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: 24# bond
Cost: $29 each + shipping
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).
Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):
Lovely! Now if only infographics could be printed for my office wall…
Noz, I had an urge to create this as a printed piece—a bookmark, in fact—but it got longer and longer…
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I agree that this would be fantastic as a poster. If you commissioned one, I would certainly buy it!
Also, after the first two “No” answers, would it be possible to redirect the reader back to the top to start again? :^)
Brad, Thanks for your note. You’ve reinspired me to think about printing some of these things. I don’t know if the size works. I’ll have to investigate the options. Meanwhile, I’ve considered your suggestion and decided not to make the flowchart circular. I toyed with that idea in various ways, and I always came back to leaving that return to the top implied. That way the chart stays simpler, its exit points feel more satisfying (to me anyhow), and something remains for readers to supply themselves—one of the delights of reading. For example, I hope that you felt some delight in “seeing” that implied arrow.
Thank I am going to give this to my students!
Roxanne, I’m thrilled to hear it. What level do you teach? And how will you share this with your students? I’ve been wondering about the possibility of creating a print version.
I love it, too. I have ninth graders. In particular, they struggle to understand that writers use words FOR a purpose. This infographic gives them language to discuss what other writers do and a tool to use as they revise their own. Would love a poster. Thank you!
Thanks for your note, Wendy. I’m looking into ways to accommodate. I’ll let you know if we do get a printed version together. Good luck with your ninth graders—they need you!
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I love your infographic. I would definitely buy a couple of printed copies. If you cut it in half and put those two parts side by side, that might make a neat poster.
Jesse, I haven’t worked out a print solution yet. Still investigating possibilities. Thank you for the note!
Hi again, Brad. This infographic is now available to order. See details above.
Wendy, You can now order this infographic as a poster. See details above.
Roxanne, This infographic is now available to order. See details above.
Jesse, This infographic is now available to order as a poster. See details above.
Hey, Noz, you can now order this infographic as a poster. See details above.
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Do you mind if I include this in my upcoming technology curriculum as a thumbnail? I’m updating the 6th grade text and want to include a unit on infographics. Of course, I’ll provide credit to your site and a linkback.
Here’s a link to the current text:
Jacqui, Thanks for asking. I’m honored. Go for it. Hope your book makes a splash.
Totally loved it. Thanks Marcia!