SENTENCE PATTERNS 1-20
Pattern 1: Compound Sentence—Semicolon, No Conjunction
Join two simple sentences having two closely related ideas with a semicolon, rather than a comma and a conjunction.
S V ; S V.
My cat lost her ball; I don’t know where.
Some people dream of being something; others stay awake and are.
Reading is the easy part; remembering takes more effort.
He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened. –Lao-tzu
Pattern 2: Compound Sentence with Elliptical Construction
This is similar to pattern 1, because they both contain two independent clauses. This pattern leaves out the verb in the second clause because and only if it would needlessly repeat a verb from the first clause.
(direct object or subject complement) (omitted verb)
S V DO or SC ; S , DO or SC.
For many of us, the new math teacher was a savior; for others, a pain.
His mother told him to rent a car; his sister, to pack the suitcases.
Snake was in jail for fraud; Knuckles for blackmail.
Thought is a blossom; language, the bud; action, the fruit.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Pattern 3: Compound Sentence with Explanatory Statement
This pattern also has two independent clauses; one that is a general statement or idea, and another that is a specific statement or example, separated by a colon.
General statement (idea) : Specific statement (example)
(independent clause) (independent clause)
Darwin’s Origin of Species forcibly states a harsh truth: only the fittest survive.
The empty coffin had a single horrifying meaning: Dracula had left his tomb in
search of fresh blood.
Remember Yogi Berra’s advice: it ain’t over till it’s over.
One thing you learn when you love the Red Sox like I do: how to lose and get up and fight another day.
-- Jack Welch (CEO of GE)
Pattern 4: A Series Without a Conjunction
Simply separate the items by commas (at any place in the sentence), omitting the final conjunction to give your sentence a quick, staccato feel. Read the series out loud to make sure that the items flow together without the conjunction—this will not work for every series! (Variation: add the conjunction to EACH item)
The United States has a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
It took courage, knowledge, skill—and he had them all.
I like big burgers with everything on ‘em: pickles and onions and lettuce and
tomato and plenty of mustard.
Do you often feel dragged out, knocked down, pooped, bushed—plumb exhausted? --MM Magazine, December 2001
Pattern 5: A Series of Balanced Pairs
This pattern is a series of pairs—two or three or four, with a conjunction between the items in each pair. Make sure the rhythm is right for your sentence—read it out loud! Do you like the way it sounds? You can also use coordinating conjunctions besides and and or.
The textbook clearly showed the distinctions between prose and poetry,
denotation and connotation, deduction and induction.
Great artists often seem to occur in pairs: Michelangelo and da Vinci, Gaugin
and van Gogh, Monet and Cezanne.
Eager yet fearful, confident but somewhat suspicious, Jason eyed the barber who
would give him his first haircut.
A new book and PBS television series traces the numerous traditions—folk and gospel, blues and zydeco—that shaped American music.
--Smithsonian, Nov. 2001
Pattern 6: An Introductory Series of Appositives (with dash and summarizing subject)
Appositive, appositive, appositive—summary word S V.
Gluttony, lust, envy—which is the worst sin?
The depressed, the stressed, the lonely, the fearful—all have trouble coping with
What do you think caused the American Revolution—the tea tax, the lack of
representation, the distance from the mother country, or the growing sense
of being a new and independent nation?
Pattern 7: An Internal Series of Appositives or Modifiers (enclosed with dashes or parentheses)
(or modifier, modifier, modifier)
S—or ( appositive, appositive, appositive ) —V.
He learned the necessary qualities for political life—guile, ruthlessness, and
garrulousness—by carefully studying his father’s life.
Basic writing skills (good vocabulary, knowledge of grammar, sense of style) can
be learned by almost everyone.
On our trip to Italy, the major sights—the Vatican in Rome, the tower in Pisa—
didn’t impress us as much as the food and kindness of the people.
And then something happened which made her decide that he was quite one of the most aggressive—and overbearing and unattractive—men she had ever encountered. --Antonia Fraser, Cool Repentence
Pattern 8: Dependent Clauses in a Pair or a Series
All clauses must be dependent, parallel and express something dependent on the idea expressed in the main clause. It can come at the beginning or the end of a sentence.
With no money and with no time, she had to refuse the vacation package.
Whether you use a Mac or whether you use a PC, you can play great games on a
I know that she was right, that her reasons were convincing and that I’d be better
off if I did it, but I still didn’t want to move to Canada.
Now when I had mastered the language of this water, and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I know the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. –Mark Twain
Pattern 9: Repetition of a Key Term
This is the repetition of a key word in a modifying phrase attached to the main clause. You may repeat the word exactly as it is, or use another form (e.g. brute/brutal, breath/breathtaking, battle/battling, etc.). The key word must be important enough to be repeated, and can come anywhere in the sentence. It is usually separated with a comma, but a dash can be used for a longer pause.
She suddenly felt filled with joy—a joy she could not explain but that she gladly
We all have problems, but we can find a solution—a solution that works and is
equitable for everyone.
This government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. –Karl Marx
Pattern 10: Emphatic Appositive at End, After a Colon or a Dash
Withholding repetition till the end builds to a climax and provides a forceful, emphatic appositive that concludes a sentence and practically shout for the reader’s attention—a colon or dash emphasizes this.
When I go to the movies, I need two things to really enjoy it: popcorn and a soda.
Airport thieves have a common target: unwary travelers.
Many traditional philosophies echo the ideas of one man—Plato.
In perpetrating a revolution, there are two requirements: someone or something to revolt against and someone to actually show up and do the revolting.
--Woody Allen, “A Brief, Yet Helpful Guide to Civil Disobedience”
Pattern 11: Interrupting Modifier Between Subject and Verb
You may use commas, dashes, or parentheses for the interruption, depending on the power you wish to create. The modifier can also be a complete sentence.
A small drop of ink, falling (as Byron said) like dew upon a thought, can make
Donuts and pastries, popular breakfast foods, contain little nutrition.
Although the models looked wonderful in their new $500 parkas—they were
pretending to know how to ski—not one of them ventured down the giant
If you are having trouble with your conclusion—and this is not an uncommon occurrence—it may be because of problems with your essay itself.
--Rosa and Eschholz, Models for Writers
Pattern 12: Introductory or Concluding Participles
Participial phrase , S V .
S V , participial phrase.
Expecting a spectacular display, the crowd eagerly awaited the fireworks.
Inspired by the reach of the woods and the magnificent view, he was able to finish his novel.
Faced with such obstacles, readers are at first tenacious.
--William Zinsser, “Simplicity”
Pattern 13: A Single Modifier Out of Place for Emphasis
Below, the traffic looked like a necklace of ants.
(The traffic below looked like a necklace of ants.)
Desperate, the young mother called for help.
(The desperate young mother called for help.)
The general demanded absolute obedience, instant and unquestioning.
(The general demanded instant, unquestioning, and absolute obedience.)
Extradited, he got similar adulation as he passed through Concord, New
--Smithsonian, Feb. 1999
Pattern 14: Prepositional Phrase Before Subject and Verb
(preposition: the relation between a pencil and a box)
After a long pause, the teacher continued.
With horrified attention, we watched the planes crash into the World Trade
Under the table, Jenny played with her dolls.
When I left the dining room that evening and started down the dark basement stairs, I had a life.
--Annie Dillard, “Hitting Pay Dirt”
Pattern 15: Object or Complement Before Subject and Verb
The object or complement would normally come after the verb, but if you want to place particular emphasis on it, you may wish to invert it. It may or may not need a comma.
His kind of sarcasm I do not like.
No friend of snakes is my sister Jean.
Famous and wealthy an English teacher will never be.
Up went the steps, bang went the door, round whirled the wheels, and off they rattled.
--Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
Corded and crisp and pinafored, the five of us seated ourselves one by one at the counter.
--Audre Lorde, “The Fourth of July”
Pattern 16: Paired Constructions
This pattern uses correlative conjunctions (either/or, not only/but also, etc.). Remember to make your construction parallel, and they can be pairs of nouns, prepositions, or adjectives.
Just as the Yankees dominate the World Series, so Tiger Woods dominates the golf world.
The more I study chemistry, the more confused I become.
Reluctantly, every dieter looks for a favorable verdict from the bathroom scale; if not a pound less, at least not an ounce more.
"Not only do I knock them out, but I also pick the round." --Muhammad Ali
Pattern 17: Dependent Clause as Subject or Object or Complement
This pattern will begin with one of the following words: who, whom, which, that, what, why, where, when, or how.
S (dependent clause as subject) V.
S V (dependent clause as object or complement).
How he did that is still amazing to me.
Ann never discovered why her husband bought her a diamond necklace.
That he was a werewolf became obvious when his fingernails turned into claws.
"And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." --John F. Kennedy
Pattern 18: Absolute Construction (noun plus participle)
This pattern can occur anywhere in the sentence. It explains or elaborates on the sentence. It can use commas, dashes, or parentheses.
(absolute construction) , S V.
S, (absolute construction) , V.
I want to go away to college (my parents willing) as soon as I graduate from high school
The snow having stopped, we were able to continue our journey.
The audience bored, many began to go to sleep.
"She sat back on the bed, her head bowed, her lips moving feverishly, her eyes rising only to scan the walls."
--Anne Rice, Interview With the Vampire
Pattern 19: Short, Simple Sentence or Question for Relief or Dramatic Effect
This can provide intense clarity, but it will only be effective if you use it after several long sentences, when you let it summarize what you have just said, or when you let it provide a transition between two or more ideas.
All efforts failed.
"Make my day." --Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry
Pattern 20: The Deliberate Fragment
Used for emphasis or dramatic effect, this should serve some special purpose; if it doesn't, don't use it!
I wish you could have known the Southwest in the early days. The way it really was.