Why Your Mean English Teacher Made You Learn Sentence Types

When I was a “mean, old English teacher,” I was young!

Today’s topic is sentence variety.

As you may remember from middle school, there are different types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound/complex. You probably had to take a test on them at some point. It may have been one of those, “When will we ever need to know this in real life?” moments for you. And you were right. But also wrong.

Chances are, outside of a test, no one will ever expect you to label a sentence by type (or at all). So why did you learn it?

Because language is music.

Take a moment and sing “Jingle Bells” to yourself. Or out loud, if you want to annoy someone. But just keep on singing the words “jingle bells.” Don’t change the words or the musical notes you’re singing. Do NOT, under any circumstances, jingle all the way.

How long before you drove yourself–or those in earshot–mad?

My point is that “jingle bells” is fine for a few bars, but for the love of humanity, enough is enough.

And so it is with your sentences. We vary the types of sentences to make the words pleasant to the ear, even if the “ear” is in your own mind while you read to yourself.

Some writers can instinctively employ sentence variety, but others may need to break it down. One good trick for teachers is to have students write a paragraph or two and then highlight the different sentence types in different colors. If everything on your page is, say, blue, then chances are you need more sentence variety. Unless you happen to be Ernest Hemingway. Then you could do whatever you want.


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