How to Write Clearly: Simple Sentences

The simple sentence is the basic model of a sentence. A simple sentence contains a subject, a verb, and a predicate and creates a clause. The subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that the sentence is about. The verb is the action that the subject is taking. The predicate is the person place or thing the subject is acting on. And a clause is one single idea created by the linking of subject, verb and predicate. Clear writing begins with the simple sentence.

 

The simple sentence can be easily summed up in an example we might see in grammar school. She played ball. She is the subject of the sentence. Played is the verb. Ball is the predicate. And all three parts of the sentence create a clause. Therefore, She played ball is a perfectly serviceable simple sentence. But as a standalone sentence, She played ball, does not convey very much information. In order to make this standalone sentence as clear as possible, we might be prompted to ask: Who is she? What kind of ball did she play? And exactly how was she playing ball?

 

Changing the ambiguous pronoun, she, to the proper noun, Marry, brings a little more clarity to the sentence. Marry played ball. However, we could give even more clarity to the subject by describing something about Marry. If we decide that our subject, Marry, is a girl with curly blond hair, the image of the girl becomes much clearer. Marry, the girl with curly blond hair played ball. Now, we know who the subject of the sentence is, but we are still left to wonder about the other two questions: What kind of ball did she play? And exactly how was she playing ball?

 

We can change the predicate to decide what kind of ball she was playing. If we decide that Marry is playing baseball, the sentence becomes: Marry, the girl with curly blond hair, played baseball. But we could do even better than that if we applied just a little knowledge of the game of baseball and showed what position Marry was playing. If Marry was not just playing in left field, but she was playing far out in left field, we come up with an even clearer picture. Marry, the girl with curly blond hair, played way out in deep left field. Now that we have who the subject is and what the predicate is, we know much more about the sentence. However, we can still look at the verb to decide if the sentence is as clear as possible.

 

If we use our assumptions about the game of baseball and how it is likely to be played to guide our understanding of this standalone sentence, we may be tempted to believe that the sentence, Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, played way out in left field is as clear as possible. But we can still look at how exactly did she play? Was she paying rapt attention to the game or was she goofing off? We could come up with two drastically different interpretations of the girl’s character just by coming up with a more specific verb than played. But for now, we will go with focused on the ball instead of played. And we come up with: Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, focused on the ball, from deep out in left field.

 

Making a list of examples of simple sentences from least clarity to most clarity we come up with:

She played ball.

Marry played ball.

Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, played ball.

Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, played way out in left field.

Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, stared at the ball from way out in left field.

 

But what if instead of Marry, the girl with the curly blond hair, stared at the ball from way out in left field we came up with Marry, the girl with curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field. In the first of these two example sentences, Marry is clearly intent on helping her team win. In the second of the two example sentences, Marry is not paying attention and if the reader decides that from way out in left field is a metaphor than she may not even be playing baseball at all.

 

So if we came up with Marry, the girl with curly blond hair, fiddled with the dust in her pocket from deep out in left field as a standalone sentence, and we wanted to create as much clarity as possible without changing a word in our example sentence, we would have to venture into complex and compound sentences.

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