Sentence Structure Secrets:

“Subject Verb Object” Variations

When every sentence structure falls into the same old “Subject Verb Object” mold, writing starts to sound monotonous. This needn't be the case; English syntax is flexible, and lets you play with sentence structure variations to create word music.

Sentence Structure Secrets: Positions of Emphasis

When you read a sentence, the parts most likely to catch your attention and stay in your mind are the beginning and end; we call them the positions of emphasis, with the stronger position at the close of the sentence.

Writers call attention to important ideas by putting them at the beginnings and ends of sentences. This makes it easier for readers to grasp the meaning and remember important points. It also gives sentences a rhythmic flow, as in these examples:

Mary had a little lamb.

Why didn't they ask Evans?

Ask and you shall receive.

Sentence Structure Secrets: Variations in Climactic Order

Another way of calling attention to key ideas is by placing them in climactic order: that is, arranging them in order of increasing importance or impact. This arrangement builds up suspense in a sentence.

What you choose to emphasize determines your sentence structure. Let's say you want to tell readers about your dog Butterball - a lovely golden retriever, if a little on the plump side (he does so love his food). You could highlight any of these points by leading up to it:

He's gorgeous:
This is my dog Butterball: he's a golden retriever, and you can see he's really beautiful.

He's mine:
This beautiful golden retriever with the slight waddle is my dog Butterball.

He does have a problem, though:
This is my dog Butterball: this greedy little golden retriever that's got to go on a diet.

Sentence Structure Secrets: Repetition Emphasizes Key Elements

You can also emphasize important points by repeating key words or phrases. Repetition links related ideas and gives sentences a lyrical rhythm. For example:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
(From The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:11)

You can repeat pronouns, adjectives, verbs or conjunctions to emphasize key elements and create word music. Repetition also changes the sentence structure and gives it a "piling-on" effect:

Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

My love is like a red, red rose.

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings...
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world...

(From Richard II, Act 2 Scene 1, by William Shakespeare)

Praised be my Lord for brother wind
And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather...
Praised be my Lord for brother fire...
And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.

(From The Canticle of the Creatures by St Francis of Assisi)

In the above examples, the repeated words (in bold) may seem to add nothing to the meaning - but listen to how they have made the sentences sing.

Sentence Structure Secrets: Combine Repetition with Climactic Order

For powerful, lyrical language build your ideas up in climactic order, at the same time repeating key words or phrases - as in these examples:

Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy, love does not parade itself, it is not puffed up; it is not rude, it is not self-seeking; is not provoked; thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
(From The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

Thou art holy, Lord God, who alone workest wonders. Thou art strong. Thou art great. Thou art most high...Thou art our hope. Thou art our faith. Thou art our great sweetness. Thou art our eternal life, great and admirable Lord, God Almighty, merciful Saviour.
(From Praises of God by St Francis of Assisi)

Sentence Structure Secrets: Inversions

If all your words seem to plod along at the same mundane pace, add an element of surprise by varying your sentence structures. One way of doing this is through inversion of word order.

Sentence structures in English usually follow an orderly sequence of subject-verb-object/complement. Any change in this arrangement, like putting the verb before the subject, or the object/complement before the subject, draws attention to itself. Such inversions are especially useful when you want to highlight key words or rev up the tension.

Here are 3 examples of normal sentence structure:

The six hundred rode into the valley of death.
Kubla Khan did decree a stately pleasure-dome in Xanadu.
A child is born to us, a son is given to us.

Sounds flat? How about these "in"-versions:

Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred.
(From The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree.
(From Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.
(From The Bible, Isaiah 9:6)

Hear the music, feel the excitement in these latter versions? That's the difference inversion makes.

Sentence Structure Secrets: Parallel Structure

Parallel structure, or parallelism, is a special kind of repetition that relies on the balance between related words or phrases to create word music.

You can construct parallel structures by pairing related words or phrases. This balance gives sentences a rhythmic flow and coherence - especially so, where the parallel pairs contain repetitions of the same word or phrase:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...
(From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

Note the repetition of it was, we had and we were all going in the example above, and the balanced pairs: the best of times/the worst of times; the age of wisdom/the age of foolishness; the spring of hope/the winter of despair...

Use the rhythm of parallel structures to help you deliver a powerful message to your readers.

Sentence Structure Secrets: Parallel Structure & Ellipses

You can omit words if the meaning remains clear without them; such contractions, known as ellipses, can result in more concise, powerful writing. Ellipses are especially effective in parallel structures, and often give a better balance to sentences:

Homer was the greater genius, Virgil the better artist. In one we most admire the man, in the other the work... Homer, like the Nile, pours out his riches with a boundless overflow; Virgil, like a river in its banks, with a gentle and constant stream.
(From Preface to The Illiad of Homer, by Alexander Pope)

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

(From Prayer of St Francis of Assisi)

Sentence Structure Secrets: Parallel Structure & Climactic Order

Use parallel structures to emphasize key points; present your ideas in a series of balanced words or phrases arranged in climactic order - that is, in order of increasing importance or dramatic impact. Parallel structures in climactic order create the most forceful impression upon readers; as in these examples:

For now we see as through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know fully, even as I am fully known.
(From The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:12)

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
(From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
(From Prayer of St Francis of Assisi)

For more sentence structure tips, go to How to Improve Writing Skills

For more tips on creating Word Music, go to Music of Words

For Creative Writing Tips, go to:
Success Secrets of Top Authors
Figurative Language: Examples of Imagery
Powerful Action Verbs
Connotations & Denotations
Concrete & Abstract Word Balance for Powerful Writing
Conflicts, Cliffhangers & Climaxes: Make Readers Sit Up

Return from Sentence Structure Secrets to Creative Writing

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