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sentence variety


sentence variety

The New Oxford Guide to Writing by Thomas S. Kane (Oxford University Press, 1988)


In a composition, the practice of varying the length and structure of sentences to avoid monotony and provide appropriate emphasis.

Basic Sentence Structures:

Basic Sentence Types:

Examples of Sentence Variety:

See also:


  • "Sentence variety is a means by which the writer helps the reader to understand which ideas are most important, which ideas support or explain other ideas, etc. Variety of sentence structures in also a part of style and voice."
    (Douglas E. Grudzina and Mary C. Beardsley, Three Simple Truths and Six Essential Traits for Powerful Writing: Book One. Prestwick House, 2006)

  • Ways to Achieve Sentence Variety
    Recurrence means repeating a basic sentence pattern. Variety means changing the pattern. Paradoxical as it sounds, good sentence style must do both. Enough sameness must appear in the sentences to make the writing seem all of a piece; enough difference to create interest. . . .

    Of course, in composing a sentence that differs from others, a writer is more concerned with emphasis than with variety. But if it is usually a by-product, variety is nonetheless important, an essential condition of interesting, readable prose. Let us consider, a few ways in which variety may be attained.

    Changing Sentence Length and Pattern

    It is not necessary, or even desirable, to maintain a strict alternation of long and short statements. You need only an occasional brief sentence to change the pace of predominately long ones, or a long sentence now and then in a passage composed chiefly of short ones . . ..


    . . . Used with restraint, fragments . . . are a simple way to vary your sentences. They are, however, more at home in a colloquial style than in a formal one.

    Rhetorical Questions

    . . . [R]hetorical questions are rarely used for variety alone. Their primary purpose is to emphasize a point or to set up a topic for discussion. Still, whenever they are employed for such ends, they are also a source of variety. . . .

    Varied Openings

    Monotony especially threatens when sentence after sentence begins the same way. It is easy to open with something other than the usual subject and verb: a prepositional phrase; an adverbial clause; a connective like therefore or an adverb like naturally; or, immediately following the subject and splitting it from the verb, a nonrestrictive adjectival construction. . . .

    Interrupted Movement

    Interruption--positioning a modifier or even a second, independent sentence between main elements of a clause so that pauses are required on either side of the intruder--nicely varies straightforward movement."
    (Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing. Oxford Univ. Press, 1988)

  • Use the following strategy to review your writing for variety in terms of sentence beginnings, lengths, and types:
    - In one column on a piece of paper, list the opening words in each of your sentences. Then decide if you need to vary some of your sentence beginnings.
    - In another column, identify the number of words in each sentence. Then decide if you need to change the lengths of some of your sentences.
    - In a third column, list the kinds of sentences used (exclamatory, declarative, interrogative, and so on). Then . . . edit your sentences as needed.
    (Randall VanderMey, Verne Meyer, John Van Rys, and Patrick Sebranek. The College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing, and Researching, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, 2008)
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