Why use simple sentences?

In English, we have three types of sentences: simple, compound and complex. Each trumps in particular situations.

A simple sentence is one containing one independent clause (one complete subject and one complete predicate). Almost an infinite variety of simple sentences can be formed, making them the bedrock of modern-day English.

Simple sentences can be just one word (Run!). They can be two or three words (The dog barked. He did?) They can have compound subjects (Jack and Jill went up a hill) or compound predicates (Marie plays softball and swims). They can start with prepositional phrases (On my bike I rode to Grandma’s), gerund phrases (Munching carrots is a healthy snack) or adjectives (Big snakes scare me). They can end with adverbs (I practice the piano daily), infinitive phrases (That’s a good place to fish) or verbs (Will you go?). They can be declarative (I see), interrogative (Would you buy me one too?) and exclamatory (I won the spelling bee!).

Why use simple sentences in your writing?

  • Simple sentences can express ideas clearly. ( “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
  • Short, simple sentences can add punch after a long-winded sentence. (“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge — and more.”)
  • Simple sentences can seem honest and to the point. (“Jesus wept.”)
  • Simple sentences can mimic uncomplicated and unadorned thought patterns. (I wasn’t sure what to do. It was so dark. The baby was sobbing. I needed help. So I phoned you.)
  • Simple sentences can be expanded by modifying subjects, verbs and objects with adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, gerund phrases, infinitive phrases.
  • Simple sentences can seem more informal than complex sentences yet more sophisticated than certain types of compound sentences. (“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”)

As little children learning to write, we start with simple sentences. Then teachers introduce compound and complex sentences, encouraging students to use those kinds. Yet some great writers have built their careers on writing simple sentences—Ernest Hemingway, for example.

(To show their versatility, I wrote every sentence in this blog as a simple sentence. Did you notice?)

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