Combining Sentences

David Mansfield is a bad tutor. He doesn't fix my grammar. He doesn't write on my paper. I don't know what he wants me to do.

This is not a well-written paragraph. Why not? Before you jump in with "Because this student clearly does not understand minimalist tutoring" or "cuz dave rox!", I will state that I wish to confine this article to issues of style, not content.

No, the problem with the passage above, stylistically, is its lack of sentence variety. The sentences are all short, producing a choppy rhythm. And in each one, the subject (David Mansfield, he twice, and I) appears at the beginning.

You could argue, perhaps, that the passage effectively conveys the writer's irritation. Those short sentences sputter with a litany of complaints: He doesn't ... He doesn't ... I don't. But in most of your college papers, you will not be producing a list of grievances. For the purpose of academic writing, it makes sense for you to cultivate a more flexible, resourceful, and varied style.

So, what is to be done? (Grammar sticklers, calm down; passive vs. active voice is a different article.) The simplest way to achieve sentence variety, in my view, is to combine sentences. Let me demonstrate with two strategies you can adopt in your own writing.

1. Use a conjunction to connect two ideas.

I recommend this strategy for revising the following sentences:

He doesn't write on my paper. He doesn't tell me what he wants me to do.

The revision would read:

He doesn't write on my paper or tell me what he wants me to do.

Note that this version drops one iteration of the phrase "He doesn't." As a result, the sentence flows more smoothly than the original did.

2. Change the second of two sentences into a subordinate clause, and then connect it to the first sentence.

We can apply this strategy to the following sentences:

David Mansfield is a bad tutor. He doesn't fix my grammar.

Replace He with the relative pronoun who, and you get:

David Mansfield is a bad tutor who doesn't fix my grammar.

So far, so good. The next article presents ways to combine sentences by indicating the logical connection between them.

Creating Sentence Variety

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