Complex sentences

Introduction

3 reasons why supporting events can be tricky

There are 3 ways in which supporting events can make complex sentences tricky to read, write, and edit.

1. Supporting events can turn up anywhere in a sentence.

At the beginning:

Watching the glass closely, she bounced up and down.

Alanna: The first adventureTamora PierceSource

At the end:

A plank of wood lay by the track, roughly fashioned in the shape of an arrow.

The Forgotten PathDavid NewmanSource

Or even in the middle:

A cramped diner haunted by insomniacs is as good as any joint.

A Song for QuietCassandra Khaw

2. Supporting events can be essential to the meaning of a sentence, or just add extra detail.

A lot of the time, supporting events just give the reader a bit of extra detail:

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Watching the glass closely, she bounced up and down.

Alanna: The first adventureTamora PierceSource
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A plank of wood lay by the track, roughly fashioned in the shape of an arrow.

The Forgotten PathDavid NewmanSource
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A cramped diner haunted by insomniacs is as good as any joint.

A Song for QuietCassandra Khaw

But sometimes the sentence as a whole wouldn't make sense without them:

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The sounds of night aren't really what's keeping me from Burke and Wills, though.

That Eye, the SkyTim WintonSource
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Bod heard Scarlett choking back a scream.

The Graveyard BookNeil GaimanSource
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He'd been sent there for being a nuisance in Assembly.

Flour BabiesAnne FineSource

3. They can be nested inside each other.

A supporting event can itself have another supporting event inside it, creating a layered, hierarchical structure. Here's an example:

Zangara died thinking of the family he'd left behind to come over to the United States on this difficult mission.

The Godfathers: Lives and crimes of the mafia mobstersRoberto OllaSource

Zangara died thinking of the family he'd left behind to come over to the United States on this difficult mission.

The Godfathers: Lives and crimes of the mafia mobstersRoberto OllaSource

Zangara died thinking of the family he'd left behind to come over to the United States on this difficult mission.

The Godfathers: Lives and crimes of the mafia mobstersRoberto OllaSource

Zangara died thinking of the family he'd left behind to come over to the United States on this difficult mission.

The Godfathers: Lives and crimes of the mafia mobstersRoberto OllaSource

There are 4 events in this sentence:

  • Zangara died.
  • He was thinking about his family.
  • He had left his family behind.
  • He came over to the United States on a difficult mission.

More importantly, each of the events are layered into each other and add more information about each other:

  • Zangara died while thinking about his family.
  • He was thinking about the family that he left behind.
  • He left his family behind in order to come to the United States on a difficult mission.

To recap, complex sentences can be tricky to read and write because:

  1. Supporting events can turn up anywhere in a sentence.
  2. Supporting events can add optional detail or they can be essential to the meaning of the sentence.
  3. Supporting events can be nested inside each other like Russian dolls.

Okay, we have a rough idea of what makes a complex sentence complex.

Now let's look at the kinds of information we can convey with complex sentences. 

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