It’s Time to Start Writing:
Part 2

Last week, I introduced the first of four exercises in formal composition, short directions that concentrate on the grammatical design, or form, of a sentence, rather than its content or style. Today’s post continues that work with seven more directions, all a little more advanced than the earlier ones. As before, I’ll first summarize very briefly the grammar involved, and then set out the sentences in three groups, basic, intermediate, and advanced. These seven sentences build on last week’s grammar, so you may wish to review that earlier post before you begin this next set.

First, a summary of the grammar you’ll need for today’s sentences:

There are three types of sentences: simple, compound, and complex. A simple sentence has one independent clause, a compound sentence has two or more independent clauses, and a complex sentence has at least one independent clause and at least one subordinate clause.

A clause is a group of words that pairs a subject with a verb. There are two kinds of clauses: independent and subordinate. An independent clause succeeds by itself in stating a complete thought; a subordinate clause cannot do that alone, but must work with an independent clause to finish its thought. Thus, I left early is an independent clause and because it started to rain is a subordinate clause. Combine the two, and you produce a complex sentence: I left early because it started to rain.

Conjunctions join elements of a sentence, and they fall into two categories: coordinating and subordinating. Coordinating conjunctions coordinate, which means they join elements of the same grammatical kind and significance. Two important coordinating conjunctions are and and but. Subordinating conjunctions, on the other hand, subordinate, which means they make the clause they introduce grammatically dependent on an independent clause in the same sentence. Two common subordinating conjunctions are because, which indicates cause, and when, which indicates time. So in that same complex sentence I left early because it started to rain, the subordinating conjunction because alerts us to the beginning point of the subordinate clause. Used alone and unable to represent a complete thought, the subordinate clause can only be a fragment: Because it started to rain. In the study of formal composition, fragments are avoided.

Here, then, are the forms to compose. Set aside your creativity, concentrate on structure, and compose each sentence slowly and analytically. When you’ve finished, check your sentences closely against the directions.


(1) One compound sentence of two clauses. The verb of each clause is transitive and the two clauses are joined by the conjunction but.

(2) One complex sentence of two clauses. The subjects of the clauses are different and both verbs are transitive. Join the two clauses with the subordinating conjunction that shows cause.

(3) One complex sentence of two clauses. The verb of the independent clause is intransitive and the verb of the subordinate clause is transitive with a concrete noun for its direct object. Join the two clauses with the subordinating conjunction that shows time.


(4) One compound sentence of three clauses. Join the clauses with different coordinating conjunctions. Make the verb of the first clause intransitive, and the verbs of the other two clauses transitive. The direct objects are concrete nouns. Use different subjects in all three clauses.

(5) One complex sentence of two clauses. The independent clause precedes the subordinate clause, and the subordinate clause begins with the conjunction that shows cause. The verbs of both clauses are intransitive, and the first clause includes an adverb.

(6) One complex sentence of two clauses. The subordinate clause begins with the conjunction that shows time, and it precedes the independent clause; a comma should separate the two clauses. Both clauses contain transitive verbs; the direct object of the first verb is a concrete noun, and the direct object of the second verb is an abstract noun.


(7) One complex sentence of three clauses. The first two clauses are independent and joined with a coordinating conjunction; elide the subject of the second clause. The third clause is subordinate and begins with the conjunction of cause; use a different subject. The two independent clauses have transitive verbs with concrete nouns as direct objects; the subordinate clause has an intransitive verb modified by an adverb.

As I mentioned last time, the point of these exercises is to train yourself in manipulating forms until they become second nature, so that your reflections can find a form as you begin to draft your work. Then, as you begin revising, this same analytical habit will inform the changes you make to focus and sharpen your sentences.


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