Today’s post is the third of four on the topic of formal composition, exercises that concentrate on manipulating grammatical forms in order to have them at the ready as we revise our writing. By at first identifying and naming the elements in detail, and then consciously putting them together—by composing them, we train ourselves in the craft of writing, ultimately moving from a conscious to an unconscious second habit of correcting and bettering our writing.
The first installment of these exercises, It’s Time to Start Writing, introduced simple and compound sentences, and the second article added complex sentences. Today we look at two ways to design a complex sentence, composing what are traditionally called loose and periodic sentences. The terms simple, compound, and complex refer to types of sentences; the terms loose and periodic refer to sentence designs, the shape we bring to the type. If type is the skeleton, design is the muscle; they are correlative, and whereas the bony structure of type is largely fixed, the muscle of design can be contoured in many different and interesting ways to suit the content.
A complex sentence, then, is one that contains at least one independent clause and at least one subordinate clause. When a complex sentence begins with the independent clause, it is called a loose sentence, and no comma separates the independent clause from its following subordinate one: I left because it was getting dark. The loose sentence represents the most natural arrangement of words in English; we tell the complete thought first, and follow up then with any qualifying assertions. The term loose refers to the unrestrained declaring of the main idea as the sentence begins, which replicates our voice and intention in more natural, unguarded conversation.
The periodic sentence, on the other hand, is the inverse of the loose sentence; the subordinate clause begins the sentence, and a comma separates it from the following independent clause: Because it was getting dark, I left. If that sounds a little stiff to your ears, it should. The content of this particular example is so basic that the more common loose sentence would be a better choice. But the periodic (the term means winding road) has its place when the thought is a little more involved and indirect: Because so many passengers were inconvenienced and the entire event was proving to be a public relations nightmare, the airline decided to issue refunds to everyone affected. Here the initial subordinate clause sets out the elaborate situation that caused the action of the independent clause.
With that as background, here are the seven progressive exercises, again divided into basic, intermediate, and advanced. Where the directions refer to a clause of time or cause, the conjunctions when and because may be used respectively. Remember to punctuate accordingly.
(1) One loose sentence of one independent clause and one subordinate clause of time.
(2) One loose sentence of two independent clauses and one subordinate clause of cause.
(3) One periodic sentence of one subordinate clause of cause, and one independent clause whose verb is transitive.
(4) One loose sentence of two independent clauses joined by the conjunction and, with one subordinate clause of time; both verbs are intransitive.
(5) One periodic sentence of one subordinate clause of time and two independent clauses whose verbs are both transitive with concrete direct objects.
(6) One periodic sentence of one subordinate clause of cause whose subject is plural and verb is intransitive, and one independent clause whose subject is singular and whose verb is transitive with a concrete direct object.
(7) One periodic sentence of two subordinate clauses of cause joined by the conjunction and, with two independent clauses, each with plural subjects and intransitive verbs modified by an adverb.
Next week, we’ll look finally at two more designs, cumulative and balanced sentences. Design, remember, builds on type, and knowing a little about each can help us revise our work in unexpected ways.