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Writing correct sentences

In the language game of writing a text, sentences are the building blocks that should include the right words or phrases and are in turn included in the larger units of the paragraphs.

This section explores three ways of improving your skills at writing correct sentences:

  • how to combine two or more short sentences with a view to concision and purposefulness,
  • how to organise the various parts of the sentence,
  • and how to establish your perspective.

[ Integrating elements][Word order][Perspective]

Integrating elements

Juxtaposed sentences can often be combined into one complex sentence, provided this contributes to making your text easier to read.

Exercise 1:

Write ONE sentence incorporating information found in the following juxtaposed statements. Think of which words can be left out and find the appropriate linking words. Relative pronouns are of course helpful, but remember there are other possibilities, including reducing a piece of information to an adjective.

N.B. Whenever you refer to something already mentioned, the inclusive relative pronoun (in French ‘ce que’ or ‘ce qui’) is ‘WHICH’.

a. There is a house at the end of the street. It stands on its own. The street was bombed. It belongs to an elderly man. The children call him Old Misery. ('The Destructors')

b. Mrs Carnavon is a widow. Her son died a few months earlier. Her son was twenty-four. ('The Cold House')

c. Lou and Edward are feeling moody in the car. Later Lou feels happier, partly due to Josephine's influence. We know very little about Josephine, who is said to have 'a fanatical smile.' ('Look at all Those Roses')

d. Laura feels concern for the lower classes. She hears that a workman has been killed in an accident. The workman is a neighbour of theirs. She is appalled at the idea of her family still having a garden party. ('The Garden Party')

e. The narrator claims that he is not mad. He behaves in a completely irrational way. This is shown in his nightly vigils. ('The Tell-Tale Heart')

f. Crystal Styan walks to the train stop in the forest. She is in a hurry. Her husband is coming back from town. She wants to be in time to meet him. ('By the River' - at the very end of the webpage)

g. The rabbits feel threatened. They want to go to a safer place. The other animals shame them into staying next to the wolves. ('The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble')

As indicated above, one should beware of going too far in cramming information into one single sentence. The result may be more puzzling than illuminating.

BAC1 students in English Literature MUST click HERE to do this exercise interactively and will have to enter their ULg "identifiant" and "mot de passe" to access the page. Others, whose work need not be monitored, can click here.

Exercise 2 :

Disentangle (=separate elements that have become joined in a confusing way) the following sentences.

a. In her poem called 'The Natural History Museum' Clanchy compares the dead creatures in their glass boxes and children who watch them as well as the hunters and the children's parents because a similar process freezes them into lifelessness

b. The narrator is beset by beggars who tell him lies in order to engage his sympathy and be given some of the money which they think he can dispense with and which he does indeed give them even though he knows better. ('The Beggar on the Dublin Bridge')

 

BAC1 students in English Literature MUST click HERE to do this exercise interactively and will have to enter their ULg "identifiant" and "mot de passe" to access the page. Others, whose work need not be monitored, can click here.

Word order

The position of words in a sentence is either determined by the grammar of the language or by the intention of the writer. Word order determined by the writer’s intention, so contributing to establish the perspective, is considered in the third subsection. English is a hybrid and disturbingly fluid language. While English usage has rules, very few (if any) do not suffer exceptions. This also applies to word order in a sentence: it can be subjected to all sorts of distortions. Let us remember, though, that the standard word order in the active voice is Subject - Verb - Direct Object - Adjuncts, with time adjunct at the end, and in the passive voice, Subject - Verb - Agent - Adjuncts, with time adjunct at the end.

Inversion: The only instances when the verb occurs before its subject are

(1) in questions: How did you find out ? What was he thinking about ? Why did they refuse to step on board ?

(2) when the sentence begins with a negative or restrictive element : Only in the long run shall we perceive the consequences of this irresponsible poisoning of our streams and lakes. / Scarcely had she uttered those words that she realised how stupid they were. / Not a single tree had the storm left standing.

Note that in these cases the full verb still comes after the subject since the form used before is an auxiliary.

The idea is that there should not be any intrusive element between subject and verb, or between verb and object, or verb and agent. When there is (for indeed in many cases there will be) it should be with some definite purpose.

Exercise 3:

Rearrange the various parts of the following jumbled sentences so that they read like correct English sentences.

a. I will - before addressing the question - a naturalist novel - what - define - first - is

b. how - she has realised - are - regrets - useless

c. had been taken - on a sunny summery river bank - the decision - long before she was born - by others

d. absurd - running - Ozzie thought - on the roof - was - as the night was closing in - how - the behaviour of those suddenly strange people down in the street

e. On O'Connell Bridge - every day - sings - the same beggar - without a cap on his head - rain or shine

BAC1 students in English Literature MUST click HERE to do this exercise interactively and will have to enter their ULg "identifiant" and "mot de passe" to access the page. Others, whose work need not be monitored, can click here.

Exercise 4:

Rewrite the following sentences to make them grammatical. MIND the order of the words!

a. *Laura is upset on all sorts of occasions by how people are unhygienic. ('The Garden Party')

b. *Charlie sitting in the train both is aggressive and unhappy. ('England versus England')

c. *Laura felt shame and confusion when walking down the lane about her beautiful hat. ('The Garden Party')

 

BAC1 students in English Literature MUST click HERE to do this exercise interactively and will have to enter their ULg "identifiant" and "mot de passe" to access the page. Others, whose work need not be monitored, can click here.

Perspective

The position in which words occur in a sentence contributes to determine the perspective, and thus, for instance, the relative importance of characters in a summary. If you go back to exercise 1 a. the perspective is different if you decide to have the house or the man as subject. Note that telling an episode in the perspective of one of the characters does not mean that you endorse that character’s position.

Exercise 5:

a. Write two or three sentences about the episode when Laura wants the party to be cancelled, first focusing on Laura, then focusing on her sister Jose. Note the difference in word order. (The Garden Party)

Suggested sentences for a:

(1) Laura feels that it would be indecent to carry on with the party when one of their neighbours had just been killed. She is amazed, and indeed indignant, at her sister’s heartlessness.
OR
Laura foolishly considers cancelling the party in spite of the preparations that are afoot and the near impossibility of preventing guests from arriving soon.

(2) Jose wonders at Laura’s utter lack of common sense. The family has gone into huge expenses to set up a garden party, guests are already on their way, and just because she has overheard some tragic piece of news she wants them to cancel the party.
OR
Jose cannot understand Laura’s objections because she does not have her sister’s capacity for human sympathy.

b. Same exercise about the moment when Mr Gaines comments on the poem 'The White Horses of the Sea' , focusing first on Mrs Mason, the woman who wrote it , and then on the Georgian poet.

c. Same exercise about the moment when Mr Duffy and Mrs Sinico agree to break up their relationship, focusing on Mrs Sirico first and then on Mr Duffy.

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