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Vary Sentences

A news article presents the facts simply and quickly. That does not mean, however, that all its sentences will be short. A series of short sentences can bore the audience. To vary your sentences, use and, but, or or to combine two short sentences.


All Short Sentences:

An ice storm surprised downtown workers last night. Road crews responded. They were not prepared for the severity of the storm. The storm continued until 10: 00 P.M. Roads remained icy. Workers found they had two options. They could risk driving. They could stay in their offices.

A Variety of Sentences:

An ice storm surprised downtown workers last night. Road crews responded, but they were not prepared for the severity of the storm. The storm continued until 10: 00 P.M., and roads remained icy. Workers found they had two options. They could risk driving, or they could stay in their offices.


Improving Sentence Structure

To communicate about their work, copy editors use a number of terms that most people forgot or maybe never knew at all. In addition to knowing how to make a poor sentence better, a copy editor has to be able to defend his or her decisions to writers, editors, and fellow copy editors. This list also provides a good indication of the errors that copy editors commonly catch and correct:


A word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers, usually (but not always) is the one that precedes the pronoun.


Gary lives in the suburbs and commutes to his job in the city. Gary’s job is unpleasant because it requires that he deals with rude and surly people.


A possessive is not an appropriate antecedent:

Gary’s job is a 45-minute commute from his home

EDIT: Gary has a 45-minute commute to his job.

EDIT: Gary’s job is a 45-minute commute from home.


A noun or noun phrase set off by commas that follow a noun to which it is equivalent.

My husband, Fletcher, comes from Philadelphia. Maria, a hardworking art director for a national magazine, gets four weeks vacation a year.



A string of words containing a noun (subject) and a finite verb. It may be:

– A complete sentence (e.g. Anna went home. Paul laughs.); or

– Part of a longer sentence (e.g. Helen sings and Yves plays the guitar. [2 clauses]), in which it may be:

– Independent (e.g. Before dinner, I have to go to the store.); or

– Dependent (e.g. We all wondered why Jane was late.)


Also called a dangling participle; a phrase, usually at the beginning of a sentence, that is grammatically attached to the subject of the sentence but in fact refers to something other than that subject.

Walking very quickly, his bag banged against his hip.

(It was not his bag that was walking.)

EDIT: As he walked very quickly, his bag banged against his hip.

EDIT: Walking very quickly, he couldn’t prevent his bag from banging against his hip.


direct object

A noun on which a transitive verb acts (it receives the action of the verb). See also indirect object.

I tossed the grenade into the bushes.



An immense exaggeration, usually intentional.

I would have needed a microscope to read her handwriting.


indirect object

A noun on which a verb acts in a less assertive way than it does on a direct object. The action of ‘verb + direct object’ has an effect on or is received by the indirect object.

I read him the riot act.

intransitive verb

One that does not need to act on an object (compare with transitive verb).

The wind blows. The horse ran down the dusty road.


Technical terms or obscure language used by a group, such as lawyers or academicians, that is not easily understood by people outside that group; should be changed except in publications intended for the group to which the jargon is familiar.



Figurative use of a word or phrase in place of another; a comparison without the use of as or like (compare with simile).

His fingers flew across the keyboard.Her eyes were green jewels that sparkled in the moonlight.

mixed metaphor

A combination of two metaphors that do not match up or that present contradictory images.

The insult cut her like a knife; it froze her in mid-sentence.


A word or phrase that makes another more specific.

I gave her four big red apples. The softly humming man rocked the baby, who was sleeping peacefully.

non sequitur

An inference or conclusion that seems disconnected from the information preceding it.

This winter will be one of the warmest in this century. No snow is expected to fall south of New York. Fur coat manufacturers are looking forward to a great sales year.


A combination of words that contradict each other; a popular example is " military intelligence."

The man’s cruel generosity made Peter weep. The lively corpse tumbled out of the closet.



A string of words that expresses a thought but does not contain all the elements of a clause (compare with clause).

predicate nominative

A noun or noun phrase following a form of " to be" that is equivalent to the subject of the sentence.

Dan is an idiot. The rabbits were our dinner.


Repetition of a word or phrase in the same paragraph, article, or story, sometimes done deliberately by the writer (but even then it may sound clunky); repetition of information in an article or story, which should be avoided. (One common example is the phrase " close proximity, " which may also be referred to as a tautology.)


Comparison of two dissimilar things, usually introduced by as or like (compare with metaphor).

Her eyes glittered like two precious stones.His cheek was as rough as sandpaper.


A combination of words in a sentence that deviates from traditions of grammar or idiom.

I could of been a contender.


Needless repetition of information, usually in one sentence (much like redundancy).

The expert plumber was very skilful at his job.

transitive verb

One that acts on an object (compare with intransitive verb; note that some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive).

The wind blows the leaves across the lawn. That girl threw the ball to the shortstop.

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