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Why Sentence Structure Matters
Although ordinary conversation, personal letters and even some types of professional writing (such as newspaper articles) consist almost entirely of simple sentences, effective writers know how to use all types of sentences in their texts. Writers who employ only simple sentences are like truck drivers who do not know how to shift out of first gear: they would be able to drive a load from Montréal to Calgary, but they would have a great deal of trouble getting there.
If you use phrases and clauses carefully, your sentences will become much more interesting and your ideas much clearer. For example, the following complex sentence develops a major, central idea and provides structured background information:
- Since it involves the death not only of the title character, but also of the entire royal court, Hamlet is the most extreme of the tragedies written by the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare.
Just as a good driver uses different gears, a good writer uses different types of sentences in different situations:
- long complex sentences show what information depends on what other information;
- compound sentences emphasize balance and parallelism;
- short simple sentences grab the reader’s attention;
- loose sentences tell the reader in advance how to interpret your information;
- periodic sentences leave the reader in suspense until the end of the text;
- declarative sentences avoid any special emotional impact;
- exclamatory sentences, used sparingly, jolt the reader;
- interrogative sentences force the reader to think about what you have written; and
- imperative sentences make it clear that you want the reader to react right away.
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© Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa
A tool made available online by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada