If you are looking to spice up your writing or public speaking and hold other people's attention, use the following sentence variety examples as a model. Adding variety to your speech or writing keeps people interested and can keep the emphasis where you want it.
Forming Sentences by Function
Sentences fulfill four basic functions: declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, and imperative.
The dog bit the man.
Whether you're an ESL student or a native speaker of English, this is the first type of sentence you learn, and the most common in casual, everyday speech. In its simplest form it consists of a subject, a verb, and an object, and is often a statement of fact.
Did the dog bite the man?
Interrogative sentences are commonly called questions, and can be used for ascertaining facts or opinions. A subset of questions, called rhetorical questions, are not intended to provoke an answer; rather they encourage agreement or thought about a particular topic.
Ouch! The dog bit me!
Use exclamatory sentences when you're overcome with emotion or need to emphasize a point strongly. Although common in informal writing and fiction, exclamatory sentences have little place in formal or academic writing.
Bite the man!
An imperative sentence, also known as a command, leaves the subject implicit and focuses on the action (and the recipient thereof, if there is one). Imperative sentences are useful for persuasion and exhortation; manifestos and political propaganda make generous use of this type of sentence.
Forming Sentences by Structure
Sentences vary by structure as well as by function. The above examples were all simple; that is, they had one independent clause. There are also compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.
I like to read.
A simple sentence has one independent clause.
I like to read, and I also like to write.
A compound sentence includes more than one independent clause, connected by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, or yet).
I prefer to read books that are bestsellers.
A complex sentence includes one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. (A dependent clause is one that cannot stand alone.) Types of dependent clauses include relative clauses (I kicked the boy who pinched me), adverb clauses (I am going home now because I have a curfew), and noun clauses (I don't know what to do next).
Although I prefer to read current bestsellers, I do like to read old Agatha Christie mysteries, and I also like some 20th-century science fiction.
Compound-complex sentences take a bunch of clauses (multiple independent clauses, and one or more dependent clauses) and toss them together like a salad. Although these sentences take practice to write in a grammatically correct fashion, they can hold a tremendous amount of meaning, and are common in academic writing.
Combining Sentences for Impact
Now that you know the different functions and structures that a sentence can have, you need to know how to combine them to have the impact you are looking for.
- Think about the type of writing or speaking you are doing. A term paper built entirely of simple declarative sentences will appear childish and be boring to read, but a quick email to your friend can benefit from concise sentences.
- Think about your audience. If you are an advanced ESL student giving an oral presentation, your teacher will want you to demonstrate that you know how to use dependent clauses in complex sentences, but if you are a native English speaker at a political rally, you will want to pepper your speech with rhetorical questions and imperatives.
- Read through your essay or speech again. If you use three or four of the same type of sentence in a row, read it aloud to see if it flows nicely, or if the paragraph seems too choppy or too long-winded. After a series of compound-complex sentences, conclude a paragraph with a simple declarative sentence to perk your reader up. Or, start a paragraph simply, and crescendo with longer and more complex sentences until you reach the climax of your argument.
There are many ways to vary your sentences; play with variation until you are happy with your speech or writing.