The Art of Styling Sentences

Marie Wadell, Robert Esch, Roberta Walker



I wrote this version for Sophomore English students who haven’t yet had a chance to learn the grammar on which these styles are based.  Junior English students who didn’t listen well first semester can also benefit from these explanations.


For your grade’s sake, use the patterns, but not the examples’ words.


1.  Compound sentence: semicolon, no conjunction

A compound sentence is two (or more) ideas in the same sentence.  Usually, you would join two ideas with a comma and a conjunction—and, or, but, so.  A style one eliminates the comma and conjunction and replaces them with a semicolon.  It’s simpler, timesaving, and sophisticated.


For the ideas you would usually separate with a comma and the conjunction but, use however after the semicolon.  Don’t put any conjunctions after a semicolon in a style one.


2.  Compound sentence with semicolon and elliptical construction

Sometimes you have two ideas that use the same verb.  Instead of writing the verb a second time, replace it with a comma.  It’s a good way to avoid repetition. Sometimes the comma can replace the verb and a few more words. Like style one, separate the two ideas with a semicolon.



3.  Compound sentence with explanatory statement with a colon

Use this pattern when the second idea in a sentence explains or gives an example of the first idea.


  1. A series without the usual conjunction

When you have a series or list, you usually precede the last item in the list with a comma. A style four leaves it out.  It’s less work, more sophisticated, quite rhythmic. It also gives each item equal importance. If you use the same number and type of words, it’s better.

For a variation with even more rhythm, use no commas but use a conjunction between each item:






5.  A series of balanced pairs

Take six items, pair them up with and’s or or’s and separate them with commas.  This is another rhythmic pattern. Place your items anywhere in the sentence.



6.  An introductory series of appositives­

An appositive is noun that refers to the same person, place, or thing as another noun and therefore renames it.  Write a regular sentence with a subject near the beginning.  Next, put three nouns at the beginning of the sentence that are the same as the subject, separate them with commas and follow the last one with a dash.  I’ve underlined the subjects that are being renamed. A common mistake is to forget to put a subject after the dash.  Don’t do it!



7.  An internal series of appositives or modifiers

A seven is a lot like a six, but instead of putting your three nouns (appositives) at the beginning, put them after the subject and separate them from the rest of the sentence with either a dash or parentheses. You can also use three modifiers, words that describe your subject.  Parentheses imply that the message is less important than the same message set off by dashes. 



7a.  A variation: a single appositive or a pair

A seven-a is a seven with just one or two nouns that rename the subject. You can choose 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 inconspicuously ordinary.










8.  Dependent clauses in a pair or in a series

A dependent or subordinate clause was a perfectly complete idea until some rascal put a subordinating conjunction (a fancy term for words like after, although, before, because, if, until, etc.) in front of it, making it incomplete even though it has a subject and a verb. In an eight you use two or three of these incomplete ideas in front of a complete idea.  Notice the commas. If you use the same number and type of words, you will have parallelism and a better sentence.




9.  Repetition of a key term

Repeating 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

Parallelism, two or more parts of the sentence using the same number of words and the same types of words in the same order, makes the repetition very smooth.



10.  Emphatic appositive at end after a colon

Let a noun near the end of your sentence be renamed by another noun or two.  Use a colon to tell the reader it’s coming up.



10a.  A variation:  appositive after a dash

A ten-a has a very short appositive after a dash that demands more attention than one after a colon.








11.  Interrupting modifier between subject and verb

Put some words between your subject and verb and use punctuation—commas, dashes, or parentheses—to determine how strong the interruption is.


11a.  A full sentence interrupts your main idea

Use dashes to indicate the interruption is important and parentheses to say it is not.


12.  Introductory or concluding participial phrases

Start your sentence with a word that looks like a verb because it ends in –ing or –ed but has no subject, follow it with a few words that go with it, put down a comma, and then have a complete idea after it. This creates a participial phrase.  You can also move the phrase to the end of the sentence and precede it with a comma. I underlined the participles below, but don’t do this in your sentences.


13.  A single modifier out of place for emphasis

The adjectives you use for a thirteen tell what kind and which one about nouns.  They are usually used near the noun they modify. Adverbs in thirteen’s tell how, when, and where in one word and are usually found near the verbs they modify. Move them from their normal position to the beginning and follow them with a comma. You can use a pair of them.


14.  Prepositional phrase before the subject and verb (or before the verb and subject)

Prepositional phrases do what adjectives and adverbs do, but they take two or more words to do it. See thirteen’s explanation.

Style can be increased if the subject comes after the verb, eliminating the need for a comma.







15.  Object or complement before subject and verb

This is what I call the “Yoda sentence.”  Don’t get too Yoda-like: these should sound natural, not forced.


15a.  ­Complete inversion of normal pattern

This pattern can be overused, but it does add a heaping helping of variety.


16.  Paired constructions

This is a style that forces you to use some of its words.  It’s easier if you put your subject and verb before the pair of words and fill in the blanks with just a few words, but whole ideas (subject and verb) can fill the blanks. Using the same number and types of words (parallelism) is the goal.

not only ________________, but also_____________________

just as__________________, so too______________________

the more________________,  the more (or less)___________________


16a.  A paired construction for contrast only

This is a “this, not that” pattern or a “not this but that” construction that shows a contrast, a difference.  Get a not in your sentence. A colon makes the contrast more emphatic and dramatic; a comma, less so.  [Note the style two I just used! Smooth!]


17.  ­ A subordinate noun clause as the subject or object or predicate noun

This is complicated to explain without your knowing grammar, but it’s easy to use.  A noun clause is one type of incomplete idea.  It has its own subject and verb, but one of these words—who, whoever, whom, whomever, which, that, what, why, where, when, or how—begins it and sometimes is the subject of the incomplete idea.  How do you know if you used one correctly?  Noun clauses  are incomplete ideas that can be replaced by a pronoun like it or in the case of people with they or them. The brackets show the noun clauses in the examples; don’t use brackets in your sentences.

[Note that Whoever is the subject of this incomplete idea and the word that signals this incomplete idea. It happens!  Always use the “Can it be replaced by a pronoun?” test, especially with when.  Some of these words are used to ask questions and don’t begin a noun clause in that context.]





18.  Absolute construction (noun plus participle or noun plus adjective) anywhere in a sentence

Take another look at style twelve to learn what a participle is.  Next think of a regular sentence with a subject and verb--a complete idea.  Then begin or interrupt or end your sentence with a noun modified by a participle; it must have some connection to your subject.  It can provide details or explain a cause or condition.  This is a great style.




19.  The short, simple sentence for relief or dramatic effect

For most of you, a series of long sentences just doe not happen. However, should this happen, a short, simple sentence can be useful, break the monotony, and pack some power.



19a.  A short question for dramatic effect

A short question can give the reader a wake up call to pause and think. Use these sparingly. An N36 is usually a better option.



20.  The deliberate fragment

An intentional fragment can be a good tool for creativity, but use these in essay introductions and conclusions only. These make writing teachers suspect you don’t know what a sentence is.




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

By phrasing a sentence in a "not this, but that" format, you give the second half special importance and acknowledge the contrary argument.  Get the not in there.

·         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. Get the not in here, too. This is another sentence that has been stolen from in the past.  Not is the only word mandated by this style




N 15.  The Antithesis (an-TITH-e-sis)

A balance of opposites can emphasize contrasts. These, like the N 16, are tough to create, but if one occurs to you, use it. Each of these has at least two pairs of opposites.  Can you spot them?


·         The best students make the worst teachers.  [Best vs. worst, students vs. 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.



N 16.  The Antimetabole (an-ti-me-TAB-o-le)

Two elements of a sentence are presented and then reversed (AB BA).


                 A                        B               B                                       A                               



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).

                                    A               B                B                      C                   C




N 25.  The Figurative Sentence (Simile)

By comparing an idea with a highly picturable object, person, or event, it becomes imaginable.  Using like or as to compare two things that are quite different creates a simile.


·         A paragraph without style sentences is like a world without ice cream.


N 26.  The Figurative Sentence (Metaphor)

This is basically a simile without like or as.  You state one thing is another or simply imply the comparison, creating an implied metaphor. 

·         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. 





N 36.  Hypophora

Unlike 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 writing technique.

·         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

This is a fancy name for anticipating what the other side in a debate/persuasive writing setting would say and shooting them down.


·         The opposition [or “people who disagree” or “detractors” or “nay sayers” or some other opposition signal word] usually argues at this point that if the government gets out of the mail delivery business, small towns like Podunk will not have any mail service. However, the counterpoint to this argument can be found in the history of the Pony Express . . .


R 1.  Infinitive Phrase Beginning

The 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. No, these do not count as two styles. They do show who the “big dogs” are.

·         [R2--12 and 4]  Dripping with blood, the murder weapon was red, moist, threatening. 


R 3  The Power Sentence: 3 in 1

In Junior English, I once wrote what could be described as an R18—eighteen style sentences in one.  However, I don’t want to write examples up to R18.  If you want to include more than three, label it [R 3+] and follow the plus with the styles you used. Keep in mind if you mislabel one style in R 2, R 3, or R 3+, you haven’t created the style and, therefore, lose the points.


·         [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

Typically, the appositive and its modifiers comes after the noun it renames.  But a style six shows three appositives at the beginning.  This style shows one appositive phrase, a noun with modifiers that renames the subject. It’s the comma that prevents this from being a style 7a.


·         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.