#EditTip: Sentence Structure and Styling Sentences

Jeri Walker
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Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
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Sentence structure is a glorious thing. Yet, chances are you don’t consciously think about how to write this or that sentence structure when pounding out a draft. However, revising for style can make your writing truly stand out from someone else who is merely getting the job done. When I’m editing for clients, one of the main reasons the writing falls flat stems from the repetition of sentences that follow the SVO (subject verb object) sentence pattern.

 

The authors of the hands-on writing book The Art of Styling Sentences (click on the link to read my book review) cover twenty sentence patterns that a writer can use to stylize their writing. It’s out of print, but used copies are readily available. I count this book as single-handedly improving my writing style when it comes to sentence variety and the power of punctuation. Granted, such workbooks do take effort. If you’re not willing to give each pattern a try, the patterns are not going to stick in your mind and become part your arsenal of writing tools. Repetition indeed makes these patterns stuck. If you try one pattern a day and write a few sentences that follow that pattern, you will work your way through them in no time.

 

The Art of Styling Sentences Book Cover

 

The formatting of the 20 Sentence Patterns Reference Sheet doesn’t readily copy and paste into a user-friendly website format, but by clicking on the link provided here you can access the three-page Word document. Feel free to download it for your personal use. Cheat sheets are great, but I highly recommend buying the book if you find my document helpful. Here is a screenshot of how it is formatted:

 

Picture of 20 patterns for sentence structures.

 

Once I started to write practice sentences, it was amazing how often I would notice the patterns in whatever reading material I was currently immersed in. So why not take one pattern a day and write 3-5 sentences that imitate its sentence structure? Your sentence structure will thank you for it.

 

 

Have you ever worked your way through a book of writing exercises? Were you pleased with the results? What books on writing can you recommend to others?

 

 

Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.

Author: Jeri Walker

Need help writing that book blurb, bio, or newsletter? Give your book the attention it deserves. Book your copy edit, manuscript critique, or proofread today. Make every word count.

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88 Comments

  1. I cannot honestly say I have even thought about this. I know what I like and what I do not like to read and to write. I only think about style and structure when I am reading something written really badly.

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  2. Cheryl, yes all of us tend to notice when something is written badly, but I encourage all writers to give a variety of sentence styles a try. It can really make already adequate writing come alive. Behold the power of punctuation!

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  3. I can really use this information. Not having a good understanding of sentence structure is a weak point for me. But then again writing is a challenge on many levels because of being dyslexic. 🙂

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    • Susan, I did all the exercises in this book for a nonfiction class I took. It’s a miracle I fit all the sentence patterns on a handout, but it’s a pretty handy handout, I must admit 😉

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    • Jeanette, trying out all the patterns really is great practice. Before long, you will find yourself using more and more of them.

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  4. wow, this was nice – and easy enough to digest, too! Being a non-native English speaker, punctuation is NOT something I handle well most of the time LOL… I am so glad I found your blog (thank you, LinkedIn!) – i am definitely reading it all, and soon. 😉

    Diana

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    • Diana, if you give the different sentence patterns a try, in time you will find your writing sounds more and more like a native 😉

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  5. I have been making it a point to check my sentences during edits (granted I only do quick edits). It is a conscious effort to make sure I am varying the way my sentences are spaced and such.

    I will be going through the paper soon to explore and such. Funny how some things can be so interesting, I think most people would look at this can us weird. Our lives are glamorous you know.

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    • Jon, what could possibly be more glamorous than experimenting with sentence structure 😉

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  6. I do not have a good understanding about sentence structure Jeri so this is interesting for me. Thanks for sharing this.

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    • Susan, even if all the grammatical terms get confusing, just follow the pattern example sentences. I could work on the patterns fro days… does that make me strange?

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  7. I remember when I was in college studying Journalism, the focus was the 6 W’s and the how, getting the story. Since then,, 21 years of them your writing style develops and the process becomes automatic. You get to the point were the balance between creative prose and structure collide. When you know your audience, their passion you build a free-form structure, but that’s not saying that structure is not bad. It is needed to help develop a style…

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    • Paul, point well-taken. Even after years of writing on my own and teaching writing to others, I still find I can get lazy and fall back on the same few sentence patterns time and time again.

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  8. This is great advice. I’m really want to improve my writing skills, not just keep saying whatever is on my mind. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Jennifer, I do hope you give the patterns on the list a try. Your syntax really will thank you for the effort 😉

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  9. Hi Jeri,
    I have to admit that I don’t really think much about sentence structure when I write. I sort of think in a conversational style and then simply key the words as they ramble through my mind. Scary thought – isn’t it? 🙂

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    • Sherryl, writing in a conversational style makes complete sense and is what most of us do on a daily basis. When my students used to get frustrated with grammar, I would point out they learned how to talk well because they learned about subjects and predicates. Sometimes it is the naming of grammatical concepts that can make them off-putting.

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  10. I’m saving this document! This is great. The English language changes all the time, so it’s always a good idea to brush up on it. I’ve even thought about going through the basics of English since I haven’t learned them since grammar school. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget what an imperative is or a conjunction. I’m sure there are gasps now among the writing community. Thanks for the document, Jeri.

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    • Denise, I find that where I learned the most about grammar came from taking German classes, which strikes me as ironic. I think it shows that grammar isn’t as strictly taught in American schools these days. Not that I’m a big fan of diagramming sentences and such, but learning the rudimentary aspects of language certainly has its place.

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  11. I’m very conscious of my sentence structure! Sometimes, I’m a bit paranoid about it.

    My best bet for identifying structural crutches is to read a draft out loud. I’ve gotten pretty hoarse, but I’ve found repetitive tics in my work and it’s improved my characters dialog, too.

    I’m going to try the exercises tomorrow, after the gym — exercising mind & body together.

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    • Candy, let me know how the sentences go! Once I get into nitty-gritty revision I also read paragraphs aloud over, and over, and over…

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  12. Usually when I have something that interests me, the writing just flows naturally. Although, I’ve never written a book so this idea of sentence structure and styling seems like it would be very helpful for people who are writing to get published or trying to establish their unique writing style.

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    • Kelly, it’s definitely true that practice does make perfect. I had a lot of fun when I first tried all the patterns, and then I repeated them year after year in the classroom and came up with new sentences every year as I composed with students.

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  13. This is so practical! Definitely saving this for future reference, thanks for sharing! 🙂

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    • Thanks Morgan! I hope my handout comes in handy 🙂

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  14. Jeri — this is such a helpful document. I’ve read through all the examples. I will keep it as a reference when writing blog posts. It adds variety and interest t to your writing if you vary your sentence structure. Of course, I always have Strunk & White lurking in the back of my head. Keep in simple.

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  15. Good information, this is something I can always use help with. Interesting that there’s around 20 main sentence types… I’m sure I’ve invented some more on top of that!

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    • Dan, most of us resort to using SVO (subject verb object) as our go-to sentence pattern, but there’s so much more to choose from!

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      • Thanks for posting this! For weekse I’ve been meaning to find a resource like this, but low and behold: You come to the rescue. I’m going to use this chart to analyse my current writing project. (Now I just need a chart to stop the cliches 🙂 )

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        • David, thanks for visiting. I do hope my sentence patterns chart provides useful. I like your idea of a cliche chart as well.

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  16. My teen has the book as a summer assignment and has no idea how to complete the worksheets. I have looked at them myself and can not figure out what to do, the fill in the blank exercises are too vague and unstructured. I have been a technical writer and now a program manager and I can’t see how this book is helpful.

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    • I found that even if I wasn’t sure of a few of the grammatical concepts used, the examples provided enough context. Yet we all respond differently to various guides.

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  17. I downloaded the patterns. They should be very helpful. I do have a question though. I read that there should be a space before and after a dash. What’s your take on this?

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    • Glynis, thanks for downloading the pdf. Your questions about spacing with dashes is a good one. I follow the Chicago Manual of Style. Section 2.13 of the 16th edition indicates there is to be no space left on either side.

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  18. What a good practice technique. I am always confused about the semi colon. I also repeat words too many times and I always look in my posts to make sure I have repeated the word. I think I read that one time in a writing book. Thanks for the great idea. I need to try this! 🙂

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  19. This actually brought back memories of my early days with my mother the English teacher! Laugh! Sentence structure was her thing; she brought it my attention constantly! Though I haven’t thought much about it recently, I love the whole idea of this workbook!

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  20. Thanks for posting this, Jeri. I love to play around with sentence structure, and in the end always look for an overall rhythm. But it’s not always right! The book will come on handy, and also it will make life easier for the editor.

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    • Erma, rhythm is indeed such an important factor in good writing and too often overlooked. I like the patterns because once they become ingrained it really opened up all the endless possibilities when it comes to using punctuation to convey distinct and memorable sentence rhythms.

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  21. I can use this worksheet. It sounds like a great way to practice with different sentence structures.

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  22. I’ll check the book out – thanks. I need all the help I can get with sentence structure! My go to book for style tips is A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman.

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    • Jan, I think you may have mentioned Lukeman’s book before. In any case, I’ve now added it to my TBR list.

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  23. Thank you Jeri, you are always sharing something useful! I am bookmarking this right now and shall be visiting again. I have always paid great attention to structures though poetry overlooks formal ways of writing and lets us soar wherever we want to!

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    • Balroop, half the fun of poetry for me is the chance to make sentences soar in unexpected ways. I love it too when prose can accomplish the same thing.

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  24. Am currently studying Swedish at university and one aspect we had to master was sentence diagrams. They could, in my opinion, mainly be a help for foreigners learning the language. Unfortunately could not try them on my asylum seekers because the exercise was far too advanced for them. Would only have made them feel they were not good enough. As would using phonetics because not even the ones that have studied Arabic at university command the phonetic alphabet. So I make them watch my mouth and immitate how I form the sounds instead.

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  25. I must not have this problem of using the same pattern in my sentences. Often I’m putting a verb, a prepositional phrase, an adverb, or an adjective first instead of the subject. Still, I don’t use the semicolon or colon a lot. I could be getting a little boring with my use of the comma.

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    • Glynis, that’s great you are aware of changing your sentence starters up on a regular basis.

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  26. This is great! I think change in sentence structure is important. When you have clipped sentences next to long sentences, that alone emphasizes a point. I’m going to download your sample. Thanks much.

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    • Denise, yes even without a chart that contains all of the patterns a writer is well served to simply try to vary sentence length. Nothing is more boring than SVO SVO SVO SVO…

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  27. Interesting, Jeri. I don’t pay particular attention to sentence structure when I write, but I have noticed that I do have certain patterns that I seem to favour, one being using a string of three adjectives when I’m describing something! Seems to work for me. Thx for sharing the tip sheet.

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    • Doreen, we all eventually gravitate toward certain sentence patterns as we become seasoned writers. I’ve always been fond of a well timed sentence fragment.

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  28. Thank you Jeri! I’m in the process of writing a few extra blog posts in advance of my rapidly forthcoming geographic relocation and it’ll be fun to see where I can incorporate some of these.

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  29. I just read a draft novel for a friend in a writing group and was impressed with how her sentences flowed–her style was readily apparent and enjoyable to read. I’ll have to ask her if she tried this book. 🙂

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    • Rosemary, I love coming across books where the author has taken great care with style and crafting sentences. A great story can be told without style and vice versa, but when the two come together, literature magic is bound to commence.

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  30. What a great suggestion, Jeri. I’ve never done sentence exercises, at least not since I was in school. I will definitely try this and look up the book too.

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    • Lisa, exercises are great for us at any age. This download is one I have hanging on my office wall.

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  31. This is pretty interesting and honestly I don’t routinely give sentence structure much thought. Usually the biggest issue with my drafts is cutting down one long sentence into two more succinct ones.

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    • Ken, your comment brings to mind I should add a post on dealing with unwieldy sentences into the mix at some point in the future.

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  32. Great post, dear Jeri….
    As a continued English learner, I feel quite familiarized with those patterns… Correct me if I am right but I have the impression that the last structure might be somehow related to the rule of three … Which is a must use when it comes to Oral sections in English Tests, such as TOEFL… well at least, they recommend it to use it if you want to give your speech – usually argumentative topics- more consistency… Check out these two links:

    Examples of the Rule of Three https://goo.gl/f1jRHR
    8 Grammar Rules Every TOEFL Test Taker Should Know http://goo.gl/VjOEdl

    Thanks so much for sharing… very useful…. All my best wishes. Aquileana 🙂

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    • Aqui, people do tend to remember things in sets of three whether in auditory or written form. Parallel sentence structure is also another technique that can help a sentence make a greater impact.

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  33. I loooooooooove this post, Jeri.

    – I’ve been aware of my own sentences recently.

    I’ve noticed I do everything in “threes.” Not sure the reason.

    Anyhow, one of my favorite authors wrote this word in one of her paragraphs. Just one word.

    “So.”

    I shall always remember that simple word.

    How much it said, how much it didn’t say.

    It was like 100 words!

    xx from MN.

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    • Kim, good point that less is often more in writing. The more we can manipulate sentences and their structures, the better we become by doing so with fewer words.

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  34. I have probably used a similar process but did not class it as sentence structuring.

    I know if a sentence or paragraph does not flow and I give myself ample time to rectify this.

    No matter how much my writing has improved there is always room to take it a step further.

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    • Phoenicia, your attitude toward writing is great in stating that there is always room for improvement 🙂

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  35. I love this post. I am always looking for references to help me improve my writing. I tend to be straight and to the point when writing. And, have wanted exploring writing sentences in different ways. Thank you for the printable. I am going to check out the book as well.

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  36. Jeri, my husband will tell me if I have repeated too many of the same words in one paragraph. When a book flows you can tell. One thought after the next comes flawlessly. Thanks for the tips! 🙂

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  37. Wonderful tips, I know as a writer I sometimes get into a rut of doing the same thing over and over again. When I see this happening, I need to put my work aside, and wait until it leaves, I come back, start fresh. This way I am not repeating my writing style or words over and over again.

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    • William, knowing to walk away and wait a while in order to come back fresh works wonder with writing. I tend to struggle with that when it comes to writing and many other things in life. Stubbornness doesn’t always pay off 😉

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  38. Thanks for the insight. I know I’m going to need this resource for structuring my sentences.

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  39. great post!
    i will definitely save this book into my TO READ list

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  40. Interesting exercise on sentence structure. I’ve never done anything like this before but I’l give it a try. And I’ll check out the book. Thanks!

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    • Erica, I do hope you give the sentence patterns a try. It can seem awkward to break sentences down and use structures you normally don’t use, but with enough practice, many people find they start to gravitate toward patterns they never would have felt compelled to write before.

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  41. What a great way to expand your writing style! I often wonder if my style is too uniform (read: boring) which probably means it is. Gotta give this a try!

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  42. Your handout looks great! Brings back memories of 7th-grade grammar and sentence diagramming. Although I excelled at that, I can only hope it helped my writing over the years. The idea of forcing myself to use each kind of sentence structure for a while sounds like a great tool. Would you be interested in writing a guest post for my blog, Just Write, or perhaps doing an interview for it? I’d love to have you. Thanks for following my personal blog. 🙂

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    • Hi Marsha, an interview focused on my work as an editor would be great. Please contact me via the contact page on my website so we can discuss details.

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  43. Hi Jeri,
    Just what I need .. first, I found you through Marquita’s blog. I am reaching out to new bloggers to connect and discover and it’s wonderful! Finding you is great because I am a self-made “editor”. I edit all the posts for my blogging community and I have to laugh because I hated writing in college! But here I am – no way an expert but very interested in learning how to write and edit better. Thank you for the information it will be very helpful!

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    • Lesly, so glad we could connect via Marty’s blog. I’m always intrigued by the many paths people take when it comes to becoming an editing. It was always in my blood so to speak, but as a girl from small town Idaho, I didn’t see myself going off to the big city to work in publishing. Now so much more is possible with the explosion of independent publishing. I think it’s safe to say I’ve found my calling and am excited to be filling a niche.

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  44. I get so paranoid about sentence structure some time. And more especially, sentence variation. (Do you like how I use improper structure there for you? Yes, I did it on purpose. 😉

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    • Crystal, thanks for stopping by. There are times when improper structure can serve a purpose though 😉

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