Freshen Up Your Sentences with Patterns and Length Variation | Duncan Koerber | Skillshare

Freshen Up Your Sentences with Patterns and Length Variation

Duncan Koerber, University Professor

Freshen Up Your Sentences with Patterns and Length Variation

Duncan Koerber, University Professor

Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
5 Lessons (19m)
    • 1. An Introduction to Freshen Up Your Sentences

    • 2. Sentence Patterns

    • 3. Short Sentences

    • 4. Long Sentences

    • 5. Variation of Long and Short for Effects

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels
  • Beg/Int level
  • Int/Adv level

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

Every writer's sentences can get stale over time. It can be hard to break out of the usual way you write. Take this short course to freshen up your sentences with timeless word patterns and with length variations. 

Many of the patterns described in the course will give your prose a poetic quality. The variation in sentence lengths described in the course can help express different "feelings," such as short sentences for action and long sentences for dreams. 

The course is taught by the author of Clear, Precise, Direct: Strategies for Writing from Oxford University Press (2015). 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Duncan Koerber

University Professor


Dr. Duncan Koerber has taught writing and communications courses for the past 10 years at six Canadian universities to thousands of students.

Currently a full-time assistant professor at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, Duncan Koerber worked for nearly 10 years in reporting and editing roles for the London Free Press, the Mississauga News, and the University of Toronto Medium. He has freelanced for magazines and newspapers, including the Toronto Star.

Oxford University Press recently published his writing textbook, Clear, Precise, Direct: Strategies for Writing (2015). Available on Amazon, the book considers the seven most common errors (interfering factors) in writing and how to improve them (enhancing factors). His second book, Crisis Communication... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • Exceeded!
  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • Not really
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Your creative journey starts here.

  • Unlimited access to every class
  • Supportive online creative community
  • Learn offline with Skillshare’s app

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.



1. An Introduction to Freshen Up Your Sentences: a good drummer knows a key aspect of good writing that is variation. Drummers hold the band together with a consistent beat, of course, but they also break out in mix Things Up a little bit. Varying speed, varying volume for certain effect, and these air techniques that actually good writers understand, too. Now, while the Drummers unit of Measure is the drum stroke, the prose Writers unit of Measure is the sentence. In this set of lectures, I'm going to talk about varying your sentence structure and length for positive effects on your readers. So good writers use sentences that very in structure for a change of pace. A little bit different pace at certain times, good writers will vary the length of sentences to speed up the action or to slow down the reader's experience of whatever the content. ISS Now there's an interfering factor in sentence length of variation, and that is the monotonous sentence. Have you ever heard of Speaker give a speech in the speaking of monotonous voice that goes on and non and non and non with no variation? You know what I'm talking about already to get a sense of the problem? Just read the following paragraph, and you might even try reading it out loud to really hear the monotony that comes up with these sentences. William entered the grocery store. He looked around for candy. He walked over to the chocolate bars store. Owner said Hello. William grabbed the chocolate bar. He walked over to the counter. He placed the chocolate bar on the counter. The owner rang up the price. A dollar 20. William handed the man the money. He stepped out the door onto the sidewalk. So this paragraph is not particularly bad. So they're not grammatical errors here. And certainly we need toe. See William go through this process, and there's a lot of detail here. Each sentence is grammatically correct. It's economical. It's an active voice of strong verb. Strong now owns original language and even some parallelism. These air, all good things, these air, all elements of good writing. But still, the paragraph fails. Indeed, the paragraph is really a mind numbing drag. Now. This is a really extreme example of a collection of what are called segregated sentences, so segregated sentences stand on their own. Each one focuses on one point. They're often used in description or narration. Segregated sentences are oriented towards events. Things happening not so much. What goes on inside a character's mind or persons mind. It's about the external world, so they're good building blocks of writing, but they can be overused if you're not attentive to their length. Now the fix here is very easy. It's what we need to do is vary the length of some of the sentences for effect. So here is the revised version of that. William entered the grocery store and looked around for candy. He walked over to the chocolate bars and the store owner said Hello. William grabbed the chocolate bar, walked over to the counter and placed it down. The owner rang up the price. $1.20. William handed the man the money and stepped out the door onto the sidewalk. So here sentences vary in length from 7 to 14 words, so that's a nice variation, and I think it breaks the monotony of the original. It feels more natural, right? It feels less rigid after I've done this revision. So the next few lectures I want to talk about sends patterns that can break up that monotony want to talk about the power of the short sentence, the dreamy feel of a long sentence and also using shorten Long to provide some effects in combination. 2. Sentence Patterns: Now I want to talk about some sentence patterns, so these are the first way that you can vary your sentences. If you feel like your sentence is a kind of boring to straightforward there, too simple, and you want to mix things up a bit. Well, here are some sentence patterns that will allow you to do that now. Many of these sentence patterns have names in the classical rhetoric, so if you want to know those things, you can go to some style books, some classic rhetoric books. But rather than list those big names for these things, I've just got some really simple names for these forms of patterns. Now you'll see. On the next few slides, I will list an equation, essentially a diagram equation for the structure under each name. So the first example of an internal order variations that's within the sentence. How you can vary your words is the intrusive sentence. So as you'll see in the equation, that means you have a sentence. What's called its sentence A. And within it you use two dashes, and you put another full sense, so that has to be grammatically correct. It's not a fragment It's a real sentence embedded within sentence a which continues after sentence be so. Consider these examples. He did not deserve his father's hatred. Does any four year old deserve its father's hatred? But he faced abuse regularly. Another one, the birthday greeting. Daniella sends the same card to everybody reads Happy Birthday To my closest friend, the conditions stimulus this part of the evidence is crucial failed to produce the anticipated results. Do you see with these three examples if we just remove what's between those dashes? We have what's essentially a full sense. But we have to wait until we get that little bit of information a boat sent his be before we could finish that sentence. So this just it gives you some examples of how you can adds information in full sentence form to another sentence. A second type of sentence pattern is called the end beginning, and the formula is simply a clause of some sort than a repeating element, period. So the sentence ends when we start a new sentence, and we have that same repeating element that finished the first sentence plus a clause. Some examples what you have described his life life is tough, so you can see the repeating element is is life that's at the end of the first sentence and then we begin the next sentence. With the reversal of that same element, life is tough. Another one Markovich wanted Smith to reveal the evidence revealed the evidence Smith did. Robinson turned on the electricity and his invention hummed. His invention hummed and changed his life forever. I think what's most important with these variations between sentences is that there's a coherence. There were almost linking the first sentence to the second sentence. By repeating that element, it forces the reader to think about those two sentences together. Another sentence pattern is beginning, beginning and again. The equation is just a repeating element, plus a clause period, and then a repeating element and a clause period, for example. The door slammed in the house shook the door, slammed in our marriage ended. Smith's theory seemed original to himself. Smith's theory seemed unoriginal to the committee. The court system sends the guilty to jail. The court system sends the innocents to jail. So again we're forced to in that repeating element considered both sentences together, they're connected ideas you can also do and end repeat. So a clause in a repeating element and then a period and a clause in a repeating element. For example, you could say he was a sniveling, whiney little brat. I wanted to kill that whiny little breath again. Emphasis on the whiny little bread that repeating element. Another one. Before we had money, we worried about money. After we got money, we still worried about money. Then, finally, the price of a car was high. The cost of a banana was high again. The repeating element comes at the end of each sentence that's was high. And that last one suggests simply that there's some sort of strange inflation going on here , or scarcity of bananas, which might say a lot about the country that this person is in. But I think when you repeat the end element that sticks in the reader's mind, it sticks with him. It stays with them as they read on. Another form of variation is beginning end. So that is, you have a repeating element that starts the sentence. Then you have a clause, and you finish the sentence with another repeating element. So, for example, forever is a long time, and I intend to live forever so forever and forever beginning in that sentence, Sam, whatever you say about him is still saying problems lead to more problems. I think this example of sentence variation reminds me a lot of old sayings that you've heard before You read online. So if you just repeat those ah, beginning and ending elements, you can have your own kind of saying so. Those are a few ways you can vary your sentences. Now you want to be careful with this so you don't want to write in this way with these patterns in every sentence. Of course, if you use that last style all the time, you will draw attention to yourself. You will draw attention to the technique as opposed to a content. But once in a while, when you really want to make a good point, it's good to put it into these varied patterns. 3. Short Sentences: Here's a tip that veteran writers know, and that is the length of a sentence affects the comprehension by the reader of that sentence. And you want to use short sentences that make single points when you want to make sure that the reader understands what you're saying or if you want to show very quick actions. Here's an example in fiction or creative nonfiction of using these short sentences. I punch, he jumps back. He lunges at me. I grab his arm. I throw him down on the mat. I hold him. The referee smacks the mat. 123 I win the championship for the first time. So in real life he's punches, jumps, lunges, grabs and throws occur a short, quick movements. So in real life, not in the sentence. But in real life they are quick, short movements. Short quick sentences, on the other hand, replicate that same meaning in real life, creating what we call a sim bio sis form matches content. Also, the reader speeds through these short sentences and really feels the quickness of the rial life actions. Now that last sentence slows things down a bit. We linger on that final sentence for variation now, when it comes to making individual points, as I said earlier, sometimes and we have long sentence, particularly in academic writing. So if you're doing any academic writing, you know that you often have these very long 2030 40 even 50 words sentences that pack in so many points. But of course, that requires the reader to follow your train of thought. If you've got a lot of points packed into a sentence than it's harder for the reader to follow you. It's easy also for the reader to overlook something in a long sentence, and you don't want any year points to be overlooked. So maybe in those situations where there's academic writing, business reading, political writing a sequence of short sentences in the right moments of not all the time but in the right moment provides points that the reader cannot overlook. So consider this sentence. During wartime, they thought traders lurked everywhere. Your dentist could be a communist. Your butcher could be a Communist. Your father could be 12 to see. There, you've got 1234 sentences that are all relatively short. When the reader encounters this academic piece of writing. They certainly won't miss any of these points. The period provides a nice break, a chance to breathe mentally. So the longest sentence in this paragraph contains just seven words. There's no Anzor bots that air connecting more sentences, amore clauses. Nothing at all gets lost. So the two examples of when you will want to use short sentences for a powerful, powerful effect on your reader's comprehension. 4. Long Sentences: long sentences have their own unique effect, their loosely structured. So they're inherently ambient, atmospheric there impressionistic. I think they're really useful for depicting things like dreams, intense emotions and also observational scene setting. When we kind of want to pan across a scene and show that to the reader, they're often called freight train sentences. If you imagine a car after a car after a car on a train being pulled along in a freight train sentence, grammatical units repeat and those units air coupled with conjoined ing words. So little conjunctions like and or but And I think the freight train sentence is really good for depicting dreams because dreams don't stop and start abruptly the way fights to I showed you in a previous lecture how the short sentence is great for depicting the actions that short, quick actions of a fight. Well, in a dream, you don't have those short, quick actions, So why don't we use the form of the sentence to connect with the content of the sense to show a dream in a long, drawn out meandering sense, Dreams obviously move smoothly from location to location, with juxtapositions of people of places were flying along often in a dream were in one location that we're in another. How did that happen? I don't know. So consider this dream sequence. I'm not going to read it out loud. I just want you to pause the video for a second as this comes on the screen and get a sense of this freight train rolling along. So here the reader you experience is the dream, not just in the meaning, so the content of it, but also in the form of it. Now the key to writing this grammatically and not running into a run on sentence or a comma splices they're called in the grammar books is those little conjunctions, those connecting words like and ER, but or so And those connectors can't be complicated, or the sentence will be too complicated without the proper connecting words. It becomes, as I said, a run on sentence, essentially a grammatical train wreck. Now, when placed under the pressure of intense emotions, people often lose their train of thought. Stress increases, heartbeats accelerate, blood runs hot, they can't think straight. And in the next example, thoughts rushed through this boys mind. I'll let you pause on this slide. Read it yourself. Get the sense of the freight train, the intense emotions coming through in the form as well as the content. And in this example, the writer never tells you the boy's feelings. Instead, we sense what the boy feels from those physical details. The length of this and the flowing nature of it mimics his emotional state. Now authors sometimes use a freight train sentence at the beginning of a story to help us look around a location to set the scene. This is like the start of a movie. When you see an establishing shot of a location of whatever it is Central Park in New York City or the desert in the Middle East. The camera pans across, and we see something like this again. I'll let you pause this video on this freight train sentence to get a sense of it. I think we have a camera in our mind's eye here, and we look around this landscape so those are some uses of the long sentence. I'm sure you'll find Mawr as you get familiar with the freight train style. You can use them in essays, academic writing and the great thing about this is we can have a lot of information in a sentence is actually is really easy to follow its not grammatically incorrect. But just be cautious. You do not want to use long sentences very often used them sparingly in the right moment of the right time. When you want to create that effect, when you want to slow down the reader's experience of the moment, you want to give them an oppression ist IC feel that's when you throw in a freight train sentence once in a while. 5. Variation of Long and Short for Effects: when he comes to the length of a sentence for variation. Short isn't better. Long isn't better. I'm not picking sides here between one of the other. A succession of short sentences is have shown you in. These lectures may become choppy. It may become monotonous. A succession of long sentences weighs down your writing. For the reader, it's like walking through quicksand to go through those succession of long sentences. The point here is just a vary your sentence lengths for whatever effect you want to create , and your reader will feel that effect. There's a great contrast, actually. If you can put a short sentence right after a long sentence, for example, that makes a resounding point that no reader can overlook and consider this example on the slide. I'll let you pause this video and read it over yourself and feel the effect here in this academic writing example, This paragraph on early Canadian newspapers includes three reasonably long sentences. Nobody would say those are short sentences, but what stands out is the final short sentence. Partisanship reigned. It's only two words. It's the shortest sentence you can have in the active voice, and the author emphasizes one point that partisanship was so important to early Canadian newspapers. It acts like an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, and it's also really a welcome break. Readers love these welcome breaks, where they don't have to do much processing of the sentence. So the major point here is when you want to slow down our readers experience for whatever reason. You use long sentences when you want to speed up and get really fast, and you want the reader to feel like they are right there with you experiencing at fast, quick riel life movement than use short sentences. Now you're variation doesn't have to be as extreme as the example I've just given toe have a two word sentence. After a number of longer sentences, you just need a slight difference in sentence lengths to have any similar effect, and I think your readers will appreciate that little change of pace