Sentences come in two primary structures which can be described much like this:
- A main clause starts early in the sentence, is interrupted by details, and ends with a final important word or idea.
- A main clause starts and ends early in the sentence, and then it is followed by details.
The first kind is called a periodic or climatic sentence. You can spot it because it builds to a climax. For example,
- John Kennedy, in one of the tightest Presidential elections in US history, by a margin of 112,827 votes, won.
- Six-month-old Ellis, sitting in his high chair, and watching Mom’s hand with its spoonful of carrots draw closer, clamped his two baby teeth shut.
- Hillary hit a low, skipping, two-run grounder.
The second kind is called a cumulative sentence. You can spot it because it mimics the way people talk, starting with a complete thought,and then adding details to embellish that thought. For example,
- John Kennedy won by 112,827 votes, in one of the tightest US Presidential elections.
- Six-month-old Ellis clamped his two teeth shot as Mom, holding a spoonful of carrots, drew that spoon close to his mouth.
- Hillary hit a two-run grounder, the ball skipping past the pitcher and through the legs of the second-base player.
Each is useful for different purposes.
- The periodic sentence, because of the details which delay the ending, creates both grammatical and meaningful suspense.
- As the words build to a point, the periodic sentence emphasizes a point embodied in the last few words of the sentence.
- The periodic sentence releases information formally and logically, showing planning and control by the writer.
- The cumulative sentence, on the other hand, sounds natural, mimicking the way that people talk.
- A cumulative sentences sounds informal and conversational. It adds a stream of consciousness feel to writing and works well in dialog.
- A cumulative sentence elongates and elaborates on action.