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Introduction to Sentence Combining

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This exercise will introduce you to sentence combining--that is, organizing sets of short, choppy sentences into longer, more effective ones. However, the goal of sentence combining is not to produce longer sentences but rather to develop more effective sentences--and to help you become a more versatile writer.

Sentence combining calls on you to experiment with different methods of putting words together. Because there are countless ways to build sentences, your goal is not to find the one "correct" combination but to consider different arrangements before you decide which one is the most effective.

An Example of Sentence Combining

Let's consider an example. Start by looking at this list of eight short (and repetitive) sentences:

  • She was our Latin teacher.
  • We were in high school.
  • She was tiny.
  • She was a birdlike woman.
  • She was swarthy.
  • She had dark eyes.
  • Her eyes were sparkling.
  • Her hair was graying.
Now try combining those sentences into three, two, or even just one clear and coherent sentence: in the process of combining, omit repetitive words and phrases (such as "She was") but keep all of the original details.

Have you succeeded in combining the sentences? If so, compare your work with these sample combinations:

  • Our Latin teacher in high school was a tiny woman. She was swarthy and birdlike. She had dark, sparkling eyes and graying hair.


  • When we were in high school, our Latin teacher was a tiny woman. She was swarthy and birdlike, with dark, sparkling eyes and graying hair.


  • Our high school Latin teacher was a swarthy, birdlike woman. She was tiny, with dark, sparkling eyes and graying hair.


  • Our Latin teacher in high school was a birdlike woman, tiny and swarthy, with graying hair and dark, sparkling eyes.
Remember, there's no single correct combination. In fact, there are usually several ways to combine sentences in these exercises. After a little practice, however, you'll discover that some combinations are clearer and more effective than others.

If you're curious, here is the sentence that served as the original model for this little combining exercise:

    Our high school Latin teacher was a tiny, birdlike woman, swarthy, with sparkling dark eyes, graying hair.
    (Charles W. Morton, It Has Its Charm)
An unusual combination, you might say. Is it the best version possible? As we'll see in later exercises, that question can't be answered until we look at the combination in the context of the sentences that precede and follow it. Nevertheless, certain guidelines are worth keeping in mind as we evaluate our work in these exercises.

Evaluating Sentence Combinations

After combining a set of sentences in a variety of ways, you should take time to evaluate your work and decide which combinations you like and which ones you don't. You may do this evaluation on your own or in a group in which you will have a chance to compare your new sentences with those of others. In either case, read your sentences out loud as you evaluate them: how they sound to you can be just as revealing as how they look.

Here are six basic qualities to consider when you evaluate your new sentences:

  1. Meaning. As far as you can determine, have you conveyed the idea intended by the original author?
  2. Clarity. Is the sentence clear? Can it be understood on the first reading?
  3. Coherence. Do the various parts of the sentence fit together logically and smoothly?
  4. Emphasis. Are key words and phrases put in emphatic positions (usually at the very end or at the very beginning of the sentence)?
  5. Conciseness. Does the sentence clearly express an idea without wasting words?
  6. Rhythm. Does the sentence flow, or is it marked by awkward interruptions? Do the interruptions help to emphasize key points (an effective technique), or do they merely distract (an ineffective technique)?
These six qualities are so closely related that one can't be easily separated from another. The significance of the various qualities--and their interrelationship--should become clearer to you as you practice the combining exercises on this site.

Exercises in Sentence Building and Combining at About.com Grammar & Composition

The sentence building and combining exercises here at Grammar & Composition encourage students to experiment with different methods of putting words together:

Because there are countless ways to construct sentences, the goal is not to find the one "correct" combination but to consider different arrangements before deciding which one is most effective.

To begin developing your skills in sentence building and combining, follow these links:

Sentence Building Exercises:

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

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