. . .and more about syntax

The more we think about syntax, reading or writing it, the more we close in on sentences. If syntax is basically the ordering of words, sentences are how we deliver or read that ordering of words. We can opt for doing this in staccato ways with punchy short sentences, in long leisurely orderings, or in sentences that withhold a crucial element until the very end. And good writers use all of these.

It’s relevant, then, to do a quick review of the kinds of sentences available to us. There is plenty more that you can read about these; our aim here is to remind you of some ways you can achieve a varied, interesting style in your own writing. It’s also to review the terms for sentences so that you can use them in an impressive way when writing your commentaries.

So, keeping it simple, we can start here: the short declarative or interrogative sentence. For example, Antigone makes her decisions with clarity and determination. What choices did Creon have as the ruler of the city?’ Such sentences are useful and have their own kind of impact. A short set of these can create an assertive tone or provide essential information. Still, such a series can also create a repetitively irritating effect. As always, variation is the top value.

Such sentences are often juxtaposed with what are sometimes called the loose sentence. This label may strike you as imprecise, especially when you have worked hard to construct such sentences. These sentences are often built through connecting two independent clauses or statements joined by such connectives as ‘and’ or ‘but’, or by using a semicolon. Blanche DuBois had her own notion of survival and Stanley had his’. These two elements could also be presented by replacing the ‘and’ with a semicolon. Such sentences provide an opportunity for the kind of prose rhythm that arises from balancing two elements. However, a whole succession of these, even when a dependent clause is added as in, ‘Blanche DuBois had her own notion of survival and Stanley had his, which was to maintain the integrity of his relationship with Stella’, can lead to a kind of hypnotic repetition that dulls the impact of what you are trying to say.

You would do well to focus on these two kinds of sentences, see what you can do with them to achieve some variation in your writing, and see how other writers you are reading play with these issues of word order. Further along, we’ll look at the third major type of syntactical construction, the periodic sentence, a kind of word arrangement that takes a good deal more skill and even some planning. But for adding syntactic tension and interest, probably the most sophisticated use of ordering words in sentences, and at least worth knowing how to identify and yes, construct.

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