The Joy of Sentences — Construction

construction of sentences

The con­struc­tion and use of sen­tences is one of the most chal­leng­ing aspects of the Eng­lish lan­guage. The many rules that were parad­ed dur­ing our school days, seem, at times to act as a bar­ri­er to effec­tive writing.


Combinations of Words?

Puzzle - sentencesForm­ing sen­tences is at the heart of writ­ing. This is is in con­trast to speak­ing, which is more free flow­ing and much less for­mal. This can be a great chal­lenge or bar­ri­er. Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom teach­es us many things about build­ing sen­tences, which include:

  • A sen­tence is a group of words that make sense when combined.
  • They con­tain one or more clauses.
  • Cor­rect punc­tu­a­tion must be used.
  • You must include a verb and a subject.
  • They can con­tain sub­jects and objects.
  • Sen­tences should be between 8 and 17 words in length.
  • If longer than 25, or 30 words, then you should break them down to aid readability.

Of course a large num­ber of gram­mar rules exist for the Eng­lish lan­guage (as for any lan­guage) and they exist for good rea­son. Rules should not, gen­er­al­ly, be bro­ken. Many of the basic struc­ture rules for sen­tences are, in my view, lim­it­ing. Why must a sen­tence be lim­it­ed to 30 words? I have read many very effec­tive sen­tences that are over a hun­dred words in length yet are still a joy to read.

Some writ­ers are mas­ter crafters of the sen­tence will always build, and com­bine, their claus­es to aid the flow of the sto­ry being told. They will craft beau­ti­ful works of art with their words.


Conveying Ideas

One of the basic tools a child uses are bricks with let­ters paint­ed on them, used to build words. Imag­ine for one moment that instead of hav­ing let­ters, they had pop­u­lar words paint­ed on each side. Grab­bing ten to fif­teen word-bricks and throw­ing them in the same way you would a set of dice, will cre­ate a word sequence but it is unlike­ly to cre­ate a viable sen­tence. The order words are used in does mat­ter, in fact it mat­ters very much indeed.

ideas sentencesWhich may explain why some peo­ple find it extreme­ly chal­leng­ing to write. At the same time oth­ers use words, play with them, make them flow, to tell a sto­ry in an ele­gant and pow­er­ful way. Both are select­ing words from the same tool-set, the Eng­lish lan­guage. Yet one finds sen­tence con­struc­tion a chore and the oth­er finds it a joy and search­es for new words and com­bi­na­tions to help them put togeth­er a story.

Any­one can learn to build more pow­er­ful sen­tences, they sim­ply need to try. Every­one has a sto­ry to tell (a nov­el sit­ting in their mind) they need to learn how to con­struct the sen­tences nec­es­sary to tell that sto­ry. Life is com­pli­cat­ed and has many twists and turns, which should be reflect­ed in sen­tences cre­at­ed. Some must be short and sim­ple. Oth­ers need to be longer and more com­plex, but when you make them longer you must also make them more inter­est­ing.


Just Sentences?

As sen­tence build­ing is at the core of the writer’s craft, there are many ways in which they can be used. As dic­tat­ed by the needs of the work, the feel­ings, the emo­tions, etc., etc., a sen­tence can grow, or remain very short, and truth is each has their pur­pose. Few peo­ple will ever write a sen­tence of 958 words, but if well con­struct­ed a writer can con­vey a dis­tinct mes­sage through those words and indeed when long sen­tences are used they should bear the read­er in mind, paus­ing when nec­es­sary through the use of com­mas, semi-colons or colons, such paus­es are used to empha­sise things along the way, but should nev­er be bor­ing; that is the point where you will lose the reader.

power sentencesEvery writer should learn to use pow­er­ful and mean­ing­ful sen­tences at the heart of con­vey­ing their ideas. They should open a reader’s mind about what is pos­si­ble. Well craft­ed sen­tences can be used to:

  • Advance one or more propositions.
  • Con­vey rhetoric and arguments.
  • Grow or contract.
  • Have a nat­ur­al rhythm.
  • Build up cumulatively.
  • Explain and compare.
  • Be sus­pen­sive, and
  • Cre­ate your dis­tinct prose style.


Improve the Power of the Words You Use

These are all tools to be used in order to lever­age the pow­er of sen­tences and to help any writer improve the pow­er of their words.

Sen­tences should be shaped by their con­tent and be dri­ven by a pur­pose, in truth, no amount of rules or lim­it­ing pro­to­cols can pre­pare writ­ers to tack­le the infi­nite ways in which sen­tences may be con­struct­ed to con­vey spe­cif­ic mean­ing. Don DeLil­lo nailed it when talk­ing about the tasks of a writer: “I con­struct sen­tences,” he builds them using words.

But what he does not men­tion is that in doing so writ­ers can con­vey com­plex ideas and philoso­phies. Whether the con­tent is bor­ing or excit­ing is a mat­ter of how the sen­tence is con­struct­ed, the words used.



What do you think about sen­tence con­struc­tion? Do you use long sen­tences, or are you afraid? Think about it then make a com­ment giv­ing your view.


Buy Peter B. Giblett a cof­fee to thank him for the thoughts expressed here. All images used here come from roy­al­ty free or pub­lic domain image col­lec­tions, such as Pixabay.


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2 Replies to “The Joy of Sentences — Construction”

  1. […] is the sec­ond part of a series on the use of the sen­tence, please click here to read the first […]

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