The Art of Styling Sentences
Marie Wadell, Robert Esch, Roberta Walker
Use the patterns of these examples, but not the words.
1. Compound sentence: semicolon, no conjunction
this pattern when you want to place two closely related ideas in the
same sentence and don’t want to use a comma and a conjunction.
S + V; connector, S + V (David worked in a hot room; however, he enjoyed his job.
- Hard work is only one side of the equation; talent is the other.
- Some people dream of being something; others stay awake and are.
+ V; S + V, conjunction S + V (It was snowing outside, and in the
building Harold felt safe; he dreaded leaving his shelter for the long,
dangerous trip home.)
2. Compound sentence with elliptical construction
this pattern when you want to avoid using the same verb again in the
second clause. A comma takes its place and creates some style.
S + V + DO or PW; S, DO or PW
- A red light means stop; a green light, go.
- Thought is the blossom; language, the bud; action, the fruit.
3. Compound sentence with explanatory statement
Use this pattern when you want the second part of a sentence to explain the first part.
General statement or idea: specific statement or example. (Note the colon.)
- George Patton accomplished the goal assigned to him: he won battles.
- Remember this mnemonic device for the subject-linking verb-predicate word construction: She likes very pretty words.
4. A series without the usual conjunction
pattern creates a definite rhythm that the conjunction usually
interrupts. Making the items in the series parallel adds to the
For a variation, use no commas but use a conjunction between the items:
- He has again been trapped, caught, humiliated.
- Since unification in Berlin, walls have come down, barriers have been broken, bonds have been formed.
5. A series of balanced pairs
- He could see the castle swathed in gloom and fear and death.
- I have never seen Larry angry or cross or depressed.
pattern creates a definite rhythm. Use an even number of items
and balance these in pairs with a conjunction between each pair.
The items can appear anywhere in the sentence.
It’s amazing how
lifeless elements like stone and wood, nails and plaster, glass and
metal take on a soul after you turn them into a house. –Jane Porcino
author knew the distinction between liberals and conservatives, between
vampires and vixens, between swashbucklers and the timid, between the
exploited and the victimized.
6. An introductory series of appositives
Put a dash after the series of nouns that renames another noun in the sentence.
7. An internal series of appositives or modifiers
- Vanity, greed, and corruption—which negative trait is the novel’s source of conflict?
- Bull riding, camel races, bronc riding, and roping—these events mean “rodeo” to many people.
series of appositives or modifiers, a dramatic interruption in a
sentence, demands some very definite punctuation, either a pair of
dashes or parentheses. Parentheses imply that the message is less
important than the same message when set off by dashes. In fact,
the information in parentheses could even be omitted.
7a. A variation: a single appositive or a pair
necessary qualities for political life—guile, ruthlessness, and
garrulity—he learned by carefully studying his father’s life.
- The basic fencing moves (the advance, the retreat, the lunge) demand careful balance by both fencers.
- Dozens of decorated casetas—bright red, plain white, or garish green—spring up along Calle Juan Carlos.
is a normal appositive or appositive phrase with a concentration on how
to punctuate it. A pair of dashes makes it very dramatic,
parentheses make it almost a whisper, and a pair of commas makes it
8. Dependent clauses in a pair or in a series
- A familiar smell—fresh blood—assailed his jungle-trained nostrils.
- His former wife (once a famous Philadelphia model) now owns a well-known boutique in the Bahamas.
- The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is a man whom the world will never forget.
This pattern has two or more dependent or subordinate clauses with parallel structure
that begin or end the sentence. Use this pattern for special
places like at the end of a paragraph to summarize the points you’ve
made or in structuring a thesis statement.
9. Repetition of a key term
- Because it may
seem difficult at first, because it may sound awkward or forced,
because it often creates lengthy sentences where the thought “gets
lost,” this pattern seems forbidding to some writers.
- Since he had little imagination and since he displayed even less talent, he wasn’t hired for the job.
a word exactly or repeating some form of it can create a powerful
sentence. Use a comma or a dash to show you’re about to repeat.
9a. A variation: same word repeated in parallel structure
- We all inhabit a mysterious world—the inner world, the world of the mind.
into the cottage, we saw great splotches of blood smeared on the walls,
walls that only that morning had rung with shouts of joy and merriment.
- Neither the warning in the tarot cards—an ominous warning
about the dangers of air flight—nor the one on her Ouija board could
deter Marsha from volunteering.
Repeating a word used as the same part of speech in several instances is good technique.
10. Emphatic appositive at end, after a colon
South Pacific island is an isolated community, isolated from the values
of the West, isolated from the spiritual heritage of the East.
are against things—against the value of the present and against the
traditions of the past, against materialism and against mysticism.
- This government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
- Heather is very chic, very classic, very blasé.
Saving an appositive until the end of the sentence practically shouts for the reader’s attention.
10a. A variation: appositive after a dash
- Airport thieves have a common target: unwary travelers.
- Anyone left abandoned on a desert should avoid two dangers: cactus needles and rattlesnakes.
isn’t much difference here except that after a dash there is a very
short appositive that demands more attention than one after a colon.
11. Interrupting modifier between subject and verb
interrupting element can be a single word, a pair of adjectives or
adverbs, or a phrase. Punctuation—commas, dashes, or
parentheses—determines how strong an interruption you want.
11a. A full sentence as interrupting modifier
- A small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, can make millions think.
- Mule deer (once common throughout North America) are now almost extinct.
- Students, tall or short, can play tiddlywinks.
Use dashes to indicate the interruption is important and parentheses to say it is not.
12. Introductory or concluding participial phrases
the young models were standing on the rolling slopes wearing their new
$500 parkas—they were pretending to know how to ski—not one of them
dared to venture down the giant slalom.
If you don’t know what participial phrases are, consult your text.
13. A single modifier out of place for emphasis
- Crisscrossing on the stage, the spotlight followed the singer.
- The man stood there, transfixed by its bright glow.
adjectives, and prepositional phrases have their typical, normal
positions in a sentence, a place near the word they modify.
Moving them around creates a nice style.
14. Prepositional phrase before the subject and verb (or before the verb and subject)
- Later, the child was quiet (instead of “The child was quiet later.”)
- Frantic, the young mother rushed out the door.
Moving the prepositional phrase away from the word it modifies creates a new style.
This can be augmented if the subject comes after the verb, eliminating the need for a comma.
- In all the forest, no creature stirred.
15. Object or complement before subject and verb
- Into the arena rushed the brave bulls.
Place your direct object or predicate noun first and subject and verb second.
15a. Complete inversion of normal pattern
- His kind of sarcasm I do not like.
- No enemy of metaphor is Amy Lowell.
- Some sentence styles students learn quickly.
This pattern can be overused, but it does add a heaping helping of variety.
16. Paired constructions
- Down the street and through the mist stumbles the unfamiliar figure.
- Even more significant have been the criticisms about our society.
words work in pairs. Fill in these blanks after these correlative
conjunctions with words of the same type. You can have
independent clauses—subject and verb—or any other parts of
speech. The goal is to make them parallel and, consequently,
not only ________________, but also_____________________
just as__________________, so too______________________
the more________________, the more (or less)___________________
16a. A paired construction for contrast only
- Just as slavery divided North and South, so too the Indian wars of the nineteenth century divided East and West.
- The more I saw his films, the less I liked his work.
is a “this, not that” pattern or a “not this but that” construction
that shows a contrast, or difference. A colon makes the contrast
more emphatic and dramatic; a comma, less so.
17. A subordinate noun clause as the subject or object or predicate noun
- Genius, not stupidity, has limits.
- The judge asked for acquittal—not conviction.
is a sophisticated yet common pattern in language. Remember, the
noun clause can begin with who, whom, which, that, what, why, where,
when, and how. The brackets show the noun clauses in the
examples; don’t use brackets in your sentences.
18. Absolute construction (noun plus participle) anywhere in a sentence
- [How he could fail] is a mystery to me. (subject)
- Juliet never realizes [why her decision to drink the sleeping potion is irrational]. (direct object)
- He was [what he aspired to be]. (predicate noun)
is a noun plus a participle with no grammatical connection to the
sentence except that it modifies the entire sentence, not a single
word. It can provide details or explain a cause or condition.
19. The short, simple sentence for relief or dramatic effect
- His blanket torn, Linus cried on Charlie Brown’s shoulder.
- Teddy, his efforts failing, tried a new approach to the calculus problem.
- All things considered, the situation seems favorable.
this pattern to encourage readers to consider the ideas in several long
sentences, to summarize what you have just said, or to provide a
transition between two ideas.
19a. A short question for dramatic effect
- Days passed.
- He was unbeatable.
- Things change.
A short question can give the reader a wake up call to pause and think.
20. The deliberate fragment
- What caused the change? (interrogative pronoun and a verb)
- Why not? (interrogative pronoun—no verb)
- You made an A on Mr. Roden’s test? (only the question mark and tone of voice)
occasional intentional fragment can be a good tool for style. If
you use one, make sure you indicate that it is intentional.
- A national hero.
- Shameful nonsense.
- No matter.
- A dark, rainy night fit only for beagles and their typewriters.
Source: The New Strategy of Style by Winston Weathers and Otis Winchester
These are some additional style sentences. When notating these, place an N in front of the number.
N 13. The Negative-Positive Sequence
phrasing a sentence in a "not this, but that" format, you give the
second half special importance and acknowledge the contrary argument .
- A student does not have to believe in homework, but he must believe in education.
N 14. The Positive-Negative Sequence
By giving the positive first, the negative is stressed.
- A student must believe in education, but he does not have to believe in homework.
N 15. The Antithesis (an-TITH-e-sis)
A balance of opposites can emphasize contrasts.
N 16. The Antimetabole (an-ti-me-TAB-o-le)
- The smartest students make the worst teachers.
- Live or die, pass or fail, graduate or drop out, I will not give up on education.
- That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. –Neal Armstrong
- Let us speak less of the threat of Communism and more of the promise of freedom.
Two elements of a sentence are presented and then reversed (AB BA)
- But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. - George Orwell
- Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.
- Man must put an end to war, or war will put an end to man. – John F. Kennedy (speechwriter?)
- When the going gets tough, the tough get going. – Folk saying
N 22. The Anadiplosis (a-na-di-PLO-sis)
This can be achieved by ending one item in a series with the words that begin the next
(AB, BC, CD).
The effect is slow motion and continuity, continuity and overlapping, overlapping and
N 25. The Figurative Sentence (Simile)
comparing an idea with a highly picturable object, person, or event, it
becomes imaginable. Using like or as to compare two things
creates a simile.
- A paragraph without style sentences is like a pencil with no eraser.
N 26. The Figurative Sentence (Metaphor)
is basically a simile without like or as. By being subtler
and simply implying the comparison, an implied metaphor is possible.
- A person’s life is a rough sea.
- The rough seas of our mortal life often threaten our happiness.
N 30. The Alliterative Sentence--The
repeated use of the beginning sounds of words can make a sentence more
memorable. Limit alliterated words or the effect can be
comical. All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful
brain. - Walt Whitman.
N 36. Hypophora
a rhetorical question, a hypophora is a question raised by the writer
that he or she actually answers. Raising a question the reader
might be considering and answering it in several sentences is a solid
- Why are sentence styles so
wonderful? They add a maturity to a writer’s style that otherwise
might not exist. To avoid the style of a fifth-grader, one must
add some style.
N 37. Procatalepsis
is a fancy name for anticipating what the other side in a
debate/persuasive writing setting would say and shooting them down.
is usually argued at this point that if the government gets out of the
mail delivery business, small towns like Podunk will not have any mail
service. The answer to this can be found in the history of the Pony
Express . . .
R 1. Infinitive Phrase Beginning (The R stands for Roden since this one wasn't in either book.)
word to plus a verb creates an infinitive. By including some
words that go along with the infinitive, you have an infinitive
phrase. Follow the phrase with a comma.
- To learn style sentences, students must listen and learn.
- To run quickly, track stars must have endurance.
R 2. The Power Sentence: 2 in 1
Use two sentence styles in the same sentence.
- [12 and 4] Dripping with blood, the murder weapon was red, moist, threatening.
R 3 The Power Sentence: 3 in 1
11a, 10a] The capable student—all of Mr. Roden’s students are
capable—uses sentence styles; however, only an elite few can use the R
3: three styles in one.
R 4. Appositive Phrase Begins the Sentence
the appositive with its modifiers comes after the noun it
renames. However, by the careful use of a comma, you can force it
to come first.
- A hero of legendary prowess, Hercules defeated the soldiers of two armies.
- The King of late night, Johnny Carson died and left millions to mourn him.
might be called "reverse parallelism" since one part of the sentence
establishes a pattern and another part follows the pattern but in
reverse order. (It is somewhat similar to the antimetabole but
the antimetabole involves the reversal of specific words, but the
chiasmus is based on the parts of speech establishing a pattern that is
- He labors without complaining and without
bragging rests. (The pattern followed here is verb, prepositional
phrase (with a gerund as its object) and prepositional phrase,
verb. Note that the words are not the pattern, but the parts of
- Since I eat ice cream, I gain weight; I eat so
much because I need happiness. (The pattern here is subordinate clause,
independent clause: independent clause, subordinate clause)