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Sentence Variety in Context...

Below are some examples of the sentence styles discussed in this module. Read these passages, noticing how the authors are using different styles in combination with one another, and then experiment with the sentence styles in paragraphs of your own using the text boxes provided or your own word processor (as practice for your upcoming exit assignment).

A descriptive paragraph (from "The Gorgon's Head," by Nathanial Hawthorne):

This body of white vapor extended to within less than a hundred yards of the house. It completely hid everything beyond that distance, except a few ruddy or yellow tree-tops, which here and there emerged, and were glorified by the early sunshine, as was likewise the broad surface of the mist. Four or five miles off to the southward rose the summit of Monument Mountain, and seemed to be floating on a cloud. Some fifteen miles farther away, in the same direction, appeared the loftier Dome of Taconic, looking blue and indistinct, and hardly so substantial as the vapory sea that almost rolled over it. The nearer hills, which bordered the valley, were half submerged, and were specked with little cloud-wreaths all the way to their tops. On the whole, there was so much cloud, and so little solid earth, that it had the effect of a vision.

Note how Hawthorne begins in close to the house and moves farther away, and how he uses parallel signal phrases for new details ("four or five miles off," "some fifteen miles farther away,").  Note, too, how he inserts modifying phrases here and there, sometimes at the beginning, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes at the end of sentences, to add another level of detail to some images.

Now write a descriptive paragraph on a topic of your own (on the arrival of Spring? Fall?):



Hawthorne, Nathanial. "The Gorgon's Head." A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls. 1852.

A definition paragraph (from "Soul Food for the Long Haul," by Donna Pierce):

The Soul Food Pyramid follows the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Pyramid, which recommends meals based on grains, fruits and vegetables. The Soul Food Pyramid emphasizes the point with illustrations depicting grits, collard greens, okra, sweet potatoes and watermelon at the bottom half of the pyramid, where grains, fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of the recommended diet. Chitterlings, bacon, pork neck bones, fatback, hog jowls and pigs' feet don't appear in the section illustrating meat choices. Instead, because they contain more fat than protein, they're placed at the top of the pyramid, in the spot reserved for fats, oils and sweets.

Notice the author's use of modifying phrases and clauses to clarify her meaning. Now write your own definition paragraph, and use phrases, as Donna Pierce does, to clarify your meaning. Typically, the author uses a loose style of sentence. You may wish to begin with simple sentences and then add in phrases later.



Pierce, Donna. "Soul Food for the Long Haul." American Visions 14:4. August 1999.

A narrative paragraph (from Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackaray)
[Mr Pen] would very likely have put his threat into execution, for the window was at hand, and the artist by no means a match for the young gengleman—had not Captain Broadfoot and another heavy officer flung themselves between the combatants,—had not the ladies begun to scream,—had not the fiddle stopped, —had not the crowd of people come running in that direction, —had not Laura, with a face of great alarm, looked over their heads and asked for Heaven's sake what was wrong, —had not the opportune Strong made his appearance from the refreshment-room, and found Alcide grinding his teeth and jabbering oaths in his gascon French, and Pen looking uncommonly wicked, although trying to appear as calm as possible when the ladies and the crowd came up.

Notice the extensive use of loose sentences here to give depth to the single moment when Mr Pen hesitates. Now, write your own narrative pararaph using this style to depict a person in a moment of decision:


Thackaray, William Makepeace. The History of Pendennis. qtd. in The Mother Tongue, Kittredge et. al. 1902.


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