Sentence Structure


Exercises to help students develop their sentence variety

An experienced writer controls his or her syntax through a variety of sentence structures. Therefore, imitate the sentence structures in the space provided. Choose a topic that interests you. My goal is for you to start seeing language as a series of clauses and phrases that you can use interchangeably. To develop your own unique writing voice, you must play around with your syntax and experiment with your language.

1. Simple sentence (one independent clause with one subject and verb pair)


EX Two words formed on her lips.

2. Simple sentence with two subjects (one independent clause)


EX Rob and Martha enjoy traveling to Europe.

3. Simple sentence with two subjects and two verbs (one independent clause)


EX Phil and Mark walk and run for exercise during the week.

4. Compound sentence using a comma and coordinating conjunction (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So)

(two or more independent clauses) REMEMBER THE FORMULA: I, cc I.


EX My father hunted deer every weekend, so my mother went shopping.

5.Compound sentence using a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb (two or more independent clauses)

S V ; CA , S V

EX The play was a hit; however, the reviewers criticized it. REMEMBER FORMULA: I; ca, I.

6. Complex Sentence (one independent clause and at least one dependent clause using a subordinating conjunction in an adverbial clause --subordinating conjunctions include after, since, while, because, etc.)


EX After we ate lunch at the museum’s cafe, we browsed the gift shop for souvenirs.


EX The soccer team was short on players since many players were out with the flu.


7.Complex Sentence (one independent clause with at least one dependent clause using a relative pronoun in an adjective clause --relative pronouns include that, which, who, whom, etc.

S V (RP) S V

EX Mary gave me a jar of her homemade jelly, which she made from scratch from her strawberries.

8. Complex Sentence (one independent clause and at least one dependent clause using a subordinating conjunction in a noun clause)


EX Whether the school can provide new computers will depend on parent donations and community support.


EX The biggest disappointment of last season was that the soccer team didn't make it to the final game of the tournament.

9. Compound-Complex Sentences (at least two independent and dependent clauses)

S V (RP) S V S

EX Perhaps you have seen the new art exhibit, which many consider a radical departure from traditional art; the art


was constructed using only Lego pieces.

10. Participial Phrase in a simple sentence (participial phrases function as adjectives—modifying a noun)

Participle S V

EX Climbing over the fence, the scout leader ripped his uniform.

11. Absolute Phrase in a simple sentence.


EX Her eyes watering, the girl told her story about her pet getting hit by the police car.

12. Appositive phrase in a simple sentence (a + adjective + noun)

EX My favorite teacher, a talented chess player, has won several state-level tournaments.

13. Gerund phrase in a simple sentence (gerund phrases function as nouns)

S V Gerund Phrase as Direct Object

EX We especially enjoyed dining at Houston’s restaurant and eating the prime rib.

Verb+ing (looks like a participial but functions as a noun=gerund phrase)

Gerund as Subject

EX Running around the room is so much for my seven year old.

EX Cramming for tests is not a good study strategy for teenagers.

14. Infinitive Phrases in a simple sentence (infinitive phrases can function as adverbs, adjectives, or nouns depending on the context)

S V Infinitive phrase (to +verb)

EX Her friend will give her some ideas to brainstorm for the birthday present. (Inf as adj)

S V Infinitive phrase as direct object

She wanted to increase his pay.

14. Cumulative sentence (independent clause + a string of dependent clauses or phrase)

EX “All I knew was that my father always ate well, that my brother and I had new clothes to wear, and that all of the white people in Piedmont, Virginia, treated my parents with an odd mixture of resentment and respect that even we understood at the time had something directly to do with a small but certain measure of financial security.” (Think about the effect of the dependent clauses – it really slows the reader and emphasizes certain points) Excerpt from “What’s in a name?” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1989)

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15. Periodic sentence (a string of dependent clauses or phrases + independent clause)

EX “The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lockups, the grey cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.” (NOTE A SERIES OF ABSOLUTE PHRASES) Excerpt from George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”

EX His assumptions confirmed, his doubts shattered, he finally knew the truth about his unfaithful wife. (NOTE A SERIES OF ABSOLUTE PHRASES)

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16. An interrupted sentence is one in which the subordinate elements come in the middle, often set off by dashes.

EX The teacher—stressed about what to do about all her grading—gave all the students A’s on the exam.

EX The teacher recognized that these students—selfish, deceitful, and lazy--were the future of America.

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17. You can use a semicolon to join related independent clauses in compound sentences, as well as to separate items in a series if the items already include commas.

EX Members of the band include Joe Clark, saxophone player; Bob Short, tuba player; and Mark Rogers, drummer.

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18. Use dashes to emphasize an idea or to set off an explanatory comment. Don't overuse dashes, or they will lose their impact.

EX To some of you, my ideas may seem radical—even subversive.

EX The first thing the lazy cat did when she woke up—besides slowly drinking her water—was to sit by the window and stare at the birds.

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19. Parentheses are occasionally used for extra, nonessential material included in a sentence.

EX Before arriving at the airport, the old man (tired from such a long day) packed a pillow and a blanket for his trip.

20. Use a colon to introduce an explanation or a definition of something.

EX I'll tell you what I'm going to do: I'm going to quit!

EX There were two reasons for a drop in attendance at the staff parties: first, the teachers were extremely tired, and second, they were on a tight budget.