This Sentence Has Five Words: Understanding Sentence Variety

19 Nov

What is sentence variety? 

Sentence variety is exactly as it sounds; it involves varying sentence structure, word choice, and style in order to give life, interest, and even rhythm to prose. This strategy can also be used to add emphasis or reduce repetition. It is a great way to maintain reader interest, and to highlight key pieces of information, as long sentences often work well for including a lot of information where shorter sentences help to emphasize a point.

How does sentence variety work? 

There are a few strategies that writers can use to add variety to their sentences, including:

  • Alternating between long and short sentences
  • Utilizing different sentence beginnings
  • Alternating sentence structures (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex)
  • Using different sentence types (declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, imperative)

Let’s see how it works:

funny-song-five-sentences-music

In This Sentence Has Five Words, the first paragraph is comprised entirely of five word sentences. While this is not initially problematic and they are able to communicate their point somewhat effectively, the experience of reading this paragraph can become quite mundane. Try reading it out loud:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. 

In the above example, even though they have different sentence openings and different sentence construction, the lack of variety in sentence length is quite noticeable and greatly impacts the reading (or listening) experience. They are making their point sufficiently, but their writing lacks the liveliness and intrigue needed to interest their reader and really get their point across. Look now at the next two passages, and try reading them out loud:

I vary the sentence length and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. 

In the first section, the point is still clearly presented, but the writer has used a variety of sentence constructions and lengths. While the first section does not contain any sentences that are particularly long, the interplay between short sentences and medium length sentences helps to maintain reader interest while also creating a more pleasing listening experience. And finally, look closely at the last long sentence:

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it’s important. 

While the writer could continue to use a combination of short and medium length sentences to present this idea, the use of a longer sentence helps to build a stronger image, and the construction of this complex sentence keeps the reader moving through the idea and the imagery. As noted, by this point in the passage, the reader is appropriately rested; this means that, as the writer has used a combination of short and medium length sentences up to this point, the reader will not be overwhelmed by the inclusion of long sentences.

Remember, sentence variety can be used to:

  • Add liveliness to writing
  • Create a rhythm between sentences
  • Maintain reader interest
  • Emphasize points

To practice varying sentence beginnings, try your hand at this quiz! And remember, if you need assistance with sentence variety or any other writing concern, feel free to schedule an appointment with the Writing Center!

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2 Responses to “This Sentence Has Five Words: Understanding Sentence Variety”

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  1. Grammar Tips: Winter Review! | The Christ College Writing Center - December 9, 2015

    […] Sentence Variety […]

  2. Resources for Getting Started | The Christ College Writing Center - March 1, 2016

    […] Understanding Sentence Variety […]

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