6. Insert a nonessential phrase, which must be bracketed by commas, one of two ways: Locate the phrase between a pair of independent clauses (but after the coordinating conjunction), each consisting of one of the two statements: “I went for a walk and, to my surprise, I saw a dinosaur.” (Notice that “to my surprise,” which can be omitted without altering the sentence’s meaning, modifies the second statement and so must follow and; note, too, that the comma preceding the coordinating conjunction can be omitted.)

Or, separate two statements with a nonessential phrase inserted before the coordinating conjunction: “I went for a walk, following my usual route, and I saw a dinosaur.” (Notice that “following my usual route,” which also does not alter the sentence’s meaning if it is omitted, modifies the first statement and so must precede and.)

7. Emphasize a nonessential phrase by bracketing it with em dashes to indicate an interruption of thought: “I went for a walk and — no, I was not hallucinating — I saw a dinosaur.” (Alternatively, to deemphasize the phrase, or for humorous effect, enclose it in parentheses.)

8. Insert an essential clause — one whose absence would alter the meaning the sentence — between two statements: “I went for a walk that followed my usual route and saw a dinosaur.”

9. Attach a variation of the second statement to the first, preceded by a semicolon when the second statement is an independent clause that is nevertheless closely associated with the first one: “I went for a walk; a dinosaur was grazing along my route.”

10. Separate two statements with a semicolon when the second statement is preceded by an adverb or an adverbial phrase, which requires a subsequent comma: “I went for a walk; unexpectedly, I saw a dinosaur along the way.”

It is this rich variety of word and phrase order and variation in punctuation that makes prose—fiction or nonfiction—readable. As you review your writing, make sure that you vary sentence structure among these and other constructions to create a pleasant reading experience devoid of lockstep syntax—questionable enough for a Dick-and-Jane reading level, and deadly for more sophisticated readers.

Photo credit: National Communication Commission


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