1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Exercise Your Syntax by Building and Combining Sentences

By August 17, 2009

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An English teacher appears. She appears out of nowhere. She drops a few sentences into your laptop. The sentences are simple.

Or . . .

An English teacher appears out of nowhere and drops a few simple sentences into your laptop.

This little exercise in turning a few short sentences into one longer one is called, sensibly enough, sentence combining. It's a method of teaching (and learning) different ways of composing sentences--a friendlier and generally more effective alternative to traditional grammar instruction.

Try it yourself by putting together these three sentences:

  • The dancer was not tall.
  • The dancer was not slender.
  • The dancer was extremely elegant.
Cutting out the needless repetition and adding a few conjunctions, we might write this: "The dancer was not tall or slender, but she was extremely elegant." Or this: "The dancer was neither tall nor slender but extremely elegant." Or even this: "Neither tall nor slender, the dancer was nonetheless extremely elegant."

Which version is grammatically correct?

All three of them.

Then which version is most effective?

Now that's the right question. And the answer (as discussed in Introduction to Sentence Combining) depends on several factors, beginning with the context in which the sentence appears.

Despite appearances, the primary purpose of sentence combining is not to encourage the writing of longer sentences. (In fact, some exercises invite us to break up sentences that run on for too long.) In teacher talk, we say that sentence combining is a means of improving stylistic dexterity and syntactic maturity.

Put more simply, sentence combining can help us become better writers. With regular practice, we should soon find ourselves composing original sentences that are clear, coherent, emphatic, and varied in their sound and structure.

You'll find two basic types of sentence combining exercises at About.com Grammar & Composition:

  • Sentence Building exercises focus on particular grammatical structures in isolated sentences

  • Sentence Combining & Paragraph Building exercises (sometimes called whole-discourse exercises) provide similar practice within the context of paragraphs and short essays
Links to both types of exercises are provided below.

In short, sentence combining is an exercise. It is a writing exercise. It is a useful exercise. So why not give sentence combining a try?

Sentence Building Exercises:

  1. An Introduction to Sentence Combining
  2. Sentence Building With Adjectives and Adverbs
  3. Sentence Building With Prepositional Phrases
  4. Sentence Building With Coordinators
  5. Sentence Building With Adjective Clauses
  6. Sentence Building With Appositives
  7. Sentence Building With Adverb Clauses
  8. Sentence Building With Participial Phrases
  9. Sentence Building With Absolutes
  10. Sentence Building With Noun Phrases and Noun Clauses

Sentence Combining Exercises:

  1. New York Is a City of Things Unnoticed
  2. Martha's Departure
  3. Nervous Norman
  4. The San Francisco Earthquake
  5. Rolling Along With Mr. Bill
  6. Out of the Ice Age
  7. How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading
  8. Kazin's Kitchen
  9. Mrs. Bridge
  10. My Home of Yesteryear
  11. Orwell's "A Hanging"
  12. Sentence Recombining: Steinbeck's Flood

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