Sentence variety with adverbial modifiers

Sentences are rarely used in isolation, but rather are usually part of a paragraph with other sentences. In addition to relating the ideas they convey, it’s also helpful to consider their patterns when combining them into a paragraph. Sentence variety is an important tool for writers not only in making their point but also in making their writing interesting.

As discussed in a number of posts, including the previous one on “Revisiting the English Sentence,” English is a word order language, with subject usually coming first:

Subject – Verb

Subject – Verb – Direct Object

Subject – Verb – Subject Complement

A simple way to create variety is to begin a sentence with an adverbial modifier, which we have seen is one part that can move around easily. These moveable modifiers include a single adverb, an adverb phrase, and an adverb clause.

beginning with an adverb

The whole pile of dishes went down.

Down went the whole pile of dishes.

beginning an adverb phrase

I never trusted ladders after that experience.

After that experience, I never trusted ladders.

beginning an adverb clause

The fish jumped the hook as I pulled in the line.

As I pulled in the line, the fish jumped the hook.

Placing the adverbial modifier at the start of a sentence creates suspense. Also when a word or word group is not in its usual position, it gives emphasis to it and the ideas it expresses.

Adverb clauses, which we have shown to be versatile in their movability and in their devices (such as elliptical clauses), are multi-faceted in creating additional sentence variety. Here are some other useful adverb clauses devices which can be used to replace the clause signal and make the clause more emphatic.

begin with verb

in place of  If

(meaning “on what condition”)

If I had taken more time, I could have done better.

Had I taken more time, I could have done better.

If I were in your place, I would do the same thing.

Were I in your place, I would do the same thing.

use Once

in place of  If, When, After, or As soon as

If you break the seal, you can’t return the bottle.

Once you break the seal, you can’t return the bottle.

use Now that

in place of Because

Because Dale has a job, he takes more interest in his appearance.

Now that Dale has a job, he takes more interest in his appearance.

begin with adverb

in place of Although

Although we came early, we got poor seats.

Early as we came, we got poor seats.

begin with adjective

in place of Although

Although it is cheap, the car is no bargain.

Cheap as it is, the car is no bargain.

In the last example, we replaced an adverb clause with an adjective to create variety. In a future post, we will examine how other subordinate clauses such adjective and noun clauses also have useful devices to vary sentence patterns and emphasis. These devices for sentence variety are just some of the instruments for a writer’s toolkit.

(Examples adapted from English 3200)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *