You know how to write a sentence. You write sentence after sentence, day after day. But do your sentences get read? Do they accomplish what you want them to accomplish?
Let’s step back and look at what sentences are and what they do. Then we’ll look at what it takes to write a sentence—one that someone might bother to read, one that does what you want it to do.
Okay, What Makes a Sentence a Sentence?
If anyone asked you, you might define this group of words that stands alone as a grammatical unit by saying that a sentence typically contains at least one subject and a related verb; forms a complete thought; begins with a capital letter; ends with a period, question mark, or exclamation point; and has one of these structures: simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex.
You might go on to say that a sentence has one of these purposes:
- to state (declarative sentence)
- to command (imperative sentence)
- to ask (interrogative sentence)
- to exclaim (exclamatory sentence)
Unless the sentence comes from James Joyce or Gertrude Stein, in which case its purpose might be to evoke an aesthetic response or to expand people’s notions of what sentences’ purposes might be.
Wait, does that string of words you just read qualify as a sentence? Technically, no. Continuing your definition, you might point out what a sentence is not: a clause, a phrase, or a sentence fragment.
In all this defining, you would be right—to the extent that a person can be right about such a slippery thing as language. But knowing how to define sentence doesn’t help you write a sentence.
How to Write a Sentence: The Infographic
To write a sentence, one worth reading at least, you have to do a few things that most definitions leave out. This flowchart walks you through how to do it.
You may never use the term simple sentence again.
Now Available As a Poster
Size: 9.25 inches x 3.5 feet (approximately)
Paper: Standard 20# bond paper or glossy photo paper—your choice
Cost: $12 + shipping
Contact: Great Lakes Graphics & Printing in Amherst, New York, 716-636-8440. Ask for Caitlin. Or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hat tip to Joseph Kalinowski, who designed this infographic, and to Brian Poulsen, who made the arrangements for printing it as a poster. And thanks to the following folks for embedding the infographic on their own sites: Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl), Sue Surdam, and Danielle Villegas (Tech Comm Geek Mom).
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