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Sentence Combining #5: The San Francisco Earthquake

Coordinating Sentences and Building Paragraphs

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Sentence Combining #5: The San Francisco Earthquake

Jack London (1876-1916)

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If you have read our pages on Introduction to Sentence Combining and Coordinating Words, Phrases, and Clauses, you're ready to tackle this sentence-combining exercise. It will give you practice in coordinating different sentence elements in the context of complete paragraphs.

The exercise has been adapted from "The Story of an Eyewitness," Jack London's account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

To get a feel for London's straightforward writing style, start off by reading the opening two paragraphs of his account, which are reprinted below. Then, reconstruct paragraphs three and four by combining the sentences in each of the 20 sets that follow. Several of the sets--though not all--require coordination of words, phrases, and clauses.

As with any sentence-combining exercise, feel free to combine sets (to create a longer sentence) or to make two or more sentences out of one set (to create shorter sentences). You may rearrange the sentences in any fashion that strikes you as appropriate and effective.

After you have completed the exercise, compare your paragraphs with London's original text on page two. Keep in mind that many combinations are possible, and in some cases you may prefer your own sentences to the original versions.

The Story of an Eyewitness: The San Francisco Earthquake

The earthquake shook down in San Francisco hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of walls and chimneys. But the conflagration that followed burned up hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of property There is no estimating within hundreds of millions the actual damage wrought. Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone. Nothing remains of it but memories and a fringe of dwelling-houses on its outskirts. Its industrial section is wiped out. Its business section is wiped out. Its social and residential section is wiped out. The factories and warehouses, the great stores and newspaper buildings, the hotels and the palaces of the nabobs, are all gone. There remains only the fringe of dwelling houses on the outskirts of what was once San Francisco.

Within an hour after the earthquake shock, the smoke of San Francisco's burning was a lurid tower visible a hundred miles away. And for three days and nights this lurid tower swayed in the sky, reddening the sun, darkening the day, and filling the land with smoke.

Paragraph Three

  1. The earthquake came on Wednesday morning.
    It came at a quarter past five.

  2. The flames were leaping upward.
    The flames were leaping a minute later.

  3. Fires started in a dozen different quarters south of Market Street.
    Fires started in the working-class ghetto.
    Fires started in the factories.

  4. There was no opposing the flames.

  5. There was no organization.
    There was no communication.

  6. This was a twentieth-century city.
    All the cunning adjustments of this city had been smashed.
    The earthquake had smashed those adjustments.

  7. The streets were humped into ridges.
    The streets were humped into depressions.
    The streets were piled with the debris of fallen walls.

  8. The rails were twisted into angles.
    The rails were made of steel.
    The angles were perpendicular.
    The angles were horizontal.

  9. The telephone system was disrupted.
    The telegraph system was disrupted.

  10. And the great water-mains had burst.

  11. There were shrewd contrivances of man.
    There were shrewd safeguards of man.
    All of the contrivances had been thrown out of gear.
    All of the safeguards had been thrown out of gear.
    Thirty seconds' twitching of the earth-crust had thrown them out of gear.

Paragraph Four

  1. Half the heart of the city was gone.
    It was gone by Wednesday afternoon.
    It was gone inside of twelve hours.

  2. I watched the conflagration.
    The conflagration was vast.
    I watched from out on the bay.

  3. It was dead calm.

  4. Not a flicker of wind stirred.

  5. Yet wind was pouring in.
    It poured in from every side.
    It poured in upon the city.

  6. There were winds from the east.
    There were winds from the west.
    There were winds from the north.
    There were winds from the south.
    The winds were strong.
    The winds were blowing upon the city.
    The city was doomed.

  7. The heated air rising made an enormous suck.

  8. Thus did the fire of itself build a chimney.
    The fire built its own chimney.
    The chimney was colossal.
    The chimney was built through the atmosphere.

  9. This dead calm continued all day.
    This dead calm continued all night.
    Near to the flames, the wind was often half a gale, so mighty was the suck.

After you have completed the exercise, compare your paragraphs with London's original text on page two.

Next Exercise:
Sentence Combining with Adjective Clauses

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